By Xander Brett, Travel Editor
In Eddie Shoestring's Bristol, broadcast last night, we rediscovered the life and times of a Bristolian legend.
From 1979 to 1980, Eddie Shoestring, a presenter-cum-detective, used his show on Radio West to act as the listeners ‘private ear’. It was fiction, of course. But it wasn’t long before the BBC’s Shoestring television series merged softly with reality.
The year after the series wound up, a very real Radio West had sprung up (complete with proper presenters), broadcasting across the city from studios on the Harbourside.
Trevor Eve’s portrayal of this former computer expert (he resigned from that job after a nervous breakdown) had seen twenty million viewers tune in to Bristol, and broadcasters were getting a slice of the excitement. Spread over two series, with all twenty-one episodes broadcast on BBC One, Shoestring not only kickstarted Eve’s acting career, but began a new era of crime fiction television, with a myriad of unofficial successors, not least the BBC’s Bergerac series, a spin-off set on Jersey.
It was screenwriter Richard Harris who co-created the formula with producer Robert Banks-Stewart. Banks-Stewart died in 2016 but, after struggling onto Zoom, Harris links up to tell me the pair were never looking for a so-called ‘gap in the market’, and simply met-up to throw ideas around. ‘We came to Bristol and made acquaintance with the place,’ he explains. ‘Then we came up with the idea of basing it at a fictional radio station down there.’
Eve was pulled in because, Harris says, he was ‘hot at the time.’ And, though Eve would become synonymous with his character, his initial ruffled appearance caused friction with Banks-Stewart. On the second day of shooting, Eve says he was chased through a field by Banks-Stewart, who was holding a chocolate tie. ‘You’ll put this on!’ he demanded. But Eve fought back, won out, and the scruffy DJ was kept.
Harris, who left the project after writing its pilot, says he doesn’t remember creating the character with Eve in mind, and says the real reason he departed was that Banks-Stewart brought in too many supporting cast members: Michael Medwin as Don Satchley (the Radio West boss), Doran Goodwin as Erica Bayliss (Shoestring’s landlady) and Liz Crowther as Sonia (the Radio West receptionist).
Johnnie Walker (now a presenter on BBC Radio 2) was one of the presenters brought onto the real Radio West in 1982, before being ‘poached’ by Ralph Bernard, the boss who merged the station with Radio Wiltshire and introduced a new style of news coverage, mixing journalists and disc jockeys. Both Walker and Bernard told me that, despite its name, the station was a failure and always destined for merging (the partnership would later grow to form GWR and is now part of the Heart network). Listeners were reluctant to be drawn away from BBC Radio Bristol, which had launched a decade earlier, and it was clear the success of Shoestring (as with so many crime series) had relied on the success of its titular character.
As there was no Private Ear show on the real Radio West, excitement was short-lived. But, as Richard Evans (who runs a website uncovering the series’ filming locations) tells me, the series lives on as a cult classic. Kate Garraway is among those calling for it to come back, but that return is unlikely, given the death of so many cast and crew members. Where Garraway isn’t alone, however, is in her appreciation of this most Bristolian of products. That legacy will never end.
Featured Image: Epigram / Xander Brett
'Eddie Shoestring’s Bristol' is available to listen now by pressing ‘Specials’ on the Burst Radio website.