Thursday, 19 January 2017

On the Buses

On The Buses, 1969. Aunt Maud comes to visit and asks awkward questions about why Stan isn't married - and why he spends so much time with his bus conductor... 

It's funny Stan never got married, isn't it?
What do you mean oooh? well, I hope he's not going to turn out like Uncle Herbert
And why shouldn't I turn out like Uncle Herbert? It's something we don't talk about, love
Well, it's just that he was, uh, you know. But it's alright now because it's legal! Blimey

On the Buses was a hugely popular ITV sitcom - like, it had its own comic strip and the stars were mobbed in the streets popular - with seven series and three feature films produced between 1969 and 1973. It followed Stan Bulter (Reg Varney), his family, and his worklife as a bus driver alongside best friend and bus conductor, Jack Harper (Bob Grant) - most of which involved skiving off and / or avoiding the wrath of Inspector ‘Blakey’ Blake (Stephen Lewis).

This clip is from S2:E4 ‘Aunt Maud’, and originally aired at 7pm on 21st June 1969 to an audience of millions. When Aunt Maud comes to stay, she asks awkward questions about why Arthur and Olive (Stan’s little sister) have no children despite being married nine years, and why Stan still hasn’t even managed to make it down the aisle… Like most popular ‘low brow’ sitcoms of the day, On the Buses used camp innuendo for laughs - both Stan and Jack played up the limp wristed stereotype in a few episodes, usually as part of their neverending quest for ‘crumpet’ (women).

What is interesting about this scene though, imo, is that for 1969 - just two years after homosexuality was legalised in the UK - it’s a fairly frank and non-judgemental treatment. Arthur, Stan’s brother-in-law, comments ‘what a family I married into’ but Stan himself doesn’t fly off the handle, or spend longer than a few moments sulking. Nor does Arthur freak out about having to share a bed with Stan that night, so Aunt Maud can sleep in Stan’s room.

I generally think that sitcoms have been under-utilised in queer history studies because, yeah, the subject is rarely treated seriously. But. As extrememly popular entertainment, scenes like this arguably had a bigger impact - especially on younger viewers - than even highly acclaimed LGBTQ+ themed films like Ken Russell’s Women In Love, which was also released in 1969 with a X (over 18s only) certificate.




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TV and Film History




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