Monday, January 14, 2002 by

Originally aired in 1979/80 Shoestring‘s current repeat on terrestrial TV is indeed “another welcome chance to see”. With UK Gold seemingly ditching all but the highest profile and most saleable archive programming from its schedules and concentrating instead on rerunning series that finished their terrestrial runs mere weeks ago, (cf. Linda Green) it’s especially heartening to see a hitherto underexposed “classic” like this back on our screens.

There are some catches, however. The main snag is that each episode has been shorn of five minutes. It’s unclear whether this has been necessary to remove sequences that are no longer acceptable for broadcast (with this original post-watershed programme now going out in a post lunchtime-Neighbours slot) or whether it’s for scheduling purposes alone. Whatever, the end result is a finely tailored programme now sporting a couple of snags. The other catch is less irksome, and that’s the superimposition of the current BBC logo after the opening credits. Realistically, this doesn’t really impede on our enjoyment of the programme, although it does make the Beeb look over-anxious about its property. Despite this, the re-run of Shoestring is still very welcome and arguably the best use of this afternoon slot in years.

Today’s episode, entitled “Nine-Tenths of the Law”, was originally transmitted in October 1979. The BBC, thankfully, are not trying to package the programme as anything new (despite that logo) with the continuity announcer helpfully highlighting a cameo appearance by Harry H Corbett. As it is, Shoestring has aged well. The title music remains affecting, with the main theme played on harmonica repeated throughout the programme providing a suitably down-at-heel accompaniment. OK, the fashions look a little aged and the inclusion of a schoolgirl reading a copy of Look-In serves as a reminder of the piece’s age, but in terms of pacingShoestring is still sprightly. Similarly, the characterisation holds true. Eddie Shoestring is very much a modern archetype, lightly cynical, (but not overly cynical in a manner that dates – say -The Sweeney) non-violent and with a keen sense of humour.

In this episode, Eddie is trying to track down a father who has kidnapped his own estranged daughter. Thin on subplots the programme laces in some other threads, notably the involvement of the missing girl’s grandfather (Corbett) who menaces Eddie in a sequence clumsily edited for this repeat (we see him being threatened, and then suddenly winded after being beaten). But with Shoestring it’s the little moments that make the programme. After unsuccessfully questioning a librarian the scene ends with a nice little throwaway – Eddie plucking a book from the shelves and replacing it the right way up.

Shoestring‘s stock in trade was always in its moral ambiguities. “Nine-Tenths of the Law” proves to be a textbook example of this, with the investigation revealing that the child wanted to be with her father to escape her alcoholic mother and cruel grandparent. Nevertheless, Eddie inadvertently leads the grandfather into snatching back the child. With nothing left to do, Eddie can only walk away, stopping to look back with a shrug of the shoulder (another nice, “small” moment).

Shoestring isn’t an overly demanding programme by any means, nor does it try to initiate an especially complicated level of debate (today’s question: although legally the child should be returned to her family, was it morally right to do so?) Like many programmes it does take shortcuts in the storytelling (the fact that everyone listens to Radio West is an unrealistic conceit that helps progress the plot), and yet it is probably the best thing on BBC1 today.Shoestring hales from a time when the BBC relied on entertaining and solid storytelling to market its dramas, rather than a bankable lead. Tellingly, after today’s episode ended there was a trailer for tonight’s In Deep making great play of Stephen Tompkinson and Nick Berry’s roles. Trevor Eve was an unknown when he took on the part of Eddie Shoestring.

By my calculations we should have another three weeks of Shoestring to look forward to. Savour it, and savour the experience of watching likeable and humble drama on BBC1 again.


Comments are closed.