Stan Butler (Reg Varney) is a bus driver, and his best friend Jack (Bob Grant) is his conductor, a terrible twosome who get away with murder under the nose of their inspector, Blakey (Stephen Lewis) who is forever trying to make them get their comeuppance. Some chance of that, as he warns them for the umpteenth time that they could lose their jobs if they do not behave and they counter that with the fact that their union wouldn't stand for it, and besides the corporation is short-staffed enough as it is. But what if radical measures were taken to ensure the amount of bus drivers were in an abundance? What if they allowed women drivers?
The most successful British film of 1971 was not some prestige production like Nicholas and Alexandra, no, it was the feature film spin-off from On the Buses, a hugely popular ITV sitcom that had been running for a couple of years and was enjoying its heyday when not only this was released, but two further movies as well. It was brought to us by Hammer, who were finding their usual bread and butter of horror flicks was not bringing in the cash as it used to and, like so many other UK production companies of the time, decided to branch out into adapting a work with a built in audience which had already appreciated it on the small screen.
Naturally, this now looks prehistoric in its attitudes towards women, and there is some unintended entertainment to be derived from just how wrong-headed the whole plot is. To call it sexist is putting it mildly as when Stan and Jack and all the male drivers find out the new plan to bring in women, they are up in arms and do their best to sabotage the new drivers in a campaign that would nowadays be termed bullying in the workplace. It's worth pointing out all the new staff are battleaxes except for one, who Stan takes a fancy to but is foiled by the other men who turn up at the house of the object of his affection and tell him to quit it or they will beat him up, something he is forced to comply with.
And that's meant to be a lighthearted moment. The sheer obliviousness as to how offensive they are being actually works in the film's favour, as it begins to hold a keen fascination. Never mind watching some sober documentary about the three day week, just catch On the Buses and you will see what life was really like in the seventies - it does hold an undeniable authenticity in its point of view and how the characters carry themselves. It's easy to look back and be baffled at the fact that the middle aged, not conventionally attractive Stan and Jack have their pick of the girls who stray into their orbit, but they were treated as heroes by the viewing public of the day, perhaps for that very reason.
All the regular cast from the television series are present, so Doris Hare returns as mum, and Michael Robbins is Arthur, the husband of Stan's sister, the Olive of legend (Anna Karen); they all live together under one roof, ostensibly for comic purposes, but otherwise a neat illustration of the austerity of the decade. In this one, Olive becomes pregnant for a subplot that sees her crave pickled onions, proving that everyone in this story is obsessed with sex whether they like it or not - well, all except mum and possibly Blakey. However, for a film that spends most of the running time preoccupied with the pleasures of the flesh, it has to be one of the least erotic films ever made, with every reference to getting it on merely the set up to yet another leering gag. This leads to such an amount of longsuffering on the part of just about everybody that you wonder why they bother, but bother they did and there are a few funny lines here even if this is strictly for nostalgists or sociologists. Music by Max Harris.