When I first started to re-watch Minder on ITV4 I was attracted by its humour both in dialogue and characterisation. Then I began to appreciate the quality of George Cole’s acting which he learned from his adopted father Alastair Sim, in particular his brilliant facial expressions. I then picked up more subtle nuances. A friend of mine observed that the programme appeals most to the middle classes who would love to drink in the Winchester. Class divide has always been a staple force of successful television, think The Forsyte Saga, Upstairs, Downstairs and now Downton Abbey. In the seventies when series like Minder and The Professionals started , the class structure was strong but coming under attack. The establishment in The Professionals was corrupt as exposed by the hard but fair George Cowley; Bodey and Doyle often had “upper” girlfriends. Similarly Terry McCann, as a bit of rough, is attractive to posh totty. Arthur Daley though in dress trying to be a toff is the archetypal cockney lovable rogue, frequently outwitting the disreputable from a “superior” class. In my country of birth, USA ,which is predominantly middle class and admiring of wealth, not class, we would have difficulty in understanding such a divide.
Yesterday’s programme featuring the art world is a good example. Arthur Daley meets Frank Dunlop in a strip club, Terry is minding as security. Frank Dunlop was played by Patrick Mower. Curiously he does not appear in the credits. The previous week I am sure it was as a villain’s wife an uncredited Miriam Karlin whose catchphrase “Everybody out!” in The Rag Trade passed into common currency. Miriam Karlin was actually a fierce socialist and activist who would have thoroughly approved of the direction Labour has taken, but I digress. Dunlop is an art forger that can draw replicas of Victorian horse paintings. Realising the potential Arthur joins forces with him and supposedly fools a upmarket dealer. The dealer in fact realises it’s a forgery but sees a market supplying seeking these pictures to rich Americans. Matters are complicated as Frank is living with a girl whose boyfriend is due to return. She, who believes Dunlop has the talent to be a real artist, exacts retribution by painting a Timex watch onto the rider. An altercation between the dealer and his heavy and Arthur runs nasty and results in Terry dispensing his own justice in a fist fight. Dennis Waterman comes from a boxing family and there is normally a couple of fight scenes in which he features. His ex wife Rula Lenska alleges that she was the victim of such violence.
I asked our Alice Mansfield to watch it as the programmes are repeated through the day. She confirmed that it was an accurate depiction of the art world, it’s lack of any regulation, pretension, the tendency of a disreputable dealer to gloss over provenance. She did say the excellent programme Fake or Fortune showed how hard it is to beat the experts that can use forensic tests to recognise a forgery by a paint colour not in use at the time. It still goes on, the popular artist Ken Howard was imitated by someone signing pictures ‘KH’. At the time of Minder Tom Keating, who could replicate but not paint anything original, was fooling the art world with his Sexton Blakes (fakes). The class commentary was competed by a rich bookmaker buying up Victorian equine paintngs. He clearly wanted to join the landed gentry horsey set whilst remaining a canny and hard-nosed bookmaker willing to obtain retribution when he realises the picture sold cannot be an original.
It was gripping television and looking at the listings of reality shows one wonders if anything at all of such quality will be shown on tv channels in 30 years’ time.