TV Shows We Used To Watch - "On The Buses" 1969–73
Picture from London Weekend Television show scenes from 'On the buses' featuring Reg Varney, Cicely Courtneidge, later Doris Hare, Anna Karen, Stephen Lewis and Bob Grant.
On the Buses is a British sitcom created by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, broadcast in the United Kingdom 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. The comedy partnership turned to a friend, 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.
The earlier series were recorded at London Weekend Television's studios in Wembley. In late 1972, LWT relocated to 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 including Southend, Basildon, Braintree and Tilbury are all mentioned. One of the termini for the buses was Cemetery Gates, for which LWT used the entrance to Lavender Hill Cemetery in Enfield, North London, near Reg Varney's home. Lavender Hill also features in the last episode of the last series, featuring the Town Hall, now the Battersea Arts Centre.
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 series was never made. 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.
Bristol Built Lodekka Bus co-stars in TV Production
London Weekend Television's comedy series 'On The Buses', starring Reg Varney and Cicely Courtneidge, each week has in the middle of its studio set a genuine green Bristol Lodekka bus, registration number AEV 811F built at Brislington.
Hired from the Eastern National Bus Company, this vehicle, on its arrival, created something of a problem.
Each week a live studio audience sees the series recorded and during some of the scenes Reg Varney. as the bus driver Stan Butler. has to actually start the engine.
'In the confined studio space, we suddenly realised that 'if we weren't careful we would gas the audience in a way we didn't want to' says Reg.
So the ever-ingenious technicians at London Weekend Television's studios devised a way of boxing-in the bus's exhaust and piping the exhaust fumes straight out of the studios and away from the audience of 250.
The Eastern National Company's chief driving instructor gave Reg Varney a try-out in the cab of AV 811 F and quickly formed the impression that he would be very suitable material for training as a bus driver. During the period of the filming, when the Eastern National fleet name was covered up by the 'Luxton & District' name board, several members of the public actually went into the office and enquired whether the company had been taken over.
At one stage during the filming an Eastern National saloon came into the depot and got in on the act. When the Film Director realised that it was displaying 'Eastern National' he had a 'Luxton & District' slip stuck over the fleet name on the rear and while this solved the immediate problem, all concerned forgot the slip was there and when the vehicle went off down the road with the 'Luxton & District' slip on the back it was chased by a horrified depot inspector, who fortunately caught it up at the traffic lights.
Like several other London-made ITV sitcoms of the era, the format of On The Buses was sold to American television, where it was remade by NBC as Lots a Luck, starring Dom DeLuise, running for 24 episodes in 1973–74. The American version failed to succeed and has never been screened in Britain.
Reginald Alfred "Reg" Varney (11 July 1916 – 16 November 2008) was an English actor, most notable for his role as Stan Butler in 1970s TV sitcom On the Buses.
Varney found it difficult to find television work after On the Buses, owing to his typecasting as Stan Butler. He told an interviewer, "Whatever I did after On The Buses, nobody wanted to know about it. But I can't knock the programme because it brought me offers to do concert tours in Australia, New Zealand and Canada."
The British public never fully forgave him for leaving On the Buses. His popularity waned, and his television and film career collapsed. He ended up working as an entertainer on cruise ships and touring Australia with his one-man show. He had a heart attack in 1965, and in 1981 he suffered a more severe one. He then contracted a severe viral infection which for three years made working hard for him. In 1989 he suffered a stroke, which left him with an uneven heartbeat. Subsequently he divided his time between his home in a small village near Dartmouth and a villa in Malta.
Varney moved to Devon in the late 1980s and lived alone after his wife, Lilian Emma Varney, died in East Devon in 2002, aged 92.
Varney died aged 92 in a nursing home in Budleigh Salterton, Devon, on 16 November 2008, after suffering a chest infection. He was survived by his daughter Jeanne Varney.
Robert St Clair Grant (14 April 1932 – 8 November 2003), usually known as Bob Grant, was an English actor, best known for playing Jack Harper in On the Buses. He was born in Hammersmith, west London, the son of Albert George Grant and Florence Grant (née Burston).
Grant trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, working in his spare time as a frozen food salesman and also (coincidentally, in view of his later career) as a bus driver. After doing national service in the Royal Artillery, he made his stage debut in 1952 as Sydney in Worm's Eye View at the Court Royal, Horsham.
Grant is perhaps best remembered as the randy bus conductor Jack Harper in the television comedy On the Buses, which ran for 74 episodes between 1969 and 1973; he co-wrote 12 episodes with co-star Stephen Lewis (the Inspector). Although the critics thought it was a vulgar brand of comedy, it was an instant success with the viewers, and led to three feature films On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973), the first of which was more successful in the UK than the Bond film of that year.
