The Night Bus: nocturnal naughtiness on the N29. T hose living outside London, where public transport costs £8 a mile and ends at half-five in the evening, might be unfamiliar with the charms/horrors of Transport For London’s night bus.
The saviour and the captor, delivering you home from whatever dank hell you’ve just spunked a quarter of your pay packet in, at approx three miles an hour, while other people’s alcohol breath condenses on the rattling window you’re trying to kip on. It’s the setting in which total mental and spiritual collapse hinges on something as small as forgetting your headphones, and it’s totally unsurprising that it’s the latest backdrop for some all-life-is-here-style observational programming, combining low-key mundanity and lots of scope for the awed gaze of the documentarian used to living it up on UberExec. The voiceover on The Night Bus tells us that it’s “the start of the party”; “a place to make new friends”.
News to me, mate. I greet those lost souls attempting to “make friends” at the tattered end of their nights out with the same enthusiasm as I do a bailiff’s letter.
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Programme-makers have put their cameras on the route of the N29, which is a uniquely terrible one. I’ve done the analysis and identified the problems. The N29 starts in Trafalgar Square, picking up the amateurs – West End partygoers and lost tourists – and trawls through to Camden (performing arts students, metallers), collecting detritus like bends in a river, before spewing out what remains at the hellmouth that is Wood Green. I wouldn’t have pegged this as being conducive to love and desire but, as the doc shows, there isn’t much that’s more erotically charged than an over-lit, faintly chicken-scented N29. I suspect for Daniel and Sonny, celebrating one or the other’s 18th birthday, the motivation is more basal than ethereal. “Miss Hazel Eyes, you are lovely,” they try with the woman sitting in front of them. This is the kind of thing that people start campaigns against, but set to C4’s stock plinky-observation-music track, it almost looks sweet.
For what it’s worth, the object of Sonny’s attention looks as if she’s entirely more into ending her night with an M&S microwaved rigatoni and half a bottle of Rioja, but these are the small details you miss when you’re three sheets to the wind and amorously inclined. Every other seat is occupied by boys kissing girls, husbands kissing wives, and strangers kissing strangers (“I picked him up at King’s Cross!”). Keeping this heady climate in check is the good humour of bus driver Tony (“Next stop: Holloway Prison for naughty ladies”) who’s been doing the job for nearly 30 years but should really consider getting his own show (Charon The Buses? Just an idea).
Opinion is split over the kind of drivers who, like Tony, drip dad-humour over the Tannoy, but I’m down with it. If the focus of The Night Bus stayed in the drivers’ cabin, Tony and his like dealing with chancers and men with grey hairs in their beards using child Oyster cards, I could watch hours of it. The rest of it, though, is all a bit familiar. No one wants to be on a night bus, and only an idiot would grant them legendary status. From the top deck, a chant of “Night bus! Night bus” echoes down the stairs as A-level students Johnny and Dan, stripped down to their underwear and in matching novelty straw hats, gurn at the cameras.
The Night Bus is nothing if not representative, and the makers have caught the absolute, abject scourge of after-hours transport. They might look like sweet little lambs letting their hair down after their A-wevels, too young and stupid to realise that drinking isn’t a Bacchanalian carnival, simply a way to get through the day.
But I know different; I know that anyone whose inhibitions disappear only through forced abandon and a shit costume is hiding a dark core. “I love the night bus,” says Johnny, as if to prove my point. Surely no one would fall for these two and their smouldering chat-up lines that include “Do you like candles?”. “Anything can happen on the night bus,” some poor girl – inexplicably in their thrall – chirps. Sadly, she’s right. Monday, 11 May, 10pm, Channel 4.