Thursday, 26 May 2016
First viewed : 30 September 1979
Another new series launched on the same night as To The Manor Born ( in fact it directly followed it ) was much more to my liking. Shoestring heralded a whole new genre of unconventional TV detective series and for my money remains the best. I watched the first series on my own but my mum and sister came on board for the second.
The largely unknown Trevor Eve played Eddie Shoestring , a dishevelled young man in Bristol , recovering from a nervous breakdown suffered from working with computers. Having decided to try his hand at being a private detective, Eddie's landlady / lover Erica ( Doran Godwin ) who is also a barrister, finds him a case investigating the suicide of the girlfriend of a popular DJ at the local radio station Radio West. Having absolved the DJ from blame - in an uncharacteristically dark storyline the girl killed herself after turning to escort work and finding one of her clients to be her dad - Eddie is hired by the station to be its own "private ear" who will investigate cases for listeners and once solved, recount an anonymised version of his investigation over the air . The other regular characters were his cautious but usually supportive boss Don Satchley ( Michael Medwin ) and jolly receptionist Sonia ( Liz Crowther ) with her voluminous frocks.
Unlike To The Manor Born , I can remember the details of individual storylines pretty well. A lot of them involved tracing missing persons. There was one where he was hunting down a sixties pop star whose record suddenly became popular again and another where he tracked down the wife of a man who the neighbours thought had murdered her. Other memorable episodes were the one where he investigated a Moonie-like religious cult, a travel agency which was really a front for burglary and the final nerve-racking episode where Eddie had to track down some dangerously defective toys at Christmas. There was also the notorious episode where Toyah Willcox got to perform a generous slice of her music despite her character being a fairly peripheral part of the proceedings.
What made Eddie such a compelling character was his obvious vulnerability. He was slightly built so usually came out the worst in any physical confrontations and clearly still mentally fragile. In one episode he freaked out at being faced with a mainframe computer again and in the episode "Mockingbird" he was driven almost to breaking point by the taunts of a malevolent wannabe.
After two highly successful series with Eve a national heartthrob, the Beeb were aghast when he decided to quit while he was ahead and abandon the series for further stage work and later , a largely unsuccessful attempt at stardom in America. It was a brave step but whether his co-stars ( particularly Godwin who hasn't acted in the last two decades ) appreciated it would be interesting to ascertain. The production team came up with a replacement series in Bergerac which I came to like in time but always thought was a poor substitute. Like Fawlty Towers, Shoestring left you wanting more.
Shoestring was repeated in 1981 and 1982 but then disappeared from terrestrial television until January 2002 when some episodes , highly edited for daytime viewing, were aired in the afternoon. For a long time there was no DVD release because the amount of music played in the scenes at Radio West made it uneconomic to clear all the rights but eventually some deal with the P.R.S . was done and a box set of the first series came out in 2012.