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On The Buses On The Buses


Classic TV Revisited: On the Buses



On The Buses was about a jack-the-lad bus driver and his equally chirpy conductor repeatedly pulled the wool over the eyes of their dim-witted inspector. The humour may have been about as subtle as a double-decker bus, but it worked.

Who where the main characters?
Bus driver Stan Butler lived with his big-hearted, widowed mum, sister Olive and her layabout husband Arthur. Once an ugly duckling, Olive was now an ugly duck and looked as if she had fought a life-long battle against beauty treatment. Arthur did little to improve her self-esteem. At work, Stan drove the number 11 bus to Cemetery Gates with Jack Carter as his regular conductor. Their various scams — which included luring female clippies to the upper deck (there was always room for one more on top) — brought them into constant conflict with their boss, Inspector Blake, known none too affectionately as ‘Blakey’. Towards the end of the series, when Stan was posted to the Midlands, the long-suffering Blakey moved in to the Butler household as a lodger.

When was it on?
From 1969 to 1973 on ITV. There were seven series and 76 episodes in all. There were also three spin-off films, On The Buses (1971), Mutiny On The Buses (1972) and Holiday On The Buses (1973).

Who wrote it?
The scriptwriting team behind The Two Ronnies, Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, whose previous credits included ‘The Rag Trade’(also starring Reg Varney) and Meet The Wife. On The Buses was turned down by the BBC before ITV snapped it up.

Where was it set?
In the Butler household and around the depot of the Luxton and District Traction Company, somewhere in the Home Counties.

Who were the star turns?
Reg Varney starred as Stan with Bob Grant as Jack, Stephen Lewis as Blakey, Michael Robbins as Arthur and Anna Karen as Olive. Stan’s mum was played by Cicely Courtneidge in the first series but thereafter by Doris Hare.

On The Buses

Any catchphrases?
Blakey’s lip-quivering ‘I ‘ate you, Butler’.

Who watched it?
On The Buses came from the Benny Hill school of comedy (funnily enough, Benny Hill was once Reg Varney’s straight man). There was nothing intellectual about it but the public loved it. Over 17 million would tune in to each episode and the first of the films was the top British box-office movie of 1971, outgunning James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. Anna Karen (who looked nothing like Olive in real life) used to get stacks of letters from people offering beauty advice, matrimonial tips and chastising her for having let herself go so much. ‘They would talk to me as though I was a subnormal idiot,’ she recalled, ‘or even take the mickey out of my real husband for marrying me. The most unbelievable letter came from Denmark. It was from a company which wanted Olive and Arthur to appear in a blue film!’ Even today Anna gets fan mail for Olive…but it’s not quite as explicit.

Wasn’t ‘Olive’ once a stripper?
It was very tame and a long time ago but, yes, Anna Karen did once work as a fire-eater cum stripper in a London club. ‘I was a very hard-up drama student and running out of money,’ she said. ‘I needed a job that wouldn’t interfere with my drama course but would bring me in enough money to live and pay the rent. Anyway, stripping was very carefully controlled in those days and all the important parts of my body were hidden from public view by little stars that were stuck here and there.’

And hasn’t Reg Varney got an unusual claim to fame?
He opened the world’s first cash dispenser at Barclays Bank, Enfield, on 27 June 1967. Not a lot of people know that.

Any distant cousins?
After On The Buses, Blakey retired to Spain to star in a new Wolfe/Chesney sit-com Don’t Drink The Water. Pat Coombs played his drippy sister. And in 1977 Olive reappeared in a revival of ‘The Rag Trade’. Meanwhile Reg Varney played another cheeky Cockney chappie, Billingsgate fish porter Reg Furnell, in Down The ‘Gate. Rather than the sweet smell of success, the series had the stench of rotting cod.




Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess




Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife




McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal




The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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