Dene Kernohan and Nick Stewart: Tell us about the casting of the central
Robert Banks Stewart: Apart from Shoestring himself, there were three other
regular characters - Don Satchley, the radio station boss, Erica Bayliss, a
barrister, from whom Shoestring rented room, and a receptionist called Sonia.
Casting directors were not then used by BBC drama producers and directors.
You were expected to come up with your own ideas.
Michael Medwin as Don
Liz Crowther as Sonia
DK/NS: Was more than one actor considered for the role of Eddie Shoestring?
RBS: I had several people in mind to play Shoestring….a then relatively unknown
actor called Anthony Sher, whom I'd seen in the theatre, in "The Cherry Orchard",
at Nottingham….James Bolam (again)….the splendid Michael Kitchen (brilliant in
"War and Peace"). Also, Michael Crawford was looking for a straight drama role.
He was, at that moment, in what might be called an artistic trough, after Frank
Spencer, in "Some Mothers…etc", which he felt had stalled his career as an
unquestioningly fine actor, and he said he was definitely interested.
I thought he was electric, an actor to watch out for in the future. He'd had a part in
the West End, playing one of the Beatles, and because Olivier recognised his
talent, he got a role in a film of "Dracula" as Van Helsing's lawyer assistant to
Olivier. But he was still, it seemed, a non-runner for the lead in a tv series. An
I had quite a battle to get agreement over Trevor Eve. Bill Cotton wanted Michael
Crawford….James Bolam declined (he still would rather make another series of
"When the Boat Comes In", though he was kind enough to write me a note saying
that whoever played Shoestring would become a star - he was impressed by the
opening script and the whole project).
Then Anthony Sher, likewise, though he liked the opening script, he didn't feel he
was quite right to play the private eye. "I'm too short, I'm too Jewish, I'm no hero",
he said. Some years later, after his resounding success on tv as "The History
Man", and notwithstanding his subsequent theatre triumphs, I met him at Stratford
(playing his wonderful Richard III) and asked him: "What would your career have
been like if you'd agreed to play Shoestring?" He said: "I'd have been Trevor Eve,
Meanwhile, Michael Kitchen had opted to stick to single plays and films, in which
he was deservedly successful.
So I persuaded both Bill Cotton and Graeme McDonald that Trevor Eve would be
the right choice (I had the same situation two years later over John Nettles), and
ultimately I was given the go-ahead to cast him. Trevor Eve turned out to be one of
the most outstanding "finds" in British television.
His shambling, eccentric, yet intelligent Eddie Shoestring, with his sly and subtle
way of playing his dialogue, plus his obvious humanity, instantly endeared him to
viewers, who gave the BBC a whopping No.1 rating every Sunday night of its 21-
episode run over two years.
DK/NS: How about Don Satchley?
RBS: Thinking at this stage about the radio station boss, I tried to imagine I was
casting such a series in Hollywood - who would I have? I realised I would have
gone for a character actor, who would give us plenty of punch and humour,
somebody like Mickey Rooney. And as soon as I thought that, I thought of Michael
Hitherto, he had made his name mostly as a Cockney character in tv series and
films. But in real life he was a shrewd, smooth-of-tongued businessman, co-
producing many wonderful movies with his partner, Albert Finney, as Memorial
Films. But, of course, he was at heart an actor, so he said he was quite knocked
out to be offered this role! He certainly repaid my faith in him. His suave, tricksy
chief executive bounced perfectly off his raw, amateur recruit, Shoestring, to the
world of radio.
DK/NS: That leaves Sonia and Erica.
A few years earlier I had worked on a lunchtime soap at Thames called "Harriet's
Back in Town", and there was an actress in some episodes called Doran Godwin,
whom I greatly admired. I felt she would be excellent as Erica Bayliss, and she
resoundingly was. Her clever, arch, taunting tone worked a treat with Eve as
Shoestring (she would go on to even bigger roles in "The Irish R.M." and
Finally, there was Sonia. I'd seen Liz Crowther (daughter of Leslie Crowther) once
or twice at the Orange tree fringe theatre in Richmond, and liked her sparky
personality along with her obvious talent as an actress. She proved so good as
Sonia that we had to think of ways of getting her involved in the stories rather than
always just sitting behind the reception desk (she once complained to me that
viewers would think she hadn't any legs!).
DK/NS: Choosing the directors must have been
RBS: I had worked with Douglas Camfield on "Dr
Who", but he'd also directed many successful BBC
series, especially the Greek-located series "Who Pays
the Ferryman?", and he was obviously a terrific talent, a
director who threw his wonderful energy, and a
sensitive touch into his direction.
I had no hesitation in offering him the pilot of "Shoestring", and he did us proud. He
shot the opening filmed episode with great style and pace, and although we often
argued in the cutting rooms at Ealing, we were in accord, we had done our best. It
was, I think, something new to the BBC, they had to accept that they had a thriller
series, a bit quirky (sorry to use that word again!) and they weren't sure.
Directors, writers, camera crews, film editors, and specially composed music all
made a tremendous contribution to "Shoestring". As well as Douglas Camfield, I
invited several other directors whose work I'd admired to come and direct. They
included Martin Campbell, now a major Hollywood director (Goldeneye, The Mask of
Zorro, etc) and two others who've since worked in Hollywood - Ben Bolt and Marek
Ealing studios was, as well as being a studio, the BBC's base for some of the finest
cameramen, sound recordists and film editors in the business, and happily for our
production, they all wanted to work on "Shoestring". What a luxury, when you think that
many of them today are working on top British/US movies!
