"It was a good, strong format for story-telling," Chris Boucher recently said of the
BBC drama Shoestring. That assessment is true of the series that was the
brainchild of Richard Harris (The Avengers) and Robert Banks Stewart
(Undermind, Callan, mid-70s Doctor Who, Bergerac). Shoestring was first
broadcast on BBC1 in Autumn 1979. A second series followed in Autumn 1980.
After that, the series' lead Trevor Eve bowed out due to fears of typecasting, and no
new episodes were made.
The opening images from Sid Sutton's innovative "Shoestring" title sequence.
Shoestring's initial success may have been helped by the ITV strike which led to
that station being off air during the first four weeks of the show's transmission. A
more likely reason lies in its appealing, innovative approach to the detective/crime
genre. It was a detective series, but with a difference. Eddie Shoestring was
television's premier "Private Ear", an offbeat detective with his own radio show.
Robert Banks Stewart's script "PRIVATE EAR" opened the first series with a
mystery related to Eddie's future place of work, Radio West. A prostitute is found
dead beside the stolen car of a middle of the road Radio West DJ, David Carn
(William Russell). Erica Bayliss (Doran Godwin), a barrister, is taking part in a
Radio West legal phone-in and her tenant, the unemployed, penniless Eddie
Shoestring, investigates. His success leads to his being given the time slot at Radio
West which has been vacated by the outgoing Carn. The formula for Eddie's new
show is straightforward; people phone in with problems, Eddie investigates, and
talks about his cases during each show. Simple.
Shoestring's production was flawless. Each episode was shot on 16mm film,
greatly enhancing the show's realistic style. Armed with a killer harmonica theme
tune by George Fenton, and Sid Sutton's memorable title sequence, the series
was fast paced and witty, providing an exciting alternative to the action heroics of
LWT's The Professionals.
Stewart and Harris' preserved a mystique surrounding Eddie's character. His past,
which was presented in greater detail in character notes drafted at the time of the
first series transmission, was only hinted at periodically on screen. Once a
computer programmer who suffered a nervous breakdown and destroyed
£500,000 of equipment, Eddie underwent prolonged psychotherapy in a
psychiatric institution. He has a grumbling dislike of authority figures. Computers
continue to unnerve him, particularly when he visits his old place of work (in "ROOM
WITH A VIEW").
Eddie copes with his instability in several ways: through his endless wit and stream
of wisecracks; by constantly doodling on notebooks; and by retreating to his
dilapidated boat. The boat remains permanently docked in a harbour near Eddie's
flat. It's something of a sanctuary for him. The interior walls are a mass of scribbles
and drawings, presumably in his own hand, transforming it into a safe harbour of
his own invention.
The regular cast as credited during the title sequence
We first meet Eddie as he descends the
steps to the ground floor of Erica's house,
accompanied by a variation of the theme
tune played on a double bass. Grabbing
Erica's newspaper as it sticks through the
letterbox, he scans the headlines as she
steps out of her flat to collect it. Eddie wryly
comments that he's just "warming it" for her.
Eddie Shoestring, as his surname
suggests, is continually penniless. He buys
a car, a second hand red Cortina estate, at
Radio West's expense and has an
inclination for wearing pyjama jackets as
shirts. Thanks to Eve's flawless
performance and interpretation of the
character, Eddie is a likeable, flawed and
believable person. He may have suffered
from depression and nerves, but his good
nature and humour are the two constants in
Above The closing moments of
the title sequence: Eddie sips
coffee in Bristol city centre
Doran Godwin plays Eddie's landlady, Erica Bayliss. The two have an on/off
relationship, veering definitely towards off in Series Two, when Eddie plays a
disgruntled second fiddle to a series of straitlaced suitors vying for Erica's
attentions. The two are never less than friends, and their exchanges in Erica's flat -
whether playing scrabble or discussing a case whilst Erica practices yoga and
Eddie tickles her feet - make great viewing. Eddie occasionally uses Erica's
access to police files to retrieve information related to cases. She helps him,
grudgingly, and occasionally actively joins Eddie on a case with gleeful enthusiasm:
in "HIGHER GROUND" she poses as his wife whilst they investigate a public
school; and in "THE PARTNERSHIP" she allows Eddie to use her flat as a trap to
expose a property scam.
Don Satchley, the boss of Radio West, tolerates Eddie's eccentricities whilst they
ensure good ratings, but the two characters clash when Don has to reprimand
Eddie due to pressure from authority figures. Played by Michael Medwin, Satchley
was an approachable yet no-nonsense cigar and brandy executive.
The third co-star was Liz Crowther, in the role of Sonia, Radio West's receptionist.
A good-natured woman in her mid-twenties, Sonia was the first point of contact for
anyone calling in person at Radio West. Although a minor supporting role, Sonia
was given a larger part to play in "LISTEN TO ME", in which a woman threatened to
throw herself off Radio West's rooftop unless Eddie proved that her husband had
been mistakenly convicted, and in "THE PARTNERSHIP", in which Sonia alerts
Eddie over a suspicion she has about a friend.
The various Radio West DJs are a typical of late 1970s radio in terms of their style.
Eddie drops in to play chess with one whilst on air ("THE TEDDY BEARS
NIGHTMARE"); the most striking of the DJs, and perhaps the only one who could
give Eddie a run for his money in terms of eccentricity, is Jake Rivere from "THE
MAYFLY DANCE" (played by Lance Percival), entertainingly cynical host of a
'golden oldies' slot, who calls Eddie everything from "bootlace" to "tie clip"!
A clear trait of Shoestring's scripts was the introduction of a mystery followed by
the revelation of an unexpected, though plausible explanation: in "AN UNCERTAIN
CIRCLE", the search for a missing man at the behest of a social worker leads to a
hunt for treasure; in "ROOM WITH A VIEW", an elderly music hall artist is convinced
she as witnessed a murder, but in truth saw the discovery of a suicide; and in "THE
LINK-UP" a dead man found wearing a gold medallion and jacket that don't belong
to him leads to a scam involving a round the world yacht trip.
In all, there were 21 episodes of Shoestring and the brevity of its duration ensured
that the series finished after two series of consistently high material, thereby sealing
its reputation as innovative, quality drama. Aspects of Shoestring touched upon
throughout this introduction can be explored in greater detail elsewhere on the site.
We hope you enjoy (re)discovering the adventures of Bristol's finest private ear,