I came across this production by the Colonial Film Unit which tells those who find themselves in a foreign land, just how to identify a bus, the reasons we have a conductor, how to buy a ticket, and importantly how to queue. It’s just the sort of essential information our cousins from Africa would have needed in 1950 to assimilate themselves into British society. It also reinforces the perception that everyone speaks in either a plummy received pronunciation BBC accent or is a cockney urchin.
Opening scenes show Piccadilly Circus teeming with buses and cabs, some looking to be pre-1914 models. No cars or lorries are to be seen.
In case you haven’t realised, we are told that these “splendid” buses will transport you out of “the largest city in the world”, and yes, they will actually retrace their route back to the Metropolis, but we are told that one must ensure the bus is travelling in the correct direction for one’s needs.
The narrator describes how two “African students studying in London”, who’ve been walking across fields in the badlands of Potters Bar, now need to get back to their studies and prepare to catch the bus. They remarkably manage to join a queue at the bus stop, presumably having been told by the upper-class documentary makers at just what end of the queue to stand.
The Cockney conductor, after ensuring everybody is safely seated, collects the fares. The film is at pains to show even our African students are capable of purchasing a ticket, but our guinea pigs don’t have the correct change, which the narrator tells us that it’s just not the British way.
Later in the journey, as if to reassure the public, the bus manages to stop for schoolchildren at an early pedestrian crossing.
At the end, the students alight from the bus to a cheery wave from the conductor, before unhurriedly crossing the road, presumably the subject of another documentary to teach bright African students how to traverse England’s highways.
Wonderfully politically incorrect, and evocative of post-war Britain, when only those with the correct accent had the brains to use buses and a much-needed teaching aid for Johnny Foreigner.
Featured image: Northward up Old Bond Street from Piccadilly, the 25 bus, the only route on Bond Street, is bound for Victoria from Becontree Heath by Ben Brooksbank (CC BY-SA 2.0)