On the Buses

On the Buses
On the Buses
Poster for the 1971 On the Buses film
Format Comedy
Created by Ronald Wolfe
Ronald Chesney
Starring Reg Varney
Bob Grant
Cicely Courtneidge (series 1)
Doris Hare (series 2–7)
Anna Karen
Stephen Lewis
Michael Robbins (series 1–6)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 7
No. of episodes 74 (List of episodes)
Producer(s) London Weekend Television
Running time 25 minutes per episode
Original channel ITV
Picture format 576i 4:3 (SDTV)
Original run 28 February 1969 (1969-02-28) – 6 May 1973 (1973-05-06)

On the Buses was a British situation comedy created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney which was broadcast in the UK from 1969 to 1973. The writers' previous successes with The Rag Trade and Meet the Wife were for the BBC, but the Corporation rejected On the Buses, not seeing much comedy potential in a bus depot as a setting, and the comedy partnership turned to a friend, Frank Muir, Head of Entertainment at London Weekend Television. He loved the idea, the show was accepted and despite a poor critical reception became a hit with viewers.[1]



Stan Butler (Reg Varney) works as a bus driver for the Luxton & District Traction Company. He lives with his widowed mother (Stan's Mum/Mrs Butler), his sister Olive and her husband Arthur.

Regular characters

Stan Butler

Played by Reg Varney. The main, central character for the show, Stan is often happy though frequently broke and constantly unlucky in love. Stan left the show halfway through the final series.

Stan's Mum/Mrs Butler

Played in series one by Cicely Courtneidge and the later series by Doris Hare. She is a smothering, fatuously sentimental, caring, polite, motherly figure who rules the house and will not put up with any nonsense. She loves having the children around her, and strives to keep peace between everyone. She rarely uses her first name of Mable, even those close to the family call her Mrs Butler.

Olive Rudge

Played by Anna Karen. Stan's frumpy, whining sister. In all but the last series and a few individual episodes in other series, Olive hangs around the home all day helping her mum with the housework.

Arthur Rudge

Played by Michael Robbins. Olive's lazy, hypocritical husband, he is a railway employee and fervent unionist. When he joins the Butler household as a lodger, he accidentally gets into bed with Olive, so Mum makes them marry. At the end of series six Arthur left the show by divorcing Olive when Robbins returned to the London stage to star with Tom Courtenay in Time and Time Again.

Jack Harper

Played by Bob Grant. Stan's best friend, neighbour and usual conductor. Jack is a cheerful, cheeky, bucktoothed conman who teaches Stan all the tricks of the trade. In later series Grant and Stephen Lewis wrote a number of episodes together.

Inspector Cyril "Blakey" Blake

Played by Stephen Lewis. He is the bane of Stan's life, often checking up on Stan and Jack and often threatening them with the sack for lateness. He has a toothbrush moustache and a long black mac style


Seventy-four twenty five minute episodes were made. Also popular were the spin-off films by Hammer Film Productions: On the Buses, 1971; Mutiny on the Buses, 1972; and Holiday on the Buses, 1973, set on a Pontin's holiday camp. On the Buses became Britain's top box office film at the time, surpassing the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

The films were somewhat non-canonical to the series – in the films, Arthur and Olive manage to have two children (she's pregnant with their second child at the end of Mutiny On The Buses) and Stan is working for The Town & District Bus Company instead of The Luxton & District Bus Company. The buses in the films are mostly red ones and one green one (not counting the Windsor Safari Park tour bus in Mutiny On The Buses).

Towards the end of the series, Arthur has left Olive – they have no children, they get divorced and Stan takes a job in the North in a car factory. The buses are green in the colour episodes.

In addition, two five minute Christmas specials were made by LWT as part of All Star Comedy Carnival in 1969 and 1972, ITV's answer to the BBC's Christmas Night with the Stars programme. The 1969 edition has been wiped but the 1972 edition — featuring a goose that the cast are chasing for Christmas dinner — exists in the Thames TV archive which is owned by Fremantle Media. A bootleg copy of this episode recently surfaced. A spin off series, Don't Drink the Water, ran for thirteen episodes from 1974 to 1975. This featured Blake retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs).

The format of On the Buses was sold to American television, where it was remade by NBC as Lotsa Luck, starring Dom DeLuise as Stanley Belmont with Kathleen Freeman as Iris Belmont his "Mom", Wynn Irwin as Arthur Swann, Beverly Sanders as Olive Swann and Jack Knight as Bummy Pfitzer, his best friend. After a Pilot was made, it ran for one series of twenty-two episodes in 1973–74. Episodes based on original On The Buses scripts were adapted by such American writers as Carl Reiner, Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. The American version was unsuccessful and has never been screened in Britain. The Blakey character did not appear in the American version, as Stan worked at the lost property office at the bus depot rather than being a driver.

