Comfort Classic: Minder

Comfort Classic: Minder

Wednesday, 8th June 2022
Dennis Waterman (left) as Terry McCann and George Cole as Arthur Daley (Credit: ITV)
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Matthew Bell revels in the failed schemes of one of the great TV comic pairings of all time.

British telly was a right old cockney knees up in the 1980s, with Peckham’s Only Fools and Horses bossing it on the BBC and Shepherd’s Bush’s Minder the guvnah on ITV. 

Both drew huge audiences but the TV critics were a little sniffy about Minder, preferring John Sullivan’s sitcom to the comic tales of ex-boxer and old lag Terry McCann and wheeler-dealer Arthur Daley. 

Dennis Waterman, who died last month, was the “minder”, or bodyguard of the show’s title, and he would have been justified in sorting out the critics. Certainly, in its grittier early series, Minder’s writing was razