Robert Banks Stewart on Charles Endell, Esquire


It’s been a rough week in the entertainment world, the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman filling news channels, while in the last few days we also heard of the passing of veteran TV screenwriter/producer, Robert Banks Stewart.

Born here in Edinburgh in 1931, Banks Stewart’s lengthy career included work in newspapers and magazines before he moved in screenwriting for series such as Danger Man, Lovejoy and Doctor Whothere’s an obituary over on The Guardian that goes into more detail.

Although I own many of Banks Stewart’s work on DVD, it was a series of his that isn’t currently available to buy that I contacted him about back in 2010, the 1979 STV production of Charles Endell, Esquire.

I was working with STV at the time on a project to bring various archive series back to life via YouTube. They were in the process of uploading shows such as Take the High Road, Dramarama and some top-notch Hogmanay specials, and I got in touch to offer my services as a freelance…well, freelance archive TV fan, if such a thing exists.

During our first chat I mentioned a series I’d read about in dusty corners of the internet, a spin-off from 1970s ITV drama Budgie, which starred Adam Faith as small-time crook Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, and Iain Cuthbertson as dodgy Soho businessman, Charlie Endell.

Seven years after Budgie‘s last episode, Charles Endell, Esquire arrived on STV screens, a comedy-drama that took Endell out of Soho and sent him back to Glasgow to try and rebuild his empire that had fallen while he was in jail. Robert Banks Stewart was a key part in its creation, setting the tone for the scripts.

As part of my role at STV I was building up some additional material for the website, a kind of DVD extra for when Endell arrived on YouTube. I contacted Banks Stewart for an interview and he was happy to discuss his time working on the show. I also spoke to series star, Tony Osoba, and filmed an interview with director David Andrews about the series.

Sadly, six years on, STV has seen fit to remove all traces of Charles Endell, Esquire (and almost all of the shows they uploaded) from YouTube and their website, so the Banks Stewart interview was gone when I went to find it earlier today. Thankfully, some traces of it remain on the internet if you know where to look, and I’ve retrieved the following for anyone interested in the development of a six episode Scottish TV series that few seem to remember.

I still have hopes Endell appears on DVD one day as I think it’s a terrific piece of TV that deserves a place on our shelves. STV has repeated the show on its STV Glasgow channel in recent years, but it needs a wider audience. You can read more on the show on this blog, over on Cathode Ray Tube and on Lady Don’t Fall Backwards.

In the meantime, here’s that interview with Bob Banks Stewart – I feel privileged to have spoken to him and can heartily recommend checking out his recently published autobiography if you want to know more about his life and work.

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Charles Endell, Esquire episode four on YouTube

As an addendum to my post on the return of Charles Endell, Esquire to YouTube, I thought I’d highlight the fact that episode four, The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Endell, is now online.

It’s huge fun from start to finish, with some classic Charlie one-liners – “that isn’t a drink, it’s a dirty glass!” – and a plot that, as Frank Collins recently noted, wouldn’t look out-of-place in an old Ealing comedy.

I’m also pleased to see it finally arrive online as I interviewed its director, David Andrews, a few months ago and I know he’s pleased to be able to watch it for the first time since 1980. Here are the two videos currently on the STV YouTube page, firstly with his thoughts on the cast:

Next is Andrews’ take on the 1979 strike which took the programme of the air:

Charles Endell, Esquire is definitely back

Charles Endell and Hamish MacIntyre

He’s back, def-in-itely back. Yes, 30-odd years after he made his way back to Glasgow to search out a new life for himself after 25 years in Soho and a spell in prison, Charles Endell, Esquire is back. And this time he’s on YouTube.

A spin-off from LWT’s Budgie, the 1971 comedy-drama starring Adam Faith as Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird and Iain Cuthbertson as his sometime boss, Charlie Endell, the sequel series picked up where the original didn’t leave off.

At the end of Budgie there was no sign that Endell was heading to jail for his dodgy dealings, but, needing an excuse to relocate the character to his hometown of Glasgow, writer Robert Banks Stewart decided that prison was as good as any.

So it was that in 1979, STV’s Head of Entertainment, Bryan Izzard, launched Charles Endell, Esquire onto an unsuspecting ITV network.