The series was recorded at London Weekend Television's studios at Wembley. In late 1972, the show relocated to the company's new studios on South Bank of the River Thames; here the outside doors to the main and secondary studios were too small to accommodate the double-decker buses used in the series. Therefore single decker buses were used and a plywood mock up of an upper deck was lowered from a lighting rig.

Filmed external shots were part of the series. LWT arranged with the now defunct Eastern National bus company to use their buses at their long gone Wood Green bus garage in North London. For the series they were shown as under the ownership of 'Luxton and District'. 'Luxton' is supposed to be in Essex, and actual Essex towns such as Southend, Basildon, Braintree and Tilbury are all mentioned. One of the termini for the buses was Cemetery Gates and for this, LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery in Enfield, North London, near Reg Varney's home. Lavender Hill, Battersea, South London, also, features in the last episode of the last series, including the Town Hall, now the Battersea Arts Centre.

The fourth series was affected by the ITV Colour Strike, with seven of thirteen episodes being made in black and white. On the Buses was the subject of a board game by Denys Fisher games.

After a successful tour of Australia in 1988 in an On The Buses stage play, a planned revival of the television series, entitled Back On The Buses was mooted in 1990, featuring all the original cast; Varney, Lewis, Robbins, Hare, Karen and Grant. Despite some publicity at the time of its announcement, including an appearance by the cast on the BBC TV chat show Wogan, the proposal was not taken up by LWT and the new series was never made. Although scripts were never written, the proposed new series was to feature Stan and Jack running their own bus company in the newly deregulated market, and coming into conflict with Blakey, who was running a rival firm.


Political correctness

The show may be considered dated in terms of its political correctness. In several instances a black character called 'Chalky' is featured, whilst most female characters are mainly featured as objects of sexual desire, with the very obvious exception of Olive.[2] However in S03E06 "The Snake", Jack is attracted to and goes out with the Indian snake charmer character played by Julia Mendez, such interracial relationships being very rare on the television of that period.[3]


The red Town & District buses were Bristol KSWs with Eastern Coach Works bodies. These were ex-Eastern National. Stan and Jack's "regular" bus appeared to be VNO 857.

The Green Luxton & District buses were Bristol Lodekkas with bodywork by Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft. In reality these were Eastern National buses (in some episodes buses could be seen with Eastern National on the side), although as mentioned earlier, some of those in the interior depot shots were in fact 'dummy' buses. Some 'dummy' buses were real single deck buses with a wooden frame on top, such as in the episode Series 3 Episode Radio Control, when the bus has crashed into the bridge. The most commonly used bus in the series was AVW 399F. In later episodes the NBC symbol appears next to Luxton & District.

Stan's usual buses, AVW 399F and AEV 811F, are both still extant, in Lille, France and Los Angeles, California respectively[4].

In Episode 1 of Series 6, former London Transport RTL1557 (OLD 666) is featured, and burnt out.

The open top bus in Holiday on the Buses was XFM 229, a Bristol LD new to Crosville Motor Services.

The bus at the safari park in Mutiny on the Buses was NRN 607, a Leyland Atlantean/Metro Cammell, new to Ribble Motor Services.

DVD releases

Region 1

Visual Entertainment released On the Buses: The Ultimate Collection, an eleven disc box set featuring the complete series on DVD on September 12, 2006.

Region 2

Network DVD released On the Buses: The Complete Series box set on DVD on November 13, 2006 for the very first time. On May 25, 2008, the box set was re-released in a new repackaged version.

Region 4

Beyond Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in seven series sets between July 2, 2007 – April 8, 2009.


On the Buses: The Complete Story by Craig Walker was launched on October 3, 2009, at the London Transport Museum, Covent Garden. The book includes: brief synopses of all the episodes and films, crew details, filming locations, and a complete list of the supporting cast. The forewords are written by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney however the writers have no further input in the story. The book was published by Apex Publishing Ltd.[5]

I 'Ate You Butler! – The Making of On the Buses by Tex Fisher was published on 5th September 2011 by Deck Chair Publishing. The book focuses on the conception of the series, and features, for the first time, in depth discussions with the creators, Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney and many cast members including Anna Karen and Kate Williams. The book also follows the development of the programme and covers the designing of the sets, the use of the buses, the films, spin-offs and reception. ISBN 9780956563415 .[6]

Film adaptations

Three films were made during the show:


  • Léon Hunt, "British low culture: from safari suits to sexploitation" (Routledge, 1998) ISBN 0415151821. pp. 40–44
  • Carl Rhodes, Robert Ian Westwood, "Critical representations of work and organization in popular culture", Routledge advances in management and business studies 37 (Routledge, 2008) ISBN 0415359899. pp. 100–103

External links

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