Tuesday, 26 September 2017

SHOESTRING: The Movie!


Robert Banks Stewart, 2001:
“Richard Harris and I wrote "Shoestring - the Movie" for the Robert Stigwood Organisation and Rank.  Alas, the production arm of Rank was folded - and our movie with it.”

Yes, there was to have been a Shoestring feature film.  A victim of bad timing, it was cancelled amid the greater collapse of the British film industry in the early 80s and alas we can only speculate on how it would have turned out.




ANNOUNCEMENT

[from Screen International, 16 February 1980, p.22]

Big screen SHOESTRING via Rank and Stigwood

Shoestring, the popular BBC private eye series, is to be made into a feature by the Robert Stigwood Group and the Rank Organisation.  It is the first ever collaboration between the two companies.

Trevor Eve, who plays the downbeat radio detective on TV, will reprise the role for the big screen.

Beryl Vertue, co-deputy chairman of the Robert Stigwood Group, will produce the film, which will be written by original creators Robert Banks Stewart and Richard Harris.  There will be a soundtrack album which will be handled by Stigwood and released on the RSO label Worldwide.

Sold overseas

The film is scheduled to go into production at the end of the year, although no definite date has yet been set.  No further production details or casting news is available as yet.

Shoestring is one of the most popular BBC drama series of recent years.  It has already been sold to a number of overseas countries including Germany, Australia and Scandinavia.

Worldwide release of the picture will be by Rank.  Negotiations for distribution in the US and Canada will be handled by the Stigwood Organisation.


London, February 23rd 1968. Robert Stigwood and Beryl Virtue (left) celebrate the amalgamation of ALS Management and the Robert Stigwood Organisation with clients the Bee Gees, Frankie Howard and Alan Simpson & Ray Galton.  Beryl Virtue also represented Shoestring co-creator Robert Banks Stewart.


SCRIPT

In 2006, Robert Banks Stewart very kindly donated his copy of the script to Kaleidoscope,the classic television organisation, for auction with proceeds going to their nominated charity, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).

Here, with kind permission of Kaleidoscope and Christopher Perry, is a synopsis of Shoestring: The Movie:


Called in to see the tax man, Spender, Radio West “private ear” Eddie Shoestring is given a deadline to prove his earnings for the last five years or face an investigation.  As receptionist Sonia Price searches for receipts, Eddie is approached by a man named Pyne, who works for the powerful media mogul Bruce Hamilton.

Pyne is worried because Hamilton’s daughter Sarah has taken a prize trophy and won’t return it.  Eddie agrees to speak to Sarah and return the trophy.

Unfortunately, Sarah is not at school.  Pyne claims that she has been tricked into visiting her mother in the US to cause Bruce problems.  Eddie is asked to go to New York to bring Sarah back.

Arriving in the US, Eddie meets Hamilton’s ex-wife Josie who reacts very angrily and has him kidnapped.  Josie protests Sarah is not there, and indeed Sarah has been abducted by a loser called Tony...

[SPOILERS BELOW]

The kidnap is all an elaborate bluff set up by Bruce Hamilton.  Sarah believes Tony is her lover and is oblivious to the plan.  Pyne and Tony have staged the kidnap on the orders of Hamilton so that he can pay a ‘huge ransom’ – money he will then no longer have to give to his wife in a US divorce court, so that he can keep it in a secret offshore bank account.

Eddie sees through the bluff and broadcasts the whole story on Radio West, leading to Sarah leaving her father, but not before Hamilton has Tony blown up on his luxury boat.

Bruce Hamilton is a broken and discredited man, and threatens to get even with Eddie Shoestring…


SHOESTRING: The Movie was co-written by the series' creators Robert Banks Stewart and Richard Harris


COLLAPSE

[Daily Express front page headline, Saturday June 7th 1980]

"Cut! Rank Films Shock" by Danny McGrory

British film-making was gonged last night when the Rank Organisation pulled out of the business.

