Why Trevor Eve is lucky to be back on the screen

Brian Viner on a return from career-threatening injury
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The Independent Culture
Andrea Newman - the great-great-niece, somewhat improbably, of Elizabeth Barrett Browning - has acquired an almost mythic status in television circles, where people anticipate the "new Andrea Newman" with rolling eyes and foaming mouths. And that's just the people selling the advertising slots. For Newman - creator of such hits as A Bouquet of Barbed Wire and A Sense of Guilt - is TV's arch-chronicler of sexual intrigue. And An Evil Streak, which begins tomorrow on ITV, is her most sexually intriguing drama yet.

It stars Trevor Eve, who was also her leading man in A Sense of Guilt. He played Felix, a vain, reckless philanderer, and was so convincing that Newman was inundated with letters from women claiming that they, too, knew a Felix - in fact, three letters came from the same suburban street and clearly referred to the same man.

In An Evil Streak, Eve plays Alex, a bisexual, impotent, manipulative voyeur. Four years ago his portrayal of the oily, hypocritical careerist Duncan Matlock in The Politician's Wife made Jonathan Aitken look like a pillar of integrity. Yet those of us of a certain age will for ever think of Eve as the amiable Seventies private eye Eddie Shoestring. How low does a guy have to stoop, for God's sake, to stop being identified as a goodie?

Eve laughs. He used to bridle when people blethered on about Shoestring - of which only 21 episodes were made - but age has mellowed him. He is pushing 50, and branching out in life, having recently formed his own telly production company. I wonder why he wants to be a producer. He is, after all, much in demand as an actor. There is a long silence. Then a sigh. "It's a very personal story. I've never told anyone and I don't know why I'm telling you, but I broke my back in 1995 and there was a question of whether I would walk again. So in all those hours, days, weeks, flat on my back, I thought `what the f--- will I do?' It was a horse-riding accident, the same year that Christopher Reeve had his. Anyway, we kept it quiet and the hospital was very discreet. I'm fine now. Back on the tennis court."

Sue Barker once told me that Trevor Eve was the finest amateur tennis player she had seen. In the early Eighties he was a fixture on the pro- am tennis circuit, and recalls being umpired by John McEnroe - "even as an umpire he managed to lose his temper". As a youngster growing up near Birmingham, however, Eve's principal sport was cricket. For a while, he even planned to turn pro. But instead, he studied architecture, then jacked that in and went to Rada. He got his big break soon after graduating, playing Paul McCartney at the Liverpool Everyman in Willy Russell's hit play John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert.

"George and Ringo came to see it, but John couldn't, because he was trying to get his green card. He used to send us good-luck tapes, his Blighty tapes, which Willy Russell must still have somewhere. Paul didn't come but he had it videoed. I finally met him about four years later. He was quite sensitive about the play's supposed pro-Lennon approach. Willy knew John, you see...."

As the Beatles had their Maharishi, so, in 1974, Eve acquired a guru of sorts, in the venerable form of Laurence Olivier. At an audition, Olivier took a shine to the youngster, and invited him into his glittering circle.

"I worked with him from '74 to '79 and I was swept off my feet by him," Eve recalls. "He was very sweet and always included me, so there I was, aged 25, and having dinner with the Oliviers, and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Or whoever turned up. Olivier had an unbelievable sense of fun. So did Donald Pleasence, whom I got to know well. It sounds such a cliche, but they wanted to live every minute to the maximum. They didn't miss a practical joke, they didn't miss a drink. Every evening there was a wonderful celebratory dinner.

"I'm not sure where all that went. Now, people say `I'm going to my room'. Not with those guys, you couldn't. Zeffirelli was the same." In 1977, Franco Zeffirelli directed Eve in Filumena and, more importantly, directed him in the wooing of one of his co-stars, Sharon Maughan, still best known, alas, as one half of the original TV commercial Gold Blend couple.

The Eves have been married, in showbiz terms, for light years, and two of their three children were born in America. They moved there when Hollywood appeared to beckon, and for a while the film community fussed over the two attractive Brits, competing with each other, as Eve puts it, "to grab the fresh meat". Oddly enough, while he was domiciled in Los Angeles, his greatest triumphs took place on the London stage. He received glowing reviews as Leontes at the Young Vic, as Astrov in Uncle Vanya, and as Bill Maitland in John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence. The part of Maitland, with a long monologue to learn, was predictably gruelling. Yet it is Eve's ambition to return to the stage and to stretch himself even further.

"It's something of a hair-shirt ambition," he says, "but I'd love to play Macbeth, or Iago, or do more Chekhov. My admiration is for theatre actors, really. The trouble is, when I'm doing a play I never stop thinking about the role. I wish to God I could. There's nothing noble about it. I wish I could live the day, but I don't, I just think the night. In television and film I don't lose touch with my life in the same way." It is perhaps as well, for Alex in An Evil Streak is not a character anyone would want to take home. Believe me."

`An Evil Streak' starts on ITV tomorrow at 9pm.