DK/NS: A lot of attention was obviously paid during the scripting of each episode.
RBS: Being a writer/producer, I had strong ideas about which writers I wanted on the
series. As with directors, they were, if you like, hand-picked to script episodes. Along
with my two story editors, Robert Holmes and Bob Baker, themselves writers who
scripted episodes, every "Shoestring" story was treated as if we were making a one-
A great deal of re-writing went on, but we were a team, and there were few bruised
egos. The reason I didn't write any more scripts myself was simply that I was too
heavily involved in stories and getting the scripts up to pitch. We'd set a style on the
first series, and I think the second series just got better.
DK/NS: Were the BBC confident that "Shoestring" would be a hit before its
RBS: Bill Cotton certainly wasn't sure. I was told that the series would go out on a
Saturday night in the slot usually reserved for "Dixon of Dock Green". I was mortified:
I felt I had produced a series that was, perhaps, a bit groundbreaking. Fortunately,
Graeme McDonald had great confidence in it. There was a change of mind, and it
was decided to run "Shoestring" on a Sunday night. And there it stayed for two
seasons until Trevor Eve decided he didn't want to be known as "Eddie Shoestring"
forever and declined to do a further series.
The BBC didn't option artists at that time, so, sadly, we came to a full stop. Such was
the success of Shoestring - so closely identified with Trevor in the leading role - that it
just wasn't possible to re-cast. I suppose that's why it has remained a bit of a cult
show ever since.
DK/NS: Was that the end of your involvement with "Shoestring"?
RBS: Some time after "Shoestring" ended, 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.
DK/NS: So no "Shoestring" leftovers were used for "Bergerac"?
RBS: There were no unused "Shoestring" scripts awaiting to be recycled!
"Bergerac" began with a completely new sheet. Having had the idea to set a crime
series on Jersey, I wrote the pilot episode, and off we went. Most of the initial writers
had written for "Shoestring", directors like Martin Campbell and Ben Bolt also came
onto the show.
Marek Kanievska was absent - he had a movie to make: "Another Country". And
Douglas Camfield was also unavailable as he was doing a mini series, "Beau
Geste" for the BBC.
DK/NS: What did you do after "Bergerac"?
RBS: After two years of "Bergerac" I was Executive Producer of film series at LWT,
rejoined the BBC to produce the first series of "Lovejoy", created and produced
another series of my own, "Call Me Mister", then produced and wrote part of the first
series of "The Darling Buds of May". Recently I've written most of the screenplays
based on another H.E.Bates' story collection, "My Uncle Silas", starring Albert
With thanks to Robert Banks Stewart.
Robert Banks Stewart discusses the cast and production of "Shoestring".
The SHOESTRING Story Part Two
RBS Part 1
But in the end, I pushed very hard for a new
young actor called Trevor Eve, whom I
remembered from the year before, in a Granada
production of "Hindle's Wakes", in the so-called
Laurence Olivier Season, in which he had played
the son of a mill owner (Donald Pleasance)
who'd got one of the workers, a simple girl,
RBS Part 1
DK/NS: Many people remember "Shoestring's"
terrific theme music.
RBS: George Fenton was just beginning his career
as a composer, and I invited him to work on the
series. His title theme and indeed all of his music
was glorious. (He later did the "Bergerac" theme for
Moreover, Richard Attenborough, a fan of
"Shoestring", so liked his music that George was
signed to compose for "Cry Freedom" and then
"Ghandi", and that led to many major films in the UK
Doran Godwin as Erica
("THE DANGEROUS GAME")
Trevor Eve as Eddie
The illustrious Doctor Who Magazine featured an interview with Robert Banks
Stewart by Peter Griffiths in Issue 273, dated January 1999 (Mr Stewart penned
the mid-Seventies Tom Baker stories 'Terror of the Zygons' and 'The Seeds of
Doom' for Doctor Who). In it, he spoke about Shoestring:
"I was invited by the BBC to take over an all-film cop show called Target. I'd been
there for a couple of weeks when Graeme McDonald, the Head of Series, came
into the office and said , 'Listen, why don't we just scrap Target? Nobody likes it,
and it's been judged too violent. Is there anything else you'd like to do?' That was
a very fateful moment for me, in 1978. I said, 'I really love quality American film
drama. Why can't we make something like that here? Why not a really good
private eye series?
"From that came this crazy idea about a radio programme offering listeners the
services of an investigator, who for some reason I called Eddie Shoestring. I went
to a meeting on the sixth floor of the BBC with the controller, Bill Cotton, and the
managing director, Alisdair Milne. There was a great pause after I did the pitch,
and I thought everyone hated it, but suddenly it was caps in the air. The money was
in place for Target, so I wrote the opening episode of Shoestring, and off we
Shoestring only ran for two seasons, but it was consistently top-rated, taking
between 18 and 23 million viewers every Sunday night. Robert was "terrified"
when asked to develop a replacement. "I was in the privileged position of being
asked what I'd like to do next. I thought back to a comedy pilot I'd written at
Thames, about a German officer in Jersey who falls in love with a lady who runs a
hotel, and there was something about this off-shore tax haven that clicked in my
mind. After talking to the Jersey police, I invented this bureau within the force which
dealt with millionaire tax exiles, tourists etc, and wrote the first script for Bergerac.
"We were nervous about the series, and it was jokingly called 'Jersey Five-O' in the
beginning because of its high yacht and beach content. The press showing at
BAFTA was terrifying, but our reviews were marvellous. The TV critic for The
Times came by, tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Quality, quality' and walked
out. We were onto another number one series…"
[...but that's another story.]
Added 12th December 2004