Its recent movies have been successful – but these days only blockbusters pay.

So one of the biggest names on the screen since the 1940s has decided it cannot afford it – which, as a spokesman said, is “a sad day for us and the industry”.

The decision will be a blow particularly to British producers seeking finance for homegrown films.

Also at stake are eight new features including “HMS Ulysses” and “Rocking Horse Winner” and full-length movie versions of TV favourites To The Manor Born with Penelope Keith and Shoestring with Trevor Eve.

Only last month Rank – whose screen symbol is old-time fighter Billy Wells striking a giant gong – proudly announced its film-making plans at the Cannes festival.

But last night its spokesman said: “After a long, hard look at the books we decided film-making was just not profitable enough.

“It’s big business making films and the return on the capital is not quick or big enough to justify going on”.

Rank films – Silver Dream Racer (David Essex), Bad Timing (Art Garfunkel) and the remade The Thirty-Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes were “popular with the industry, the critics and the public”.

But, says the spokesman, “they were still not what you call blockbusters and the capital return wasn’t there”.

Last year Rank Film Productions lost over £1,500,000.

At present Rank has no films actually started, so company chiefs thought it a good time to call “Cut!”.

“We hope some other producer comes in and takes over the titles” the firm said.  “This is a blow for the British industry but we hope it continues and we wish it well”.

The company said it will continue with its successful investment in Pinewood studios renting it out.  The cinema and distribution chain will carry on.  So will the making of advertising films.

The pull-out announcement came on the day MPs were debating the state of the British movie industry.  They agreed to write off a £13 million debt to the National Film Finance Corporation and lend a final million.

But later top producer Bryan Forbes said the Government would need to pour in £400 million to match Hollywood.  “If our actors, writers and directors are to survive”, he warned, “something will have to happen very quickly”.

A shame we never got to see the Shoestring regulars in a feature film. Right now I'd be lobbying for a Blu-ray release.


CONCLUSION

British TV history would’ve been different if this film had got made.  Tentatively scheduled for production after Series 2, which wrapped in November 1980, I suspect there would have been a Series 3 for a start.

Everyone, reluctant star Trevor Eve included, would have understood the importance of keeping the property alive at least until the film’s release, probably late in 1981.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way, with the project's cancellation coming around the middle of filming on Series 2.

It was perhaps an unusual venture.  Film versions of popular British television series were plentiful in the early 1970s but for budgetary reasons they tended to be comedies rather than dramas, although examples of the latter are Henry VIII and his Six Wives in 1972, Callan in 1974, and later on Sweeney! and Sweeney 2.  But in any case 1980 was the tail end of the cycle, with the lacklustre Rising Damp and George and Mildred the final two releases.

Who would have directed?  One of the series’ regulars (Marek Kanievska or Ben Bolt would've done a handsome job) or someone more experienced in features?  And who would have co-starred?  How about Donald Sutherland as media mogul Bruce Hamilton?

And most importantly, how would it have been received?  Euston Films got away with their two The Sweeney movies with reputation intact, but critics weren’t generally kind to TV spin-offs.  Would it have damaged the show’s legacy?  We’ll never know.


Bill Owen, Brian Wilde and Peter Sallis in the 1983 Last of the Summer Wine special, directed by Alan J W Bell. It was the first in a series of film versions of popular shows made by the BBC for TV transmission.

Ironically, had it been just a few years later, it would perhaps have been picked up by the BBC themselves for TV production, made on 16mm film rather than 35mm but otherwise with production value intact. 

Pioneered in 1983 by Last of the Summer Wine, for a decade or so the BBC made their own “film” versions of TV shows - often with splendid results.  Only Fools and Horses.... “To Hull and Back” eclipsed the higher-budgeted Minder on the Orient-Express when they were shown in competition on Christmas Day 1985.

And from 1986, Shoestring successor Bergerac enjoyed six consecutive festive feature-length specials.  Eddie could’ve been there first.

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