Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Shoestring - he's back!

Eddie Shoestring (Trevor Eve) with his landlady Erica Bayliss (Doran Godwin) in a Radio Times photoshoot marking the series' launch.  Behind: Bristol's famous Clifton Suspension Bridge
A temporary diversion away from Euston Films to mention the imminent DVD boxset of much-loved BBC detective series Shoestring.  Long anticipated, held up for years on account of music rights issues, Series One of the show is finally released on 17th October.

And indeed, it would likely never have made it to the screen had it not been for Euston Films, for its predecessor, the police series Target, was a direct response by the BBC to The Sweeney.

By way of celebration of this groundbreaking show's appearance on DVD, and borrowing the format from Doctor Who Magazine's exceptional 6-volume series on the history of that show, "in their own words" here is the story of the show's beginnings by its creators:

Co-creator [with Richard Harris], writer and producer ROBERT BANKS STEWART:
"I was invited to go and join the BBC, to overhaul Target.  About a week after I was there, the head of series, Graeme McDonald, came into my office and said "Why don't we scrap it, and do something new?  Have you got anything you'd like to do?"

"Somehow, I found myself saying "why is it that the BBC never make a really good private eye series, like Americans do - like Rockford?  Why don't we really try and make a private eye series?" and Graeme McDonald said "you're on!""
The Cult of...Shoestring [BBC Four, 9th March 2008]

(l-r) Robert Banks Stewart and Richard Harris, the two exceptional writers who created Eddie Shoestring
GRAEME McDONALD, BBC Head of Series and Serials 1977-81:
"I felt Target had realised its full potential in two series.  A chance came up to develop a new series about a local radio station.  It is called Shoestring - and that's not a reflection of the budget I may add!"
Quoted by Tim Ewbank in The Sun, 10th March 1979

"I've been told I may live to regret that title!"
Evening Standard, 26th January 1979

"All the cop series had begun to look like a rather tired formula and this idea of tying a private eye in with a local radio station was different and attractive"
Photoplay magazine, 8th August 1979

Trevor Eve with Michael Medwin as Radio West manager Don Satchley on the Ealing Studios set
"It's no good pitching up a hero solely because he has a nice jawline.  The more details you give a character the more interesting the series.  After all, there was hardly a character in Raymond Chandler's books with no past or no flaw".
Radio Times, 17-23 October 1981

"Who was going to play him?  Quite a lot of big names were in the hat, but I had seen Trevor in a play made by Granada and I was terribly impressed by him.  A year later, I was starting Shoestring so I said to the BBC, "I want Trevor Eve.  He's a very fine actor and I really believe it'll work with him"".
The Cult of...Shoestring

Series star TREVOR EVE ["Eddie Shoestring"]:
"I have set out to try and create somebody different, somebody of interest.  Eddie Shoestring has a philosophy about his life.  In a nutshell, it's that everybody should be allowed to do what they want.

"Shoestring has been knocked by his breakdown, with the result he has a good sense of humour, but most important, he's vulnerable."
Inverview with Vicky Payne, Radio Times 29 Sept-5 Oct 1979

"It seemed to be an opportunity to play someone eccentric.  There'd always been the 70s tradition of straight looking guys doing it right on the nose and everything.  And this was a character coming from left field.  I thought it was a chance to create somebody right from scratch."
The Cult of...Shoestring

Series regular DORAN GODWIN ["Erica Bayliss"]
"He just came along with so much energy and vitality.  It was very refreshing."
The Cult of... Shoestring

Eddie, wearing his pyjama jacket as a shirt - seems perfectly reasonable to me - in episode 2, "Knock for Knock", written by Bob Baker and directed by Roger Tucker
I had this very clear idea that if this character lived on a boat, he wouldn't be hanging up his suit.  So I went and got all this crumpled linen and insisted that they weren't hung up [by the costume department]."
The Cult of...Shoestring

"I didn't want people who wrote the blood and thunder-thriller-tearaway-cars shrieking round corners - that sort of thing.  I wanted character and human stories."
The Cult of...Shoestring

"I believe that even the smallest bit player should never be a cypher.  I work on the principle that if a bit player says three lines, two of them should concern the plot and the third reveal something about him as a human being."
Quoted by Peter Lennon in The Sunday Times, 21 December 1980

Doran Godwin and Trevor Eve on location for the filming of "Knock for Knock"
BOB BAKER, script editor and writer ("Knock for Knock"):
"There was such a pressure on – sometimes we’d have to rewrite an entire script over the weekend. But some of those total rewrites came out better than some of the ones that we’d worked up for ages".
Interview with Jayne Kirkham for The Writers' Guild of Great Britain, 30 November 2007

MARTIN CAMPBELL, director, "The Teddy Bears' Nightmare":
"The whole atmosphere around Bristol is very different.  It was an interesting environment.  Perhaps a lot of people hadn't seen it before so that added to the texture of the series."
The Cult of...Shoestring

GRAHAM WALKER, editor, "Higher Ground", "Stamp Duty", "Utmost Good Faith", "The Mayfly Dance":
"Shoestring was only the second all-film series the BBC had made.  We were all aware this was a very different and rather special series.  Trevor Eve of course is a fantastically charismatic actor and the whole idea of setting a private detective in a radio station was a stroke of genius from Bob Banks Stewart.

"There were a few worries in the beginning that perhaps it might be a bit too different to catch on - audiences are funny things - but Bob had got it just right".
Shoestring - A Celebration website interview, October 2009

ROGER TUCKER, director, "Knock for Knock":
"A bunch of us came together, hell-bent on showing what we could do.  Graeme McDonald had just taken over as Head of Series and Serials at the BBC, it was Robert Banks Stewart's first job as producer, and it was my first chance to do an all-film drama.  It was also the first big break for Trevor Eve".
Interview with Werner Schmitz, Action TV

Radio Times listing for the opening episode

Initial reaction to Shoestring was very positive on all fronts.  Launched on BBC1 on Sunday 30th September 1979 - right after the first episode of To The Manor Born - in the middle of the infamous ITV strike, the first episode was watched by 19.5m.  Ratings peaked for episode 4, "An Uncertain Circle", with 20.7m.  A star was born in Trevor Eve and the show deservedly became part of television history.

Some early reviews -

"A promising debut last night for Shoestring, yet another private eye but this one operating in and around Bristol with no more than human resources and tackling the kind of low-key case that a lone detective might realistically encounter.

"In the opener, the neatly turned script by Robert Banks Stewart and the slick direction of Douglas Camfield combined to give a lot of pace, and Trevor Eve in the title role skilfully suggested a somewhat mysterious introvert with with a detachment refreshingly unusual in this television genre."
The Daily Telegraph, 1st October 1979

"Offbeat is the BBC's word to describe the private eye hero who gives his name to the promising new series Shoestring.

"Eddie Shoestring is certainly different -- an unkempt, shambling West Country drifter whose trick is to draw caricatures of the people he interrogates.

"Trevor Eve is an oddly watchable actor, whose uncaring appearance disguises a firm sense of justice.  You can't see him taking on a case unless his heart was in it."
Daily Mail, 1st October 1979

2entertain's Shoestring Complete Series 1, released 17th October 2011
Edit: so, we can settle back and finally enjoy Shoestring Series 1 on DVD.  Having received my own copy now, I can confirm that the picture quality is excellent and that it is completely uncut*.

*There is one small music replacement: about 23m into episode 1, "Private Ear", the background playing on a radio of Lene Lovich's 'Lucky Number' has been replaced by Blondie's 'Heart of Glass'.  I doubt anyone will even notice (no offence Lene!).


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  2. There's an unmade Shoestring episode available as a script book here: