Friday, 14 September 2012

On the buses

The making of On The Buses by Tex Fisher isbn 978-0-9565634-1-5.

For those who don't know, On The Buses was a very successful UK TV comedy which ran from 1969 -1973.  Centred on Bus Driver, Stan, his conductorr mate Jack, his enemy the Inspector aka Blakey, his mum, his sister Olive and brother in law Arthur.

The thing that appeals most about this book is that Tex Fisher must have been just 18 or 19 when he wrote it.  He first watched on the buses in 1997, when he was 6, 24 years after the show had ended.

The show can still be found on TV today.

Despite dating somewhat, the show is interesting and was hugely popular in it's day - being about the lives of ordinary working people trying to make their life abit easier and trying to get one over on the boss and each other.   Sometimes the show is accused of racism as the recurring Black character is referred to as Chalkie. Although this is these day inappropriate - there doesn't seem to be any other racism in the show - and  at least it had black and Asian people on screen, unlike most other shows made at the same time.  The actor who played the part (Glenn Whitter) is also quoted as saying he didn't have any problems with the show either then nor now.
The one part of the show that really grates are the jokes about Olives size. Not only are jokes about size rarely funny, while actress Anna Karen could hide her looks  to appear dowdy and unattractive, she could conceal the fact she wasn't in the slightest bit overweight !

My favourite character in the show is Arthur, played by Michael Robbins, his brilliant looks to camera and dry wit often steal a scene.

Best snippets - the spin off film On the buses made in 1971 was the biggest grossing film of the year - beating even James Bond.  The Film cost under £100,000 and was made in just 4 weeks. (even the notoriously quick carry on films were made in 6 weeks!) so the profits for Hammer Films were very good.

Co-star Anna Karen - who played Olive got just £75 a week for three weeks work! No wonder the cast refused the same terms when the 2nd feature film was made.

It was debated at the time whether a film would work because it was felt people might not pay to watch something that was free at home on TV, others felt that as most TV's were still Black and White - people would pay to see a bumper 90 minutes of their favourite stars in colour.  Oddly the film was almost given an adult rating ! but a temporary film censor gave it a more suitable rating.  To be honest, the film itself is rather dire.

Actor Reg Varney (playing Stan Butler) was 53 when the show started and as his charecter was meant to be about 40 had to be made to look younger.  Stephen Lewis was 33 and had to be made to look older as the Inspector.

Writers Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney admit that some of their other sitcoms - Romany Jones,Yus, my Dear and Don't drink the water were all weak.  "Yus, my dear was awful" say Ronald Wolfe's wife.

Anyway - all in all probably a book that tells you all you could ever want to know about on the Buses and a bit more.  It comprehensive with anecdotes, technical stuff, bloopers and funny scenes etc.

In a way it is sad it was such a long wait for a book as so many of the cast had already died, but on the other hand, they would be chuffed to bits to think that the programme they made was still going over 40 years later although they might regret that they get no royalties from the repeats or dvds.   

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