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On The Buses title

On The Buses was an extremely popular television situation comedy, written by Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney, which began in 1969. Its setting was the Luxton and District Traction Company, where Stan Butler (played by Reg Varney) worked as a bus driver. His conductor was Jack Harper (played by Bob Grant) and the fly-in-the-ointment of his life was Inspector Blake (played by Stephen Lewis) - overly officious and with an appearance somewhat reminiscent of Adolf Hitler. Not that Inspector Blake's job was an easy one - Stan and Jack were invariably late for work and unreliable, and made his life miserable too. Stan lived with his mother (played by Cicely Courtneidge and later, Doris Hare), as did his sister, Olive (Anna Karen), and her husband, Arthur (Michael Robbins).

All of these characters would appear in the Look-In strip although, understandably, it focused mainly on the antics of Stan, Jack and Blakey. The weekly instalments avoided the sexual innuendo of the TV episodes, instead concentrating on the battle of wits (or lack of) between Blakey on the one hand, and Stan and Jack on the other. The writers included Scott Goodall and Geoff Cowan. Harry North was the artist for the entire run, creating some wonderful comedic scenes as well as some stunning depictions of rainy and snowy settings. Interestingly, he had worked as a bus driver for a period.

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On The Buses artwork

The television series went through some changes as the years passed and, for the most part, these were reflected in the strip. Arthur makes his final appearance in the Look-In stories a few weeks after Michael Robbins left the series at the end of its sixth season, and when Reg Varney left part-way through its seventh season, Stan is immediately removed from the Look-In strip. Stan's final appearance is in the issue for 24/3/73 (No.13). Thereafter, the stories would focus on Blakey and Jack, the pair becoming a double act of sorts, with Blakey now living in Stan's old room (as did his television counterpart). Oddly, the masthead continued to include Reg Varney's character; the photograph of Stan was not removed until issue No. 8 for 1974.

All the stories are good, but these later Blakey-Jack stories are among the best, both in terms of script and artwork. Blakey and Jack on holiday (31/3/73 - No.14 to 21/4/73 - No.17), with each of them going through the same actions and with the same thoughts as the other, is wonderful, and the final story is particularly noteworthy, inspired by another television programme of the time which featured in Look-In, namely Kung Fu. In an issue which has David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine on the cover (state issue number), the reader is shown Jack as Kwai Chang Harper, barefooted, with a rolled up sleeping mat over his shoulder and spouting wisdom Oriental-style. Taking the Kung Fu theme further, there is a driver or conductor (it is unclear which) named Frank at the depot, who bears an uncanny likeness to a somewhat belligerent Master Po - though just what a blind conductor/driver is doing in a bus depot is perhaps best left unasked. It's interesting to note that one instalment of this story was in monochrome, the only one of all the weekly parts to be so. As the strip approached its end, Harry North began work on the single-page colour instalments of 'Doctor in Charge' for Look-In, and it may be that On the Buses suffered due to this extra workload. But with the three-day week only recently ended and further industrial action to come, the On the Buses strip may simply have been another victim of the politics of the time.

(Article by Kim Stevens)

On The Buses Chronology

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