The series was given a prime time Saturday evening slot as Cuthbertson returned as a wiser, mellower, Endell. With an armory of one-liners and an entrepreneurial spirit which sat well with Thatcher’s view of modern Britain, Charlie was ready take on the world – you can hear some of his patter in the video below:

Tragically, after just two of the six episodes had been aired in July and August of 1979, ITV was hit by a workers strike, and the channel was taken off the air for almost three months. Caught up in the turmoil, Endell failed to reappear in the October of that year, only returning later in 1980, by which time Minder had started screening and the Glasgow wide-boy was old news.

The series didn’t go unnoticed by the critics of the time, The Times noting that these were “hugely enjoyable comedies about crime,” and that “Mr Cuthbertson, massive in shape and impact, delivers [the lines] marvellously…the whole is an hour of uninterrupted pleasure.”

Iain Cuthbertson and Tony Osoba

Iain Cuthbertson and Tony Osoba - photo copyright Tony Osoba

Before I go any further with this post, I need to add something of a disclaimer. For the past few months I’ve been working with STV (Scottish Televison) in Glasgow, helping them bring some of their TV archive to YouTube.

Endell was the series I first mentioned to them as being of particular interest to fans of cult television, and I’ve been busy trying to piece together the history of the programme since September 2010, speaking to creator Robert Banks Stewart, co-star Tony Osoba and director David Andrews for the STV website. I’ve written more about the behind-the-scenes work over on my personal blog.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Charlie Endell over the last few months and have come to the conclusion that its termination after just six episodes is a crime worthy of investigation from STV’s other star, Taggart (well, one of the new crowd at least).

The scripts in Endell are uniformly excellent, Robert Banks Stewart, Terence Feely, Bill Craig, Jeremy Burnham and Alistair Bell each managing to nail the combination of slightly seedy charm (Charlie tries to introduce the concept of pornographic videos to Glasgow at one point) and knowing humour.

Cuthbertson appears to be in his element here, relishing the opportunity to perform a character almost as larger-than-life as he was – just watch him in the title sequence and you’ll see how much fun he was having. And as for that theme song…

Along with Rikki Fulton as rival gangster, Alastair Vint, Phil McCall as Shug Dixon and Tony Osoba as the put-upon Worldwide, plus appearances from a variety of well-known Scottish character actors of the time, Charles Endell, Esquire is a real delight from start to finish.

Nobody is entirely sure why the series didn’t return, but it appears that a combination of events – the 1979 strike, the introduction of a Head of Drama during that strike, the arrival of Minder on ITV, the amount of resources and money the series cost STV to make and an uncertainty from the STV board about the way Glasgow was portrayed on-screen – conspired to scupper Charlie’s chances of going on to become a hit.

Could Charles Endell, Esquire have gone on to become one of Scotland’s best known series? I’ve a feeling that it could have done. Judging by the quality of these initial episodes, and assuming that the production team had gained a feeling for what worked and what didn’t, I suspect the programme would have attracted even more impressive guest stars in series two and beyond, picking up a larger audience along the way.

Tony Osoba as Hamish McIntyre - photo copyright Tony Osoba

Tony Osoba as Hamish McIntyre - photo copyright Tony Osoba

There’s even some Internet chatter which suggests Adam Faith would have reprised the role of Budgie in future series, but sadly the TV gods didn’t see fit to make that happen.

For more on the intricacies of the plots, I’d advise you head over to both Cathode Ray Tube and Lady Don’t Fall Backwards, where bloggers Frank Collins and Walter Dunlop have given their thoughts on Endell in some depth.

The episodes are currently being added to YouTube at the rate of one a week, with episode two, As One Door Closes Another Slams in Your Face, now up. There will also be some more interviews going online in the next few weeks, including two with David Andrews, the director of episode four, The Moon Shines Bright on Charlie Endell. Andrews discusses the strike which took the series off the air and the reasons for the show ending. I’ve also spoken with Tony Osoba and Rohan McCullough, and will add those to the Charles Endell section soon.

If you haven’t seen an episode, then I’d recommend setting aside 50 minutes and doing so. You’re about to witness a little slice of TV history which deserves to be rediscovered – let me know in the comments below if you think I’m right to love it so much:

Thanks to Tony Osoba for the use of images in this post.