Friday, 2 January 2015

Seventies TV: On The Buses

'On the...' Is of course an idiom referring to working in a particular field. 'On the bins' would be another one. I have a feeling that it is a phrase used particularly by blue-collar public sector workers ( describes some modern bin men & also talks about the changing environment of work in the service sector). As usual I'm trying to make the point that TV from so long ago references an age that was in reality a far cry from nowadays, marked by a watershed (in britain) under the Thatcher government of the 1980s. In the 1970s the services we took for granted in Britain were far more likely to be state-owned, & operated by workers with far different expectations from todays market-driven public sector. Those whose expectations have not changed from those days are in for repeated disappointments. Council houses are few & far between, it is extremely unlikely that many of the services previously owned by councils will not be run by a private company, & the expensive, impossible, idealist nightmare that is the NHS is the bane of every government's life. An exception to the rule of public sector ownership was actually the buses. In Britain it was previously illegal for local councils to operate the bus system, unless there was a planned route for a tram, a service councils did run. I am showing my origins by starting this On The Buses off with my meanderings on changing public sector ownership, since Birmingham was the exception to the rule & the council did run the city's very profitable bus service for decades. They did this by the simple means of creating a plan for a tram service all over the city, which never actually happened, & instead ran buses, thus could use the legal loophole.
It is also very apparent to me that this is a show set in a working-class milieu. The supposedly dated gender attitudes of the show don't strike me as obviously as the class element here - I also don't personally find this show quite as dated as It Ain't Half Hot Mum, at least as far as the attitudes. It is more that the era in which the show is set has gone. This is an age of unskilled or semi-skilled work, of unions, of clocking-on. The irony is that it is also an age that has almost completely gone.
Since these shows are acting as a springboard for local history reflections, it is ironic that I'm sitting in the 'Detroit of Britain' writing this. Birmingham is actually fortunate that its central position has always stopped the kind of economic disaster that Detroit has experienced - in fact the only point of the comparison was only ever the dependence on industry, the motor industry specifically. Since the 1970s, when central government put more effort into regenerated the north of the country, the economic map of the Midlands has changed almost completely. Traditional working-class jobs have almost completely vanished - yes, of course these people could still be working as bus drivers, but the complete demise of the 'clippy' demonstrates the decline of unskilled jobs since then. In fact Birmingham, the traditionally prosperous Second City, has since become the epicentre of Britain's child poverty (
As such, On The Buses actually makes me sad. It depicts a world that has passed, & one that frequently its inhabitants couldn't see crumbling around them.

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