Tuesday, 5 October 2010



“Stan is scheduled onto a new early morning service, then the bus company goes on strike.”

28 February 1969.

The first ever episode of On The Buses.  What a treat, what a delight.  It was black and white as too were the times.  It begins with the sight of a sausage being lovingly fried and Stan Butler (Reg Varney) stepping into the kitchen saying “morning mum” to his mother played here by Cicely Courtneidge.  With this he continues saying “cor these new schedules are murder” as he complains about having to get up early.  As he flicks on the radio he complains “not even Tony Blackburn is up” before looking for his shoes which it turns out his mum put in the oven overnight to keep warm.  Hilarity ensues as he puts said shoes on and burns his feet.  At this point she notices a hole in the sole of his shoe which is down to his pressing of the break pad which prompts a general review of his wellbeing and how rough he looks.  As Stan is being poured a cup of tea Arthur (Michael Robbins) steps down complaining about being woken by the noise and that he and Olive (Anna Karen) have been up since 5AM.  With this Arthur joins Stan for breakfast while mum makes Stan his packed lunch.  When asked why he isn’t using the canteen facilities it turns out that because of the early shift he isn’t getting back in time.  At this point Arthur states that Stan’s union should have had a vote to prevent such an occurrence to which he responds “they did, they agreed” prompting the response “I suppose you was too frightened to stand up at the meeting and say anything” to which Stan defensively replies “oh no I wasn’t, I wasn’t there, it was my bingo night” as it turns out that there were more union members at the bingo hall than the meeting.  Disgusted Arthur begins ranting how for twelve years he has been treasurer of the Railway Union and how “every member comes to every meeting” as Stan snaps back “with you as treasurer, I’m not surprised”.  At this point Stan’s mum interrupts with his lunch (the last three sausages) much to the chagrin of Arthur.  Ungrateful Stan says that he doesn’t like “cold bangers” to which his mum says they won’t be cold as she puts them in his thermos flask.  It then transpires that she has also used the last of the bacon on Stan’s lunch as Arthur comments “that’s no good for a working man” as Stan scoffs “working man?  A booking clerk at Crossley Junction?  Three trains a day, two of them cancelled.  The amount of work you get through you could survive on a cream cracker”.  Arthur then resigns himself to Corn Flakes but the milk has also run out having been used for the cat Rusty’s breakfast.  With this Olive steps into the room coughing heavily as everyone complains about her.  Soon Stan is also coughing as his mum fusses first asking if he is wearing his vest and then grabbing the bottle of cough syrup (Creosote) from Olive to give to Stan.  On the verge of being late Stan picks up his lunch with two flasks a she borrows his sister’s bike.  The scene closes with Olive lighting a fag still coughing and spluttering as Arthur and mum pull classic sitcom faces.  From here we cut to an exterior shot of Stan riding the bike in the dark and pulling into Luxton District bus depot where Jack Harper (Bob Grant) is stood waiting for him to arrive (“you’ve decided to come, have ya?”).  At this point Stan has a strange exchange with a black guy saying “here comes our new clippie”.  Then as Stan continues to complain about the schedule Jack says “here watch out, here comes the Gestapo” as Inspector Blake (Stephen Lewis) makes his first appearance in the show.  And it’s a good one as he orders Stan not to take his lunch into the drivers cab (“it could cause a nasty accident”).  With this he ups his enquiry asking (trusting) they have studied the new schedule before saying “drive away” and slamming the cab door on Stan.  At this point Stan asks Jack “where we going?”  After watching the bus pull away the episode cuts to daylight and the end of the shift as the bus pulls into the depot at 11.50AM with Blakey waiting upon arrival.  Once parked up he immediately pounces on Stan saying “where the ‘ell do you think you’ve been, eh?  You were due back at 11.33AM, you’re seventeen minutes late”.  As Jack hands Stan his packed lunch Blakey reminds the pair “you do know that you’re due out at 11.59AM, don’t ya?” causing Stan to complain that the canteen doesn’t open until midday.  Blakey being evil offers him the option of sitting on the “bench provided”.  Refusing to eat his lunch in “this drafty shed” he returns into his “cosy warm cab” to eat lunch.  While attempting to get his sausages out of his flask (“I can’t get me sausages out”) he continues to complain about being cold as Jack suggests he switches on the engine for warmth while lighting up a fag stood next to the bus.  Unsurprisingly this prompts Blakey to investigate as he tells Stan to switch off the engine prompting a tug of war between Blakey and Jack in telling him what to do (“get down”, “get in”).  Jack concludes that it is a “matter of principle” before threatening to phone the union office over Stan eating dinner in his bus cab.  With this Stan says “don’t bring the union into this, they’re useless” as they decide to settle it between themselves.  In the end Blakey is reduced to going to see the General Manager before Jack, acting as shop steward, orders Stan to also get out the cab.  The episode cuts to Jack holding court with other drivers stating that Stan has been intimidated by an inspector over his lunch arrangements prompting the demand of “no canteen, no buses” as everyone except Stan votes on a strike who has his arm twisted in favour at which point he says “can I have my lunch now?” biting down on a sausage.  End of Part One.

