Sitcom On The Buses was one of the first big successes for newly formed ITV company London Weekend Television back at the tail end of the 1960’s.
Pretty much made as a vehicle for Reg Varney, best known as a song and dance man at the time and for his role in Wolfe and Chesney’s The Rag Trade, the show was set in and around the Luxton and District Traction Bus Company where Varney is thirtysomething Stan Butler, a bus driver still living at home with his mum (but no mummy’s boy he with his obsession for chasing “birds” and trying to get off with “a bit of skirt”) along with his married sister Olive and her layabout husband Arthur.
At work Stan was partnered with his conductor Jack Carter, a fellow Jack-the-Lad for whom every young female passenger was an opportunity to chat up. The pair drove the number 11 to the Cemetery Gates and back and most of the episodes revolve around their tangles with Inspector “I ‘ate you Butler” Blake who was convinced that the pair were up to no good (and they usually were).
The show was hugely sucessful, so popular in fact that three feature films were spun off during the life of the series, the first of which On The Buses, was the most popular movie in the UK during 1971 (even beating out James Bond in the process), the other two Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973) were equally popular. There were also a couple of short comedy specials broadcast as part of the ITV’s year christmas All Star Comedy Carnival.
As the series popularity began to open up new opportunities for the cast both Michael Robbins (Arthur) and Varney himself decided to not commit to a full run for the final seventh season but by that stage Blakey had emerged as the real star of On The Buses, he even gained his own spin off in the shape of Don’t Drink The Water. Olive herself would also pop up in the 1970’s revival of The Rag Trade. Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis wrote 11 episodes together, George Layton and Jonathan Lynn were also among the writers.
An American version was also mounted, this was called Lotsa Luck, starred Dom DeLuise in the Varney role and lasted for 24 episodes.
UK / ITV Network – London Weekend Television / 74×30 minute episodes 2×10 minute episodes and three movies / Broadcast 28 February 1969 – 6 May 1973
Creators: Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney / Producers: Stuart Allen, Derrick Goodwin, Bryan Izzard
REG VARNEY as Stan Butler
CICELY COURTNIDGE as Mrs Butler (season one)
DORIS HARE as Mrs Butler (seasons 2-7)
BOB GRANT as Jack Carter
STEPHEN LEWIS as Inspector Blake
ANNA KAREN as Olive
MICHAEL ROBBINS as Arthur (seasons 1-6)