On the Buses

On the Buses was a British television sitcom that was broadcast on ITV from 1969 to 1973. It was created by Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe, who wrote most of the episodes. It spawned three spin-off feature films and a stage version. Despite the writers' previous successes with The Rag Trade and Meet the Wife with the BBC, the corporation rejected On the Buses, not seeing much comedy potential in a bus depot as a setting. The comedy partnership turned to Frank Muir, Head of Entertainment at London Weekend Television, who loved the idea; the show was accepted and despite a poor critical reception became a hit with viewers.

On the Buses
Created by
Written by
  • Ronald Chesney
  • Ronald Wolfe
  • Bob Grant
  • Stephen Lewis
  • George Layton
Directed by
Music byTony Russell
("Happy Harry")
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series7
No. of episodes74 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)London Weekend Television
Running time25 minutes
Original networkITV
Picture format576i (4:3 SDTV)
Original release28 February 1969 (1969-02-28) 
6 May 1973 (1973-05-06)
Followed byDon't Drink the Water

The series is centred on the Number 11 bus, at the Luxton and District Motor Traction Company, a green and cream double-decker crewed by driver Stan Butler and his pal conductor Jack Harper. With its "bawdy, comic postcard humour and resolutely working-class outlook" the series became "one of the most popular British comedy series of its era, if not all time." At the Butler household, the typical scene would involve a family argument around the breakfast table, whilst at the bus depot, there was always fun at the expense of the crew's "eternal nemesis" Inspector Blake, recognisable from Hitler moustache and facial contortions. [1][2]

Cast and characters

Character Played by Series
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Stan ButlerReg VarneyMain
Jack HarperBob GrantMain
Olive RudgeAnna KarenMain
Mabel "Mum" Butler (later known as "Ethel")Cicely CourtneidgeMain
Doris HareMain
Inspector Cyril "Blakey" BlakeStephen LewisMain
Arthur RudgeMichael RobbinsMain

Main characters

  • Reg Varney as Stanley "Stan" Butler – a bus driver who works for the Luxton and District Traction Company along with Jack and Blakey. He lives with his mother Mabel, sister Olive and brother-in-law Arthur. Stan frequently chats up the clippies at the bus depot and his antics often include concocting schemes to bunk off work, gain favour from girls or solve predicaments caused by his family. Though he is rarely serious, has a disregard for authority and is rude to women he deems unattractive, Stan is ultimately good-natured at heart and tries to help those he cares for. While he loves his family, he frequently subjects sister Olive and brother-in-law Arthur to jokes at their expense, and is frequently irritated by his mother's traditional morals and rules. Due to his playboy attitude towards girls and carefree approach to life, he is oftentimes blind or ignorant of his own issues such as his health, appearance and success. He mostly triumphs over his rival Inspector Blake but on occasion, has fallen foul of the Inspector's wrath.
  • Cicely Courtneidge (series 1) and Doris Hare (series 2–7) as Mabel "Mum" Butler, Stan's mother. She is a maiden in distress when it comes to money. The Butler household is forever losing money and regularly getting the electricity cut off. Mabel is frequently caught up in arguments between Arthur, Olive and Stan but manages to retain a sense of maternal order over them. She is rather traditional, believing in the sanctity of marriage and family, as well as criticising licentious behaviour in women. Despite her strong moral compass however, she sometimes turns a blind eye to Stan's equally sultry ways and near-criminal hijinx at his job.
  • Anna Karen as Olive Rudge, Stan's sister. Olive is always being criticised by her husband Arthur, even though she helps her mum with household jobs and frequently helps Stan with the decorating. Olive has twice been a clippie at the bus depot, both times being unsuccessful. She is always wanting "an early night" with Arthur, much to his displeasure.
  • Michael Robbins as Arthur Rudge, Stan's brother-in-law. Somewhat aloof and stuck up, he frequently resists Olive's intimate advances. His hospital operation is a frequent source of ridicule from Stan and Jack. (Although the nature of the procedure is never disclosed, it is implied to have been a vasectomy or a hernia). Arthur is always tampering with his motorbike, which usually falls apart. He has a mother (Gillian Lind) and a sister called Linda (Helen Fraser) who falls in love with Jack, then later Stan and Arthur is very protective with Linda more than he is protective with Olive.
  • Bob Grant as Jack Harper, Stan's conductor, best friend (although throughout the series he regularly attempts to discredit Stan by underhanded means, such as innuendo, accusation or the like) and next-door neighbour. He and Stan are always getting into trouble and getting reprimanded by Inspector Blake. Whether it is tampering with radio controls, putting "DIVERSION" road signs in the wrong places or going on dates with the buxom clippies, they are always getting into scrapes. Jack is also the shop steward of the bus depot, and frequently abuses his position to thwart Blakey's schemes, usually with the catchphrase "As shop steward I am here to tell you.....".
  • Stephen Lewis as Cyril "Blakey" Blake – the inspector at the bus depot. Whenever there is a "brilliant idea" at the bus depot, it is usually Blakey's. These are usually elaborate schemes to temper Stan's and Jack's frequent insubordination, or to entrap them in their misadventures in a bid to get them fired. However Blakey's schemes typically backfire with hilarious consequences, and land him either in trouble with the General Manager or in hospital. He has a mother (Pat Nye) who is domineering and unpleasant and she treats him like a little boy.

