The last time I did an article on On the Buses, it was about the final two episodes of the series. By the time the series ended, that show had really run out of steam. Two of the main actors had left; Reg Varney and Michael Robbins were already gone. It was a very quiet end to a great series. I am happy to say, that this article focuses on two holiday episodes of On the Buses during its heyday. These episodes are from Series four and Series Five and this is amongst the great seasons of this series.
Christmas Duty 25.12.71
This is first Christmas episode of On the Buses and it focuses on Stan and Jack having to work on Christmas day. Originally they weren’t scheduled to do so. As they pull into the bus station with their bus on Christmas Eve, Blakey watched them get off the bus and the two guys are unloading all sorts of shopping. Stan and Jack used the bus to stop off and do some Christmas shopping for themselves. Of course that is against the regulations and Blakey is about to write them up but Stan soon turns Blakey’s attention to some of the stuff he bought including a remote controlled bus which eventually breaks Blakey’s gift to his mum. Blakey soon gets the better of Stan and Jack as they are the backups to a couple of employees who aren’t able to work Christmas because of the flu.
This change in plans also affects the Butler household. They always have their Christmas dinner at 2pm but because Stan now has to go into work and by the time he gets off work, he will have to walk home. Ironically, no buses will be running at the time! This means they can’t have Christmas dinner until 4pm. However, will the turkey last that long? The good news is that Olive’s husband Arthur has a motorbike who can run up to the bus depot and pick Stan up after work. The bad news is that by the time Arthur needs to leave to pick Stan up, he is completely and utterly drunk. The good news is that Olive can drive to pick up Stan. The bad news is that Olive can’t drive. This doesn’t stop her and the whole family including Stan’s mum going out to get Stan. A harrowing drive to the bus station ensues….
Back at the bus depot, Blakey fixed the tea pot for his mum and is about to leave. Jack and Stan are waiting for Arthur to pick them up and he is late. As they start to get annoyed, they see Arthur’s bike but they also notice that Olive is driving (not Arthur) and coming at them fast! They dive out of the way, as she drives past also nearly knocking over Blakey who drops his mother’s tea cup which completely smashes to the ground. Finally, Olive stops the bike, more like ramming into one of the buses in the depot. Based on how they are all laid out on the floor, it is amazing any of them weren’t killed. The bike is seriously damaged and Stan, Jack, and Arthur set about to try and fix it. This will take hours. Meanwhile, back out the house the turkey starts to burn and serious pillows of smoke start coming out of the oven. A passing police officer notices the smoke and calls the local fire brigade. The fire brigade come out, breaks a window and starts squirting fluid into the house to put out the fire. Funny enough, this is the second holiday themed series I watched in December where the kitchen starts on fire! The first is here.
Finally, the Butlers and Arthur get home, hours after leaving and very, very tired. Mum is worried about the turkey being in the oven for so long but when they get in, they don’t smell anything. But when they get into the kitchen, the room is full of nothing but white fluffy foam. When they pull out the turkey from the oven, it is completely burned. As they try to figure out what happened, the police officer stops in to let them know what happened. He also gives them a nice little warning that not everyone can be like them and be off all day to enjoy Christmas. Some people, like the police officer, has to work on Christmas!This episode is in black & white. This is not because it once existed in colour and was lost and all we have is a black & white telerecording. Even though the series had been in colour since Series Three in 1970, there was something that happened in late 1970 and 1971 that would change that. It was called the ITV colour strike. Basically, this was a strike by television technicians who wanted a pay rise. While this was being figured out, the technicians refused to work with colour television equipment. All the ITV companies including London Weekend Television which made On the Buses, invested a lot of money into colour television equipment. The new cameras had three tubes for colour and one monochrome tube. All the technicians had to do was simply turn the colour off the cameras. What complicated matters is that any exterior filming would have still been colour film and they would have needed to do their best when the film was fed through studio to completely kill all of the colour on these film inserts. There is something crisp and engaging about programs on black & white videotape. This episode looks great but is kind of bittersweet since it should have been in colour. In addition to On the Buses in my own collection, the series that had been affected by the ITV colour strike included Upstairs, Downstairs, Timeslip, The Mind of J.G. Reader, The Benny Hill Show, and Public Eye. Just a few months later brings us a resolution to the ITV colour strike and another Christmas episode.
Boxing Day Social 26.12.71
Arthur is waiting at the bus depot for the arrival of his sister Linda and his mum. They will be coming in on Stan and Jack’s bus and as they arrive, it is pretty clear right from the start that Linda and Jack have hit it off. Hey nonny nonny! The thing is that Arthur nor his mum have no idea that Linda has any interest in men, drinking or let alone going to a Boxing Day social over at the bus depot.
Back at the Butler’s house, Arthur’s mum starts laying into Olive for not having any children. Having children would be quite a miracle since Arthur had an operation years ago. Arthur continues to tell everyone in the room that Linda would have no interest in Jack or going to the social. Meanwhile in the front room of the house, Jack and Linda are having quite a nice snog. Unfortunately for Jack, Arthur is a pretty uptight sort of person!