The episode resumes with a rainy exterior of Luxton District depot and a sign saying “Strike.  No Buses” before returning to the Butler house with Stan sitting in an armchair with Rusty the cat in his arms while eating an apple and watching television laughing at the rain outside.  At this point mum returns home surprised to see Stan back from work so early as he explains that he is on strike.  With this she complains about her and Olive having had to walk home two miles in the rain asking why he couldn’t keep the service open for his mum and how the dockers took care of their own when they went on strike, getting their meat orders in before action.  A drenched Olive then steps in through the door complaining that her hair is ruined as she coughs to emphasise her condition.  Arthur now returns home from work soaked and fuming.  Apparently he stood at a bus stop for an hour thinking it was a “normal service”.  Angrily Arthur says he would like to know who it was that started the strike so that he can “knock his block off”.  As Stan keeps quiet about being responsible Arthur pushes him further as he discovers that the strike is non-union and unofficial meaning it is without pay prompting his mum to panic.  With this Arthur expresses doubt that the strike will last as the others begin panicking over money.  As Arthur mugs it over now being the sole breadwinner Stan looks forward to tomorrow when he will remain in bed until the pubs open declaring “I love being on strike”.  The phone then rings as Jack calls to inform Stan that he will be on picket duty for 5.30AM in the morning.  With this we cut to them with the black guy on the picket line as Stan’s mum turns up with tea and buns in addition to some cherry linctus in case his cold “goes down to his chest”.  At this point some blokes with a TV camera coming across the street as the presenter introduces himself as being from the TV News and they would like “a few shots for tonight’s programme”.  Excited about the recognition the three of them agree as Stan’s mum points out that they will need some makeup for the TV before producing some lipstick for Stan making her look a fool.  At this point they hear a bus engine roar as the inspectors bring a bus out the back entrance to the chants of “scab” from the strikers.  With this they attempt to persuade Stan to lay in the road to prevent the bus doing its route.  And it works as Blakey stops the bus just short of rolling over Stan as his mum catches up and tells Blakey off for endangering her son.  Excited by the action the TV crew comes running for some footage as a large red mark is noticed on Stan’s coat which is believed to be blood.  Asked if he is all right, Stan responds confused before realising that it is the cough syrup.  Despite this he continues to play up the “injury” for the camera.  From here we cut to the evening and back home where Stan, Arthur and Olive watching the evening news.  Arthur is dismissive of the story even being shown but then it is broadcast as the lead story of the regional section.  Stan’s initial reaction is a bad one as upon seeing himself he comments: “something’s gone wrong, my face looks all fat” to which Arthur snaps “that’s because your face is all fat”.  In the middle of his interview on the ground in front of the bus, Stan’s mum pops up surprised to be in frame.  And then that is it, the story is done with Arthur commenting what a berk Stan was made to look.  Still scoffing Arthur says that management will definitely not back down now having seen that to which Stan bites back “at least I’ve been on the telly” to which he responds “so have The Munsters”.  At the end of the news programme a newsflash occurs as it is announced that management have agreed to demands to “avoid further bloodshed”.  Celebrating his victory Stan announces that he feels he can tackle anything at which point his mum cheekily hands him her dishcloth and says “tackle the washing up”.  With that we cut to the next day and outside Luxton District depot and then inside where Stan, Jack and the black guy continue to celebrate their victory (“now we know how to get what we want, don’t we”) as they bump into Blakey who informs them they’re due out in two minutes as Stan tells him “hold your hair on, we’re the bosses now”.  Responding to the comment Blakey says “in that case you better send out for your smoked salmon and caviar for lunches then” as he points towards the canteen where stood outside are two ladies holding signs saying: “Canteen Strike.  Extra Money For Extra Hours”.  “Blimey the canteen have gone on strike now, that’s a dead liberty that is”.  With resignation Stan states that there nothing they can do about it but Jack snaps back “oh can’t we…  Not one bus leaves this depot until we get our grub”.  Curious, Stan asks “how are we going to do that then?” as Jack and the black guy grab him and say “lie down in front of the bus”.  Cue applause, the theme music and the closing credits.  Job done.

This is a textbook tale of an old school worker versus management dispute.

The unions were strong in the late sixties; that black people were members and Jack was a socialist.

In the sixties it was easier to call a strike now.

Early on DJs Tony Blackburn and Jimmy Young are mentioned.  Later Arthur references The Munsters.

Surprisingly little just generally the manner with which Jack regularly lights up and smokes in the depot.

“Watch it watch it, you’ll spill me sausages”.  “I can’t get me sausages out”.

The tug of war between Jack and Blakey over whether Stan should stay in his bus cab and eat his lunch.  Then after Jack wins he pulls the old switcheroo on Stan and expresses the same request as Blakey all the long.

The Butler family has a cat called Rusty.  Stan was always “pale faced and thin as a lad”.  Stan left school at 14.

None other than having to deal with public transport strikes by train and tube drivers in the past.

For being a general troublemaker, Jack wins this day.

Not so much a guest appearance but the unnamed black guy is actually the fantastic Rudolph Walker that later appeared in Love Thy Neighbour and Eastenders.

This was the first episode so obviously none.

Mum is played by Cicely Courtneidge instead of Doris Hare.  Early on see fluffs a line calling Stan “Sam”.  The character of Blakey is far from developed as he poses something of a stern presence in what is quite a straight role.

1. Stan’s Lunch
2. A Matter Of Principle
3. On A Strike
4. Picket Duty
5. On The Telly

From the off the show establishes itself as a compact little sitcom.

These are sweet and sedate beginnings.