And I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that the key texts in understanding this era are the three spin-off films made from the ITV comedy series On the Buses.
This was a rare success for ITV comedy which was shown between 1969 and 1973 and starred Reg Varney as the bus driver Stan Butler and Bob Grant as his conductor Jack Harper.
There were three spin-off films: On the Buses (1971), Mutiny on the Buses (1972) and Holiday on the Buses (1973). As a Guardian article on the oeuvre by Andrew Roberts once said:
It may seem bizarre now, but On the Buses was the most successful British film of 1971, outgrossing allcomers, including Diamonds Are Forever.Roberts went on to aay:
In retrospect, On the Buses is as bleak as any offering from Ken Loach, with its London of rusting Hillman Minxes, bare light bulbs and kitchens reeking of congealed fat.All that was true, but we should not ignore the sexual politics of On the Buses either. Reg Varney and Bob Grant were both middle-aged and not particularly attractive, yet all the dolly-bird conductresses were depicted as being up for sex with them at the drop of a peaked cap.
And the first of the films revolved around Varney and Grant's successful attempt to sabotage management's attempt to bring in women drivers. Females characters may have been available, but they were certainly not liberated.
What of the labour politics of On the Buses. Stumbling and Mumbling once wrote a post blaming all Britain's subsequent economic woes on Reg Varney - he also opened the first ATM machine.
Andrew Roberts, however, sees it differently:
But it sold vast numbers of cinema seats – unlike its near contemporary, Carry On at Your Convenience. The only entry in the Carry On series with a contemporary blue-collar work setting, At Your Convenience made the fatal error of siding with the management – unlike On the Buses, where Inspector Blakey merely exists to be splashed by Reg Varney's bus passing through a convenient puddle.Even at the time, Blakey was my favourite character. And I don't know if it is age, my experience of public transport or our post-Thatcher society, but I cannot help noticing today that the passengers counted for nothing in On the Buses.
Just at Alexander Mackenderick, the director of Whisky Galore!, sympathised with Captain Waggett, the representative of English officialdom who attempted to round up the whisky rescued from the wreck of the S.S. Cabinet Minister, so I now see Blakey as the hero of On the Buses and its spin-off films.
And whatever you think of the labour politics of On the Buses, its sexual politics was indefensible.
I 'ate you, Butler.