Recurring characters

  • Michael Sheard as the General Manager of the bus depot. He often argues with Blakey about something that the latter has done. He was also the judge at the gardening competition in the episode "Gardening Time".
  • Madeleine Mills and Sandra Miller as the Inspector's niece. She was played twice by Mills and twice by Miller. In her first two appearances, she and Stan are in a relationship; in the second they are engaged, but split up after a tea party at Stan's house. In her third appearance she married Bill, a bus driver at the depot. She also appeared in the episode "The New Nurse".
  • Sandra Bryant as Sandra, a clippie at the bus depot. Her character is seen frequently throughout the seventh series. In the first episode of the seventh series, she goes on a date with Stan to the cinema, until Olive comes along too.
  • Terry Duggan and Norman Mitchell as Nobby – one of the bus depot's mechanics. He often assists Stan and Jack in their typical schemes and misadventures.

Series production

A total of 74 episodes of On the Buses were broadcast over seven series. Three spin-off films were also released.

All episodes and films of On The Buses were set in the fictional town of Luxton.

At the beginning of the seventh series Arthur, who is not seen, has left Olive and they are divorced. Olive again gets a job as a clippie on the buses as they are short of money. Stan takes a job in the north of England in a car factory in the "Goodbye Stan" episode, and the Inspector takes Stan's old room as a lodger.

In addition, two five-minute Christmas specials were made by LWT as part of an 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 lost, but the 1972 edition – featuring a goose that the cast are chasing for Christmas dinner – exists in the Thames Television archive, which is now owned by FremantleMedia. A spin-off series, Don't Drink the Water (1974–75), ran for thirteen episodes, featuring Blake retiring to Spain with his sister Dorothy (Pat Coombs).

Reg Varney undertook a PCV driving test in order to be filmed driving the bus for the exterior scenes.

The earlier series were recorded at London Weekend Television's original studios in Wembley (now Fountain Studios). In late 1972, LWT relocated to new studios on the 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 Omnibus Company to use its buses at Wood Green bus garage in North London. They were shown as belonging to Luxton and District. Luxton is supposed to be in Essex, and actual Essex towns including Southend-on-Sea, Basildon, Braintree and Tilbury are all mentioned. One of the bus route termini was "Cemetery Gates", for which LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery. A different Lavender Hill in Battersea also features in the last episode of the last series, featuring 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.


Theme music

The theme music for the series, entitled "Happy Harry", was written by Tony Russell.[3]


The three spin-off films were produced by Hammer Film Productions. They are On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972), and Holiday on the Buses (1973), set in a holiday camp. On the Buses became Britain's top box office film of 1971.

The films were set in a different canon to the series – in the films, Arthur and Olive manage to have a child despite their apparently sexless marriage and Arthur's 'operation' – the exact nature of which was never explicitly revealed. Arthur's operation is mentioned in the first film, but later Olive gives birth to their baby son. The three films follow a loose story arc which shows their son (Little Arthur) growing up. Olive is pregnant with a second child at the end of Mutiny, but no mention of this was made in the third film, Holiday, set mainly in a Holiday Camp. The bus depot becomes The Town & District Bus Company instead of The Luxton & District Traction Company. The buses in the films are mostly red ones, with one green one (not including the Windsor Safari Park tour bus in Mutiny On The Buses).

American adaptation

The format of On the Buses was sold to America, where it was remade by NBC as Lotsa Luck, starring Dom DeLuise as Stanley Belmont with Kathleen Freeman as Iris Belmont, his mum, Wynn Irwin as Arthur Swann, Beverly Sanders as Olive Swann and Jack Knight as Bummy Pfitzer, his best friend. Episodes based on the original On The Buses scripts were adapted by such American writers as Carl Reiner, Bill Persky and Sam Denoff. Inspector Blake did not have a counterpart in the American version; and, in another significant change to the storyline, Stan worked at the lost property office at the bus depot rather than being a driver. After a pilot was made, the sitcom ran for one series of 22 episodes in 1973–74. It was not a success, and has never been screened in Britain.

