Some would say it was a brave venture, writing a book about such a much-maligned TV show. What drove you to write a book about "Eldorado"?
Yes, I agree. I'm certain some people would say it was a brave venture to create a book on Eldorado, the nations most ridiculed soap. I would be one of those people too, but hindsight is the only perfect science, and if I'd have known at the start what a major effort would be involved, I wouldn't be speaking to you now. There were several reasons why I decided to compile a book on Eldorado, the main one being there was no 'companion' book already out there and I felt that the BBC had abandoned a perfectly credible drama series that I was a fan of and had subsequently abandoned its supporters.
Initially, I thought I was taking on a reasonable task, collating the history of the show, perhaps an episode guide, some cast interviews and some photographs. I couldn't have been more wrong. It became a real labour of love to complete in the end. The BBC were fairly dismissive of my efforts and were not a great deal of help. The one contact I made there was able to supply me with contact addresses for the majority of the cast and I tried to track down each actor via letter or phone call. I had little success with most of them and a couple of the 'lesser' cast members informed me, in no uncertain terms, just what they thought of me and indeed Eldorado. Their responses do not appear in the book and they don't seem to have 'graced' the acting world since. In a second attempt to contact everyone again, I offered them a questionnaire as I thought this kind of interview may be able to be answered at leisure, even if it was a bit basic. I had nice letters from Polly Perkins and Campbell Morrison and the completed questionnaires from Roland Curram and Derek Martin appear in the book. Anyone who has read the book will know that the most revealing interview is from Faith Kent, with lots of on-set revelations and backstage politics. This was carried out during a couple of phone calls and correspondence. I tried to get interviews with Alan Yentob and Verity Lambert and their limited responses also appear. I spent many hours in the British newspaper library, scrolling through reels of endless microfilm, printing out and photocopying to create one of my favourite chapters in the book, 'What the papers said'. I feel this shows how the programme was received throughout its life and rocky reception.
How long did it take you?
I've tried to think how long the book took to research and put the whole project together and I'm coming to the conclusion after cross referencing lots of paperwork that it took around 5 years on and off.
Was it always your intention to self-publish?
No, not at all. When the book was complete from my point of view, I got in touch with as many relevant publishers who had produced similar TV tie-ins and reference books and offered them my efforts. I was hoping to get editing assistance and feedback going forward, but no one would entertain me. I was loathe to give up and consign my elaborate 'scrapbook' to a drawer and looked at small publishing houses and one of these seemed keen to help. We came to an agreement and the first run got underway, and when I saw the glossy blue cover, it made it all seem worthwhile.
You mentioned that cast members were initially interested in contributing, but changed their minds (apart from a few). Do you think that was because of "open wounds" or were there other reasons?
I'm not sure really. All I can say is I had very mixed and random input from various cast and crew members including odd phone calls and requests for money. I expect it all boiled down to how the show was received and subsequently the stigma of being forever attached to Eldorado and the folklore of what that word conjures up.
Which cast/crew member would you have loved to have spoken to?
As I say, the interviews and input was a bit hit and miss, but Faith Kent's' interview made up for all the other unobtainables. It was very revealing and something we couldn't have found out any other way. I would have liked to have had a conversation with Corrine Hollingsworth and a bit more of an insight from Alan Yentob and Verity Lambert would have been good. Julia Smith and Tony Holland would have been great to, but there was no response.
There are some terrific photographs contained within the book. How many of these were yours and would you perhaps consider making these available to other fans?
The photographs in the book are about one third taken from the official BBC press pack and the rest are from my personal collection taken during a visit to the set in 1994 with T.E.A.S.E., the Eldorado appreciation society. Yes, I can certainly share some of the photos with fans that are interested, however, they are all available in the downloadable book and this time, most of them are in colour which was not possible in the original hard copy. Perhaps some can go onto the website?
The episode guide must have taken ages! How many late nights did that involve?
That was one of the most laborious tasks, as it was done in real time during the UK Gold re-runs. I would literally take a notepad and write events as they were happening and at the end of the episode, tart it up if necessary and that's what you see in the book. They're my interpretation of the episode events in 'laymens' terms. I like it as it's the 'whole life' of Eldorado laid out in chapter that can be read from start to finish as a story.
Were you pleased with the response when the book was published?
Yes, very. It seemed worth doing at that point. I had some good feedback with favourable reviews from fans, nice letters and brisk sales. It was being sold to many different walks of life including doctors, university professors, independent and regional TV producers and even BBC employees!, which goes to show what a viewer mix Eldorado had.
Were you happy with the sales of the book?
The initial print run sold out which was very pleasing. Interest was still high and we decided to reprint. This run also sold out although a little slower this time. When it came to deciding whether to reprint again, it didn't seem viable especially with escalating printing costs at that time.
The book has become something of a collectible now, fetching extraordinary prices for second-hand copies. Do you wish you'd produced more?
A hard copy of the book seems quite elusive these day, a bit like a 'J R Hartley'! It's nice to be the author of a 'collectable' book, but disappointing to see some of the extortionate second hand prices I've seen, but as I say, it just wasn't possible to print again.
The forthcoming downloadable copy is an interesting idea. How did that come about?
I have a colleague who had created several downloadable books for American clients. He knew about my book and offered to set up a site that would give those that have missed out an opportunity to have their own downloadable copy, as I still get many requests. I think it's a great idea and seems to be a growing trend for out of print and hard to find books.
Will there be any updates or additions to the electronic copy?
Unfortunately there are no further updates in the downloadable version of the book. It has been slightly re-jigged in its format and I think it makes it easier to read and as I've said, the majority of the photos are in colour.
Did the process of writing the book change your view (or appreciation) of the show at all?
That's a difficult one. I was always a fan of the show from the start and was naturally disappointed when it ended. During the process of writing the book, I would say that watching every episode again in their entirety gave me a renewed appreciation of the show and my hours of research showed me the efforts put into the show from everyone involved.
What's next for Robert Sturman?
No more book writing! No, seriously, the process of creating a book from start to finish was a double edged sword and needed a lot of commitment. My day job is working in television these days, working in a live gallery so that takes priority. I have ambitions to complete my half started sitcom but I don't hold out too much hope for that, there's always something that seems to get in the way. Still, you never know, I could always contact our friends at the BBC...........
My thanks to Robert for his time. To purchase a copy of "Eldorado - The Definitive Guide To A Year In The Sun" click here.