Film Review: ‘On the Buses’ (1971)

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Stars: Reg Varney, Bob Grant, Stephen Lewis 
Director: Harry Booth
Distributor: MGM-EMI

“I’ll get you, Butler!”

The first film within a spin-off trilogy from the British TV sitcom of the same name, On the Buses in 1971 established a separate continuity where the buses were red, Olive was pregnant, but the humour was all the same. 

Like the TV series, the troublesome duo, Stan (Reg Varney) and Jack (Bob Grant), are driver and conductor respectively, and always at the dismay of their unfortunate superior, Inspector Blake (Stephen Lewis). Loaded with the expected, yet crude, workplace banter and so on, Stan and Jack are forever cruising in the job, above the law, untouchable, etc. etc., but that is until the bus depot does the unthinkable: hire women bus drivers. 

With the introduction of women drivers, the job of being a bus driver and the frequency of work are now both at risk for Stan and his fellow sexist cronies. For conductor Jack, he risks losing a cosy shift with his best mate. Stan and Jack could be normal and accept this expansion of the workplace, but instead, they embark on a quest to see that the women drivers all lose their new-found roles. How nice!

Despite the malicious nature of wanting the women to lose their driving roles, there is an ambiance of it being completely light-hearted, tying in with the film’s overall tone. Aside from that storyline, the On the Buses film manages to be playfully humorous throughout. Stan and Jack bullying Inspector Blake always draws a laugh, even if that includes a cooker blowing up on Blake, or the Inspector himself falling out of a skidding bus. Innocent humour, right?

Released in 1971, bookended by its TV series running from 1969 to 1973, On the Buses was released during a golden period of the British TV sitcom. Before and after the franchise’s existence, this period entailed classics such as Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son, Porridge and Fawlty Towers among many more. Theatrically, the Carry On films were ripe. Within this period, the Carry On films had transcended into sleaze (hello Carry On Camping), which was fully embraced all throughout the On the Buses TV series and films, though with much greater existence within the latter. 1971’s On the Buses is undisputedly a product of its time, one which would be impossible to make now, or embraced, in its original context.

Ultimately, On the Buses is probably the best instalment within its trilogy. A strong spinoff to its TV origin, this is a film that successfully adapts the humour and set pieces from the sitcom, and expands upon them to great lengths. The chemistry and familiarity between the characters all remain the same, which is good. Again, the biggest issue is with the narrative of wanting the women drivers sacked. It views tackily, even for 1970s’ standards. Thankfully, Olive’s (Anna Karen) pregnancy and its comedic execution of labour, leaves a hilarious lasting image overall.  

3 Stars


For John.

This article’s featured image: By Source, MGM-EMI, Fair Use

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