VINE VOICEon 12 October 2011
It seems a pretty true statement to say that it's widely considered that the BBC has been primarily the broadcaster who has produced the much greater share of sitcom classics. Their interpretation of comedy often seemed that little more sophisticated, and perhaps more eloquently written, than their nearest rivals, ITV, yet there are occasional exceptions. LWTs 'On The Buses' isn't especially sophisticated, true, and it's fair to say the politically correct brigade may find a few things to disapprove of in terms of social attitude on show here, yet when the show was at its peak, it seriously took some beating, such was the effectiveness of its humour. Everything seemed to fit into place most perfectly, not forgetting also the most wonderful casting.
The lead character, Stan (Reg Varney), alongside his mate Jack (Bob Grant), was a middle aged man who's job it was to drive the local bus, isn't really too detached in attitude to a typical male stereotype - very much into girl chasing, and especially the 'clippies' where he worked, and pretty much trying to get by by doing as little work as he could get away with. I think most of us have come across the type at one time or another. Stan still lived at home with his mother, his sister, Olive, and her husband, so there is plenty of scope for domestic humour also to be found in this series. Olive, played by Anna Karen, especially, was made the butt of many a joke because of her rather plain appearance, and her ongoing marriage problems with Arthur (Michael Robbins) became a consistent thread running through many of the storylines. Arthur appeared very rude and also rather aloof for much of the time, with an element of snobbery running through his character, but why appears to be very much a mystery, as he never seemed to be doing any better than the rest of them. One wonders why he ever decided to marry Olive in the first place. However, the character who was really most central to much of the humour is Inspector Blake (Blakey), who, by the end of the show's run, would replace Stan as the show's central character.
The first five series (of the seven) are pretty flawless, where the writers, Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, effortlessly appeared to write brilliantly conceived situations, which in turn created many wonderfully memorable comedy moments. Incidents involving attempting to date clippies became a consistent theme for Stan, alongside many a domestic drama, involving a motor bike, a toilet, some do it yourself decorating, to name just a few. The humour is always very immediate, and laughs are plentiful. Wolfe and Chesney displayed a wonderfully light touch to their writing, where, whatever the circumstance, the show always maintained that wonderful feelgood factor. It was never really crude, or overtly sexual, unlike today. There was always a warmth, and a homeliness, whatever the situation. If anything, series three to five, shows the show at its absolute peak, which was around the time that Blakey's comedy credentials began to be utilised more fully. In many ways as Blakey actor Stephen Lewis grew into his part, and he became known for his many catchphrases ('i 'ate you Butler' being perhaps the most popular) and pained facial expressions, so he became the catalyst for so much of the show's greatest moments.
Towards the end of the fifth series changes were at hand, when the writers, Wolfe and Chesney, decided to relinquish their control of the writing of the scripts (to concentrate on one of the highly successful 'On The Buses' films). This gave amongst others, the opportunity for Bob Grant, who played the role of Jack, and Stephen Lewis (Blakey), to contribute scripts. In truth, and despite a number of really high quality episodes in the shows latter days, this marked the beginning of the end for the series. What seemed like a truly funny show in previous series' now began to seem all rather silly, where a truly farcical element began to dominate many of the storylines. The episodes began to rely a little too much on the character of Blakey, in all sorts of haphazard situations, while one or two of the main cast, including Reg Varney, had had enough and decided to quit. Those later shows really do seem rather thread bare compared with the show at its peak, as though outrage had replaced what was once a truly entertaining show, which was initially very high on comedic value.
This DVD release also includes a number of extras, including a couple of Reg Varney variety shows, and also the opening episode to the follow up series 'Don't Drink The Water' (starring Stephen Lewis' character Blakey), all of which perhaps have fairly limited appeal.
In retrospect, it is perhaps best when purchasing this boxset to concentrate on the first five series, and not take too much time pondering over the inadequaces of some the rest of what's on offer. It is those five series which show this sitcom at its very best. At that point it could pretty much hold its own with any other sitcom around, too, past or present. A mighty fine achievement, too, in my opinion.