The series was the peak of his career; when Grant married for the third time in 1971 there were huge crowds outside the register office and the couple had to abandon their hired Rolls-Royce and walk to the reception. A double-decker bus had been provided for the guests, but they had to walk as well.
In the 1980s, he suffered from manic depression and other mental problems, because of a lack of work and his vast debts. In 1987 he disappeared from his home in Leicestershire for five days; it later emerged that he had gone to Dublin intending to kill himself. He returned only after a public appeal from his wife. In 1995 he attempted suicide again, and was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after being found slumped over the wheel of a car filled with exhaust fumes.
His last acting role was in the West End in Hobson's Choice early in 1996. Grant then moved with his wife to Church End Twyning, about a mile south of Twyning, near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. He lived very reclusively and neighbours would only see him when he was trimming his hedge.
Grant was found dead in his garage inside his fume-filled car with a hose attached to the exhaust pipe in 2003. He was 71 years old.
Anna Karen - Born 19 September 1936 was a South African-British film, television and theatre actress. Her best known roles are as Olive in the sitcoms On the Buses in 1969 until 1973 and The Rag Trade in 1977 until 1978, and also as Sal Martin in the BBC soap opera EastEnders from 1996 until 2011.
Early in her career, Karen worked as a striptease dancer at London's Panama Club. During her acting career she has starred in many films and television programmes, including the BBC sitcom Wild, Wild Women, between 1968 and 1969. That same year she played a schoolgirl in the classic bikini-flying scene in the film Carry On Camping (even though she was 32 years old). In both these roles she acted with Barbara Windsor (herself a 31-year-old "schoolgirl" in the film).
Karen is best remembered for her role in the LWT sitcom On the Buses (1969–73). In this series, Karen played Olive, the dowdy sister of Stan (Reg Varney), and wife of Arthur (Michael Robbins). She also appeared in the film spin-offs, On the Buses, Mutiny on the Buses, and Holiday on the Buses. From 1977 to 1978, Karen reprised the role of Olive in the LWT revival of the sitcom The Rag Trade created by the same writers.
Karen has also been a regular in pantomimes over the years, and played the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at the Millfield Theatre, at Christmas 2008.
Karen lives in Essex, and was married to actor/comedian Terry Duggan until his death in 2008. They had a daughter, Gloria. Karen teaches drama at Paul's Theatre School, based in Hornchurch, Essex.
Mabel Butler (series 1)
Dame Esmerelda Cicely Courtneidge DBE (1 April 1893 – 26 April 1980) was an English actress and comedienne. The daughter of the producer Robert Courtneidge, she was appearing in his productions in the West End, by the age of 16, and was quickly promoted from minor to major roles in his Edwardian musical comedies.
After the outbreak of the First World War, her father had a series of failures and temporarily withdrew from production. No other producers offered the young Courtneidge leading roles in musical comedies, and she turned instead to the music hall, learning her craft as a comedienne. In 1916 she married the actor and dancer Jack Hulbert, with whom she formed a professional as well as a private partnership that lasted until his death 62 years later. They acted together on stage and screen, initially in a series of revues, with Hulbert frequently producing as well as performing.
Courtneidge appeared in 11 British films in the 1930s, and one in Hollywood, finding this work to be very lucrative. She and Hulbert also recorded for Columbia and HMV, returning to the stage in the late 1930s. During the Second World War, Courtneidge entertained the armed forces and raised funds for the troops. She then had a long run in Under the Counter, a comedy in which she received glowing notices. Notable among her other successes was Courtneidge's performance in Ivor Novello's musical Gay's the Word in 1951–52. During the rest of the decade, she focused on revues and straight plays.
After the mid-1960s, Courtneidge concentrated on the non-musical theatre, appearing in the West End and on tour in a range of plays, both serious and comic. While appearing in her last West End run in 1971, she celebrated 70 years on the stage. Afterwards, she continued to work for a further five years before retiring.
One of her last appearances was in a royal gala performance at the Chichester Festival Theatre in June 1977, celebrating the Queen's Silver Jubilee. The performance was called God Save the Queen! and had an all-star cast, including Ingrid Bergman, Wendy Hiller, Flora Robson and Diana Rigg.
Hulbert died in 1978; Courtneidge died two years later, shortly after her 87th birthday, at a nursing home in Putney, survived by her only child, a daughter. Courtneidge was cremated at the Golders Green Crematorium.
Mabel Butler (series 2–7)
Doris Hare, MBE (1 March 1905 – 30 May 2000) was a Welsh born actress, best known for her role as Mrs Butler in the popular sitcom On the Buses alongside Reg Varney.
Hare was born in Bargoed, Glamorgan. Her parents had a portable theatre in South Wales and it seemed inevitable that she would become a part of it, making her debut at the age of three in Current Cash and appearing in juvenile troupes all over Britain as a child, before going solo as 'Little Doris Hare', appearing in music hall, variety, cabaret, revues and pantomimes.