Arthur doesn’t even know that Linda drinks and she hides it by telling everyone her drink is just lemon. She doesn’t tell anyone that the one ingredient missing is vodka. At Arthur’s request, Olive joins the table that Jack and Linda are sitting to break them up a bit. The table has a couple rounds of drinks already at the table so they can keep drinking and Olive pounds down Linda’s drinks thinking they are just lemon. She immediately gets drunk…..and frisky. Things come to a head with Olive as she asks Arthur to get her another drink only to find he had promised to buy some other (bustier!) woman a drink. Olive flips and makes a massive scene including standing on a chair and lifting her skirt up over her head! The best part of that scene is Michael Robbins reaction as he can barely keep a straight face as he tries to deliver his lines. Olive runs off to the restroom to cry, of course it’s the men’s restroom! Finally Arthur has all he can take of Jack hitting on his little sister. Just as Jack and Linda were going to have some private time in one of the buses, Arthur threatens to beat Jack up so Jack hands off Linda to Stan. Jack is pretty lame here. He doesn’t stand up for himself at all and quickly tells Arthur that there are plenty other women at the social he can find. That annoyed me when I watched it as I thought it was rude to Linda but not to worry as Linda had a backup plan of her own. As Stan shows Linda the bus, she gets frisky with him and they start going at it in the bus. Hey nonny nonny part two! Meanwhile, Blakey is showing Arthur’s mum around and opens up one of the doors of a bus only to find Stan and Linda making out passionately in it.
Both of these episodes are fun. There is one thing I will never understand, how can Stan and Jack get anywhere with women? Is this some sort of fantasy land that I am watching? I understand that women can be attracted to men who may not be great looking but have a great personality but Stan and Jack are lecherous. In Christmas Duty, they are waiting outside the women’s bathroom to grab the first woman that comes out to kiss underneath the mistletoe hanging above the bathroom door. When two women come out, they just grab them. I guess the good news is the women liked it. I don’t know how, they are both frightening looking men. Now, I fully understand that the roles these two actors were playing were meant to be younger than the actors themselves. Especially Stan was meant to be between 10 to 15 years younger than he really was but I have seen science fiction that has been more believable than this. At first I couldn’t believe that Linda would have a huge crush on Jack but then it became clear. She wasn’t necessarily interested in Jack; she was looking for anyone to have a good time with. As soon as Jack left the picture, she turned her attention (and hormonal drive) to Stan. I know I sound like a prude; I really am not. Maybe I’m just jealous over how Jack seems to be carrying all the machismo for the UK!
I think the real stand out in the series is Michael Robbins as Arthur. He is superb. Arthur is a huge hypocrite and is constantly horrible to Olive and really to everyone else. He does it in a way that is believable. Apart when he is yelling at everyone, he is actually a pretty quiet if hugely selfish person. He is pretty unhappy with his life and would like everyone to know about it. All the time! Stan is always loud, he is loud when he is just talking. There is just an underrated quality about Michael Robbins. I have watched him in a lot of stuff over the years. Obviously, he was great in Fairly Secret Army (why the hell is this not on DVD!!!) and I also love his portrayal of Richard Mace in the Doctor Who story, The Visitation. Easily it’s one of the very best guest starring appearances of anyone in Doctor Who.
Anna Karen is also incredible as Olive. What I didn’t realize is that Anna Karen wore a wig and put on padding to be Olive. She started out her career as a stripper and was a stripper alongside Barbara Windsor. Her stage name was “Anna Karen, the Swedish Sex Bomb”. In Christmas Duty, when the bike slams into the bus, for the rest of the episode Olive has a weird stain on the back of her white pants. Being in black & white you can’t tell what colour the stain is and it looks a lot like she took a dump in her pants…..I’m just saying! Also, a shout out to Stephen Lewis for Blakey. The funny thing about Blakey is that he is not as bad as everyone makes him out to be. He just follows the rules and that’s something Jack or Stan is not interested in doing.
On December 18, Ronald Wolfe co-creator of On the Buses passed away. He wrote with Ronald Chesney. Not only did they create On the Buses but also created such shows as The Rag Trade, Meet the Wife, and one of my guilty pleasures Take a Letter, Mr. Jones. They even wrote an episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo! He passed away three days after he fell down the stairs at his home. He was 89 and will be missed.
I watched these episodes from the Network release that was boxed together of the single releases in 2006. No restoration work was done on the episodes but they include ad caps. Some of the DVDs also include slates before the episode as seen below. This is from Boxing Day Social.
All in all, a nice theme month of Holiday episodes for December. In January, we will be back to picking whatever we randomly choose and watching it. The next time we devote the entire month to a particular theme will be in May when we look at only the final episodes of a TV series. If you want a primer of what that was like, look what I wrote about the final two episodes of On the Buses here.
Finally, as I post this article it is January 2nd 2012. It was 50 years ago today Z Cars made its debut. 800 episodes were made, a lot of them missing. It ran from 1962 to 1978. It spun off into many different series, Softly, Softly (1966), Softly, Softly Taskforce (1969), Barlow at Large (1971). Two of the characters were so popular, Barlow & Watts, that two series were made where as their characters went through paperwork and evidence of old famous cases to try and contemporarily solve them. Such as Second Verdict (1976) and even Jack the Ripper (1973). With such a long an illustrious history and multiple spin offs, one would assume there would be a ton of DVDs of these series or maybe even a best of set. There is none. Nothing at all. Never the less, happy anniversary Z Cars!
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Next week: out of Christmas but not out of comedy. I think for anyone in the US who got any interest in British television, this series is probably one of the first four series they would have seen. We will take a look at two episodes of the truly iconic Monty Python’s Flying Circus with two episodes from Series Two: Spam and Royal Episode 13. I will happily explain why I think Monty Python’s Flying Circus has received the shoddiest treatment of any series to be release on DVD.