Sunday, November 16, 2008

R.I.P., Reg Varney

A poster at In the Balcony notes that comic actor Reg Varney, star of the huge London Weekend Television sitcom hit On the Buses (1969-73), has passed away at the age of 92. I’m ashamed to admit, however, that I thought Varney had left us long before that.

Premiering on ITV in 1969, Buses starred Varney as Stan Butler, a bus driver for the Luxton & District Traction Company, who experienced constant aggravation at both home and the office. His best friend at the bus company was lecherous conductor Jack Harper (Bob Grant—not the infamous right-wing radio talk-show host, but a British actor who resembled a grotesque caricature of Eric Idle), and the two of them were constantly chasing after the female employees (“clippies”)—much to the consternation of their supervisor, Inspector Blake (Stephen Lewis)…a tyrannical martinet with a Hitler moustache nicknamed “Blakey” by Stan and Jack. (Blakey’s constant refrain of “I ‘ate you, Butler!” soon became the series’ popular catchphrase.) At home, Stan had to deal with his domineering mother (“Mum,” played by Dame Cicely Courtneidge and later Doris Hare), homely sister Olive (Anna Karen) and sponging brother-in-law Arthur (Michael Robbins).

Buses creators Ronald Wolfe and Ronald Chesney pitched the show to the BBC in 1969 with a pilot called The Early Shift but the Beeb took a pass, allowing LWT to take the idea and run with it for seven series and seventy-four episodes. It was never a critical darling but audiences ate it up—it was so successful that it spawned three theatrical releases: On the Buses (1971), Mutiny On the Buses (1972) and Holiday On the Buses (1973)—the first one doing such boffo B.O. that it edged out the James Bond flick Diamonds are Forever (1971) that year for the number-one position. The series has since been released in its entirety in both Region 1 and 2 versions, and also served as the inspiration for a short-lived sitcom in 1973 starring Dom DeLuise, Lotsa Luck!

On the Buses wasn’t Varney’s first regular TV gig; he also co-starred in the BBC smash The Rag Trade (also created by Messrs. Wolfe and Chesney) from 1961 to 1963, and Beggar My Neighbour from 1966-68. His last sitcom was Down the Gate, which lasted two series from 1975 to 1976. In addition to the Buses movies, Varney also made appearances in films like The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966), The Best Pair of Legs in the Business (1972) and Go For a Take (1972).

Cor blimey, Reg. You will be missed.


Toby said...
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ON THE BUSES said...

I attended Reg's funeral on 1st December, at St Peter's Church in Budleigh Salterton on behalf of the fans. It was a celebration of his life with lots of family and friends in attendance.
ON THE BUSES fanclub

Anonymous said...

I used to watch "On The Buses" when it first appeared on TV way back in the 60's and 70's. Just recently it reappeared and I have been viewing it once again with much delight. Reg Varney was a brilliant actor who portrayed his comic routines with flair and genius. The others in the show were perfectly cast in their roles, especially Olive, who I find could have been funnier but that would have underscored Stan's position in the cast. Loved the show then and still love it now. I hope that it will continue to be broadcast here in Canada as I would love my grandchildren to see what real British humour can accomplish.

bart_simpson1998 said...

i love on the buses i have all of the dvd's i have the movie's the lot :D <3