On the Buses

I’ve never witnessed the sitcom adventures of Blakey (Stephen Lewis) in On the Buses, although I have listened to Art Blakey on plenty of buses. And technically I’ve only half-seen this big-screen outing from 1971 since I was also listening to The Trap’s commentary track, which is the only way to watch On the Buses without throwing yourself under one.

Misogyny On the Buses.

Thank god they don’t make them like this anymore. Today no one in their right mind would greenlight a sitcom about randy bus drivers (maybe BBC Three), to say nothing of the anti-integrationist plot that sees our heroes (Reg Varney and Bob Grant) systematically bullying their new female colleagues. Produced by Hammer Films, it probably features more letching than all 9 of their Dracula movies combined.

The biggest takeaway is just how depressing the 1970s were. Every scene features some form of sexual harassment on the wet, grey streets of Hertfordshire, or in squalid kitchens amid wet, grey plates of indeterminate slop. It takes place across three sets, some of which are visibly unfinished while others recall the bleak kitchen sink realism of Look Back in Anger. That this outsold Diamonds Are Forever to become the year’s highest-grossing British film says more about the Bond movie than it does On the Buses.

It’s certainly energetic and includes the kind of high-speed bus stunt driving usually reserved for pulling away from running commuters at the last minute, but the best that can be said about On the Buses is that it made me feel strangely optimistic about the current state of the country. However desperately the government wants to drag us back into this pre-EU, pre-MeToo world, decades of multiculturalism, feminism, food colouring and global warming cannot be so easily undone.

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