I ‘ate you, Butler, etc, etc
1973 was a vintage year for film-goers: The Exorcist, The Sting, Magnum Force, Enter the Dragon, Amacord, Badlands, Coffy, The Crazies, Don’t Look Now, The Holy Mountain, The Wicker Man, The Stone Killer, Live and Let Die, The Asphyx. Hammer Films managed to keep its end up with the mighty Holiday on the Buses. The original On the Buses series ran from 1969 until 1973, starring Reg Varney and Bob Grant as a couple of sexual predators, who use their jobs at a bus depot as a licence to pull the birds (who are invariably half their age and clad in the miniest of mini skirts).
The series contained all that British comedy held dear at the time: sexism, racism, homophobia, toilet humour, the crudest of double entendre, hackneyed stereotypes and rotten acting. Watched nowadays, the series is, admittedly, mediocre. The film adaptations, however, are far better stuff. On the Buses and Mutiny on the Buses are supremely watchable, but Holiday is the true masterpiece. The Carry On films were running out of steam and the Confessions… films were looming on the horizon, but possibly the best comedy of the 70s had arrived. The beauty of films like this is the ability to sit agog at the parade of offensive jokes, women screaming at spiders and and men nearing retirement still living with their mothers. The cast of the series are transplanted to a holiday camp in Wales, but the jokes are the same. Over the next 85 minutes suitcases will fly into a river, toilets will explode, subtle seduction techniques are rebuffed, Arthur Mullard will dance and a bus will be abandoned on a beach.
The plot is, essentially, irrelevant. Stan and Jack (Varney and Grant) wave it at anything in a skirt, with varying degrees of success. Wannabe nymphomaniac Olive appears in cinema’s most horrendous swimsuit, accompanied by the silver screen’s biggest twat, husband Arthur (who gets most of the best lines). Blakey continues to hate Butler and so on. The decline of the British film industry was, by then, pretty inexorable, and films like these act as a time capsule for pre-Ben Elton comedy, and in their own way kept the industry going for a while. I remember walking past the Plaza Cinema (sadly now a snooker hall), which showed nothing but soft core 70s sex films. The posters normally had a badly done painting of a partially unrobed Mary Millington on them. For reasons that have never been made clear, they once showed the Disney cartoon Pete’s Dragon in the late 70s. I remember trooping into a dark auditorium, with ripped, stained seats and a then-unidentifiable smell in the air (I was only 6 at the time!). There were no curtains on the screen and not even the pre-feature adverts for local Indian restaurants. When the film had finished, a queue of shifty-looking patrons were outside, presumably waiting for the latest David Sullivan epic. Its a strange concept that these seedy wankers were keeping Hollywood at bay for a bit longer.
Its not a subtle film, but Holiday is a long way from the Confessions films or Come Play With Me. However, for a film that’s usually screened in the afternoon on ITV 2, there is a goodly amount of flesh on show, with a parade of mini skirted girls, who are probably now as old as my mum, and a few bra and knickers shots (the bras are inevitable the twin-pyramid style as seen in the old Cross-Your-Heart adverts). There are several classic scenes, including the aforementioned exploding toilet, a nookie-wrecking bout of sea-sickness, an old-time dancing lesson (complete with a Jim Davidson-style joke about ‘fairies’) and a leg-over session in a nurse’s office. Wilfred Brambell‘s ageing Irish roué seems a little sinister now, though. The mysterious animal magnetism of the two stars is still as incomprehensible as ever. As my wife says, “He [Jack] looks like a fucking horse”. Perhaps his face isn’t his only equine quality. If you can take the dodgier aspects of the film as being ‘of their time’, then you can’t spend a Sunday afternoon in a better way.