Charles Catchpole on the private side of a top TV private eye
(Daily Mail, 4 October 1980)
In the cocktail bar of a
hotel an elderly lady with a refined accent was telling anyone who would listen
about her encounter with Mr Shoestring.
“Such a charming young man,” she fluted. “Do you know he’s the first person I’ve asked for his autograph since Tom Mix”.
On his bar stool, Trevor Eve rocked with laughter. It was just the kind of quirky, unexpected comment that would have delighted Eddie Shoestring, the unconventional private detective whose scruffy clothes, shaggy hairstyle and off-centre view of life have made him the unlikeliest popular hero on television.
The success of Shoestring – the first series last autumn topped the ratings with record figures – surprised even the BBC.
Admittedly the ITV strike helped, but the second series, which starts tomorrow night, will clearly confirm Eve’s position as the most promising young actor in British showbusiness.
Already there is talk of a third series. Meanwhile, Eve has signed to bring the eccentric Eddie to the big screen in a £2 million movie for Robert Stigwood.
The future for a man who, only a few years ago, was a trainee architect looks very bright.
Yet the 29-year-old Eve seems curiously unexcited by it all.
“I do wish people would realise that I am NOT Eddie Shoestring,” he says grumpily. “I am a trained stage actor, and I like to think I could move into light comedy or back to the stage.
“I could shave off this moustache, cut my hair and no one would recognise me. But journalists have started calling me Trevor ‘Shoestring’ Eve. It really annoys me. Alan Alda was in MASH for nine years, but when he does a movie no one calls him Alan ‘MASH’ Alda.”
So why is he talking about a third series only a matter of weeks after declaring that he would never play the part again?
His sombre features break into a schoolboyish grin. “I just can’t make my mind up! I change from day to day, depending on my mood at the time.”
Eve is almost as enigmatic as Eddie. He is serious and thoughtful, yet given to sudden bursts of hilarity. He delightedly signs autographs for everyone, but hates ‘the star routine’ and when dragooned into attending publicity junkets, turns up late and unwillingly.
He has a reputation for being ‘difficult’ with journalists. Yet during a three-hour interview, at the end of a long and arduous day on location, he was amusing and polite and didn’t duck a single question.
He doesn’t like about his private life – he is married to actress Sharon Maugham and says it is irrelevant to his work. But he admits to being an avid reader of the ‘tell all’ interviews given by other actors.
“I’m a strange cross between an actor and a fan,” he says.
“I’m not conscious of being difficult with journalists or anyone else. But I’m a fairly private sort of person, and I just can’t be outgoing all the time, it’s not me. I try to be polite and helpful, but when people get things wrong, I think “why bother?”
“The other day at a Press conference, someone asked me about my marriage to Pamela Stephenson. I just walked away. I knew the names of the reporters and what papers they worked for, so why should I bother with someone who apparently thinks I am Nicholas Ball (TV’s other private eye, Hazell, who is married to Ms Stephenson).
“I just can’t put on the act to please other people. I know there is this argument that you owe something to the public who have put you where you are, which actually, I agree with.”
He cackles uproariously, “I really am a mass of contradictions, aren’t I?”
He cannot explain the phenomenal popularity of Shoestring.
“I don’t believe in analysis. I’m just happy that it seems to work. But I think Eddie appeals because he has an open minded questioning approach to everything. He won’t pre-judge people. Introduce him to a man who robs banks, and Eddie won’t automatically assume he is a monster.
“Also, he has a certain vulnerability. He’s not the kind of cool, confident hero who walks into a situation and everyone knows he can cope. With Eddie, you are never sure if he will cope. In fact, it’s most likely that he won’t. I think people can identify with that.
“Then there’s his disturbed background. He had a breakdown, was in a mental hospital, and that gives his behaviour a dangerous edge. You are never sure if he’ll crack up again.
“Don’t ask me if I am anything like him, because I am most definitely not. But I can identify with him.”