Way back in the 1980s and early 1990s, though I never really bothered with it once Terry McCann (played by Dennis Waterman) had departed, because – well – Arfur without Terry wasn’t the same was it? – Thames Television’s series Minder was a staple of my recreational television-watching of choice.
It had originally been a new vehicle for Waterman after his previous ratings-winning series The Sweeney (in which he featured with John Thaw as a pair of hard-working and results-driven, rather than necessarily by-the-book, London detectives) came to an end of a long and successful run.
Veteran actor George Cole, previously upon my radar only as ‘Flash ‘Arry, the spiv who operated a black market business for the St Trinians girls in their black and white movies of the 1950s (also featuring Alastair Sim in drag as the headmistress, Joyce Grenfell and Richard Wattis), was in distinct danger of becoming typecast – at least in my eyes – when he took on the Minder role of Arthur Daley, the petty wheeler-dealer businessman operating on both sides of ‘the right side of the law’ for whom Terry worked.
Arthur Daley gradually evolved into one of the all-time classic British television characters once the writers, producers, actors and individual stories had hit their stride. These come along rarely, these icons of the small screen, and the irony is that by coincidence Arthur Daley was followed so soon by John Sullivan’s Derek (‘Del Boy’) Trotter in Only Fools And Horses on the BBC.
Before long, Arthur Daley bestrode British culture like a Colossus. His interminable patter was littered with half-baked comments and cod-Cockney underworld phrases that began passing into common usage. Back in the day (i.e. thirty years ago) there was barely a Brit male in a relationship who hadn’t adopted Arthur’s habitual ‘Her Indoors’ reference as his own.
You could tell how popular the series – and the character – was, plus also the chord it struck in the nation’s everyday life, by the fact that before long the police and the ‘Sarf Lunnon’ criminal underworld had both adopted Arthur as a comic hero.
Sadly, the passing of George Cole (aged 90) was announced yesterday. Yes, he got typecast as Arthur and yes, we would be correct in assuming that he was a better and more versatile actor than this implied.
Within the business, comic acting is renowned as one of the hardest skills to master.
I knew a couple of people who worked for Euston Films, the subsidiary of Thames Television that made Minder, and they often testified to how much production relied upon its teamwork.
For Minder Leon Griffiths, the main writer, had created some excellent key characters, but the input of Dennis Waterman – and particularly George Cole with Arthur Daley – added immeasurably to the mix with their feedback, improvisations and performances. Within a couple of series, the scripts were being written specifically with Cole’s ever-evolving comedic interpretation in mind, no longer relying simply upon the actors to ‘realise’ a script as originally conceived upon the page.
Here’s a link to an appreciation of Cole by Martin Chilton, the online cultural editor of the Daily Telegraph, that appears on its website today – DAILY TELEGRAPH