In 1930, the actress toured in The Show's the Thing, taking the part made famous by Gracie Fields. In 1932 she appeared in the West End in Noël Coward's show Words and Music, alongside John Mills. In 1936 she made her Broadway debut in Night Must Fall. During the war, Hare joined Evelyn Laye to put on a revue for the troops and compered Shipmates Ashore, the BBC's programme for the Merchant Navy, earning her an MBE in 1941.
In 1961 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and in 1965 appeared at the National Theatre at the Old Vic. She acted in plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Pinero and Harold Pinter,
Having turned down the role of Ena Sharples in Coronation Street in 1960, Hare did play Alice Pickens in the series during 1969. She was due to marry Albert Tatlock, but the wedding never took place.
That same year Hare came to national attention in the role of Mrs Butler in On the Buses, taking over the part from Cicely Courtneidge in the second series of the raucous ITV comedy. The series ran until 1973 and spawned three spin-off films On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973) in which Hare recreated her small-screen role. The cast also performed a stage version of the popular series in Vancouver, Canada, in 1988.
In 1974 Hare spent a year in the West End farce No Sex Please, We're British and made her final stage appearance, aged 87, at the London Palladium alongside John Mills in a tribute to Evelyn Laye.
Hare won a Variety Club of Great Britain Special Award for her contributions to show business in 1982.
Inspector Cyril "Blakey" Blake
Stephen Lewis (born Stephen Cato 14 November 1936) is an English actor. He is best known for his roles as Inspector Cyril "Blakey" Blake in the LWT sitcom On the Buses, Clem "Smiler" Hemmingway in the longest running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine and Harry Lambert in BBC Television's Oh, Doctor Beeching!.
In 1969 Lewis starred in his best remembered role as Blakey (catch phrase "I hate you Butler"), in the British sitcom On the Buses, which ran for 74 half-hour episodes and spawned three films, On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973); he co-wrote 12 episodes with fellow star Bob Grant (conductor Jack Harper). While the lead character Reg Varney played a character intended to be significantly younger than himself, Lewis was made-up to look much older than his actual age, being only 32 when the programme began. A spin off series, Don't Drink the Water, ran for thirteen episodes from 1974 to 1975. This featured Blakey retiring to Spain with his sister, Dorothy (Pat Coombs). In the '90s Lewis's character Blakey (or a very similar-looking character) appeared regularly on Jim Davidson's version of The Generation Game on BBC1.
Michael Anthony Robbins (14 November 1930 – 11 December 1992, Caterham in Surrey) was a British actor known for his television work, including his role as Arthur Rudge in sitcom On the Buses (1969–72).
Born in London, Robbins was a bank clerk who became an actor after appearing in amateur dramatic performances in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where he and his family lived at the time. Robbins made his television debut as the cockney soldier in Roll-on Bloomin' Death. Primarily a comedy actor, he is best remembered for the role of Arthur Rudge, the persistently sarcastic husband of Olive (Anna Karen), in the popular sitcom On the Buses (1969–73). Robbins and Karen provided the secondary comic storyline to Reg Varney's comedy capers at the bus depot. Robbins also appeared in the series film spin-offs, On the Buses, Mutiny on the Buses, and Holiday on the Buses. His other comedy credits include non-recurring roles in Man About the House, The Good Life, One Foot in the Grave, The New Statesman, George and Mildred, Hi-De-Hi, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and You Rang, M'Lord?. He appeared as a rather humorously portrayed police sergeant in the TV adaptation of Brendon Chase.
As well as these comic roles, he assumed various straight roles in some of the major British television shows of the 1960s and 1970s: including Minder, The Sweeney, Z-Cars, Return of the Saint, Murder Most English, The Avengers, Dixon of Dock Green and the 1982 Doctor Who story The Visitation.
Robbins's film credits included The Whisperers, Up The Junction, The Looking Glass War, Zeppelin and Blake Edwards' film Victor/Victoria and Just Ask For Diamond.
Robbins was an indefatigable worker for charity. He was active in the Grand Order of Water Rats (being elected 'Rat of the Year' in 1978) and the Catholic Stage Guild; and received a Papal Award for his services in 1987. In one of his last television appearances, in A Little Bit of Heaven Robbins recalled his childhood visits to Norfolk and spoke of his faith and love of the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. In the mid-1970s he also directed a film: How Are You?.
Robbins was married to actress Hal Dyer until he died from cancer in Caterham, Surrey, aged 62. Dyer died in 2011 from a brain haemorrhage. Robbins is survived by his 2 children Ben and Sarah and his 4 grandchildren Daniel, Max, Lucy and Joe.