The giant fibre system (GFS) of Drosophila is a simple neural circuit that mediates escape responses in adult flies. Here we report the initial characterization of two genes that are preferentially expressed in the GFS. Two P-element insertion lines, carrying the GAL4 transcriptional activator, were identified that exhibited pronounced expression in elements of the GFS and relatively low levels elsewhere within the adult central nervous system. Genomic DNA flanking the P-element insertion site was recovered from each of these lines, sequenced, and nearby transcripts identified and confirmed to exhibit GFS expression by in situ hybridization. This analysis revealed that these P-elements were in previously characterized genes. Line P[GAL4]-A307 has an insert in the gene short stop for which we have identified a novel transcript, while line P[GAL4]-141 has an insert in the transcription factor ken and barbie. Here we show that ken and barbie mutants have defects in escape behaviour, behavioural responses to visual stimuli and synaptic functions in the GFS. We have therefore revealed a neural role for a transcription factor that previously had no implicated neural function.