Watching television programmes remembered from my childhood can sometimes be a dispiriting experience. ITV3’s endless repeats of On the Buses is a reminder that terrible sitcoms were made long before Mrs Brown’s Boys. Many 1970s drama serials really haven’t stood the test of time either. The Persuaders is cringe-making, sexist tosh. The Professionals seems rather more amateurish than professional. Even Blake’s 7, which I watched religiously through the static on an expiring black and white television, is mostly unwatchable.
However, some real gems were made. Which brings me to Shoestring. I suspect that this series was largely responsible for my later desire to become a radio presenter, a fantasy that I was able to inflict on my university friends courtesy of W963. I recently bought the newly-released 21 episode DVD and book. I’m pleased to report that it’s been an entirely positive experience rediscovering the series. Even though I’d bought the first 11 episodes some years ago on an earlier DVD release, Andrew Pixley’s book alone is almost worth the £40 outlay.
170 pages long, it consists of an in-depth history of the series, plus an episode by episode guide to the cast, music, script quirks, shooting locations … everything you could possibly want to know. The front cover (pictured) is a pastiche of an actual Radio Times cover from October 1980.
As I’ve watched the DVD, I’ve inevitably found myself gasping at how much the world has changed since 1979/80 when the programmes were made. For example, all cars seemed to be incredibly badly made. I wince every time someone closes a door as it seems certain that such a rash act will bend the chassis. Computers (such as the CEGB‘s filmed for the Utmost Good Faith episode) had punched cards for input, filled whole air-conditioned rooms, but had less computing power than the Raspberry Pi I’m writing this blog post on.
However, it’s the final episode – The Dangerous Game – which confirms to me that Shoestring really was from an era that is long gone. In it we see:
- Eddie having a conversation outside a Berni Inn.
- Re-usable paper Christmas decorations and fake spray-on snow in shop windows.
- A cafe with a green “We Accept Luncheon Vouchers” sticker in the window.
- A local radio station that was genuinely local, with a substantial staff of telephonists, DJs and its own newsroom.
- A dangerous electrical toy race track, shown (in three separate scenes) as requiring a three-pin plug to be wired up before it could be used.
- A holiday cottage that needed ten pence coins to feed the electricity meter.
The plot turns on the last two points. Because of this, it’s a story that couldn’t be told the same way in 2017. So I’m stopping now to set myself up a Shoestring playlist on my cloud-based, wireless music centre that came with a moulded three-pin plug. Sadly, I won’t be needing any punched cards.
Inspired by the Post40Bloggers writing prompt #38 – The Good Old Days.