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Monday 23 October 2017

Following the movie route of On the Buses

COMMENT:
SITCOM HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF

PRIME CUT: Child Soldiers of WW2 (Channel 5, 8pm) - documentary

THE numbers are in and they're large, if largely unsurprising. Nobody who was keeping an eye on the advance ticket sales for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie will be the slightest bit taken aback by the news that it raked in €6.5m at the British and Irish box-offices, which are always counted as one in the UK, over its opening weekend.

The question now is how much longer that initial box-office explosion will reverberate. I review television, not films, and haven't seen Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, so I'm not qualified to have an opinion about it. What I have seen, on online forums and in newspaper comment sections where paying punters rather than paid critics have their say are quite a few comments from people who love the TV show but thought the film was terrible.

I can empathise with them. I'm a huge fan of Steptoe and Son, but its first big-screen spin-off was a mirthless disaster; the second was better, in that it was merely awful.

It's not uncommon for a movie to open to enormous box-office in the first week of release, only to see business drop off sharply in the second. This has nothing to do with negative newspaper reviews and everything to do with word of mouth.

ludicrous

I'm not suggesting this fate awaits Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie. Brendan O'Carroll's film may continue to top the box-office for a while, though pre-release predictions that it could have a bigger Irish/British opening than Skyfall, which earned €25m in its first weekend, were always just so much ludicrous hype.

That said, back in 1971 the seemingly indestructible James Bond really did get his arse kicked by a sitcom spin-off. Diamonds Are Forever was the highest-grossing film in every country except Britain, where 007 was pushed into second place at the box-office by the big-screen version of On the Buses.

Diamonds Are Forever, which saw Sean Connery return to the franchise for one last throw of the dice (at least until he reprised Bond in the non-canonical Never Say Never Again 12 years later), is one of the weakest of the series. But it's still better than On the Buses. Anything is better than On the Buses, which was pretty much the pits of British sitcom hell in the 1970s - and this, remember, was the decade that vomited up Love Thy Neighour.

On the Buses was never as openly racist as that programme, so it made up for it by being leeringly sexist instead. Reg Varney and Bob Grant played, respectively, bus driver Stan and his conductor pal Jack, who spent most of their time striving to - as people used to say in the 70s - get the leg over women usually young enough to be their daughters.

The only remotely funny thing about On the Buses was the ludicrous notion that any woman not packing pepper spray would stray within 100 yards of a short, podgy, button-eyed, middle-aged man slathered in Brylcreem (Varney) and his beanpole pal (Grant), who in profile looked like one half of a broken pickaxe.

Produced by in-the-doldrums Hammer Films, which turned to knocking out cheapjack versions of popular sitcoms when the market for its horror films dried up, the On the Buses movie took the smut and vulgarity of the TV show and ramped it up to new levels.

On the Buses ran for seven series. Critics at the time reviled it, yet it was one of the most popular sitcoms of the day and attracted a huge audience every week.

What's more, the film version spawned two sequels. Doesn't that sound familiar?

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