Critical reception

Despite the popularity of On the Buses with sections of the public, TV reviewers and historians have generally held the show in lower regard.[4] In its section on situation comedies, The Guinness Book of Classic British TV describes On the Buses as ITV's "longest running and most self-consciously unfunny series".[4] TV reviewer Victor Lewis-Smith later criticised the then head of London Weekend Television, Frank Muir, for green-lighting the programme, which Lewis-Smith called "the wretched On the Buses".[5] Daily Telegraph journalist Max Davidson, discussing 1970s British comedy, listed On the Buses as one of the "unfunny sitcoms of the time",[6] while The Guardian's David Stubbs referred to On the Buses as "a byword for 70s sitcom mediocrity".[7] On The Buses is sometimes used as an example of the sort of sexism that was rife in society in the 1960s and 1970s, occurring after the freedoms of sexual liberation, but before the rise of feminism; in particular, the derision towards one of the main female characters (Olive Rudge) for being unattractive, and the fact that younger attractive bus staff would be regularly looking to have sex with the two main middle-aged male characters (Varney and Grant, who by the time of the release of the first film in 1971, were 55 and 39 respectively). Some episodes of the show also featured a black character referred to as Chalky, which might be construed as racist by modern standards.[8][9].

The red Town & District buses were Bristol KSWs with Eastern Coach Works bodies. These were former Eastern National. Stan's 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, the later 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 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 ENB 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.[10]

In the first episode of series 6, former London Transport bus RTL1557 (OLD 666) is featured and burnt out.

A stage play called Busman's Holiday, written by Sam Cree, starred Stephen Lewis, Bob Grant and Anna Karen. It was performed as a 1973 summer season at the Pavilion Theatre, Torquay. All of the character names were different from those in the original television series.

Look-in, a UK children's magazine, serialised On the Buses in comic strips between August 1971–May 1974. They were drawn by cartoonist Harry North and the TV series' often bawdy, sexist humour was suitably diluted for a younger audience.

A board game of On the Buses was released by Denys Fisher games in 1973.

Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse did several sketches using the characters of On the Buses to lampoon the humour of the show.

Planned sequel

In 1990 there were plans to revive the series as Back on the Buses, and the original cast appeared on Wogan to promote the new series. However, although a pilot script was written, it wasn't made. Back On The Buses was to feature Stan Butler, having run his own business for some years and made some money, starting his own bus company in the newly deregulated market, and hiring Jack to work with him. As they attempt to get the company off the ground, they discover a rival company has set up in the town, owned by none other than Blakey. The comedy in the series would have come from the conflict between the two businesses, and how Stan and Jack attempted to battle Blakey's bigger and more professional company.

Home media

Region 1

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

Region 2

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

Region 4

Beyond Home Entertainment released the entire series on DVD in seven series sets between 2 July 2007 – 8 April 2009. Between 2008 and 2009 Series 1 to Series 5 were repacked into standard DVD cases as original releases were in gatefold digipaks with a slip box. In 2010 they released The Complete Series 11-DVD box set. In 2010, the individual series were re-released through ITV Studios. In 2012 Season 1 and Season 2 were released separately (previously released together) on 5 September 2012 and Seasons 4 and Season 5 on 6 February 2013, it is unknown if remaining seasons will be issued. The complete Series was repackaged and re-released on 7 August 2013.


The original series was originally repeated on Granada Plus in 1996 and until it closed in 2004 and was later repeated on UK GOLD and is currently being repeated quite often on ITV3 since 2009 and still to date as of November 2019[11]. Fox Classics on the Australian Fox cable network and New Zealand's 'Jones' channel on Sky regularly show the series. As of August 2018, the series is broadcast by Dutch ‘oldies’ cable channel ONS.


  1. https://www.comedy.co.uk/tv/on_the_buses/
  2. https://networkonair.com/features/2019/02/28/on-the-buses-at-50/
  3. Walker, Craig (2012). The On The Buses Quiz Book. Andrews UK Limited. p. 267. ISBN 9781909143111.
  4. The Guinness Book of Classic British TV, by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, Second Edition.Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1996 (p.66).
  5. Lewis-Smith, Victor. (10 January 1998), "I Pull the Plug on "Mr. Pitcher"", The Mirror, (p. 6).
  6. "Despite Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, comedy still needs to risk giving offence" Daily Telegraph, 1 November 2008. Retrieved 20 March 2014..
  7. Reg Varney reaches the end of the line David Stubbs, The Guardian 17 November 2008. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/aug/14/stephen-lewis
  9. Guide, British Comedy. "Get that bus out! - British Comedy Guide". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  10. http://bcv.robsly.com/enlod.html List of Eastern National Lodekka survivors
  11. "Listings for P ITV 3 on Friday, June 1 2018". www.bleb.org. Retrieved 1 June 2018.

Further reading

  • Fisher, Tex (2011). I 'Ate You Butler! - The Making of On the Buses. Deck Chair Publishing. ISBN 9780956563415.
  • Walker, Craig (2009). On the Buses: The Complete Story. Apex Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781906358693.
  • Walker, Craig (2014). A to Z of On the Buses. Mirador Publishing. ISBN 9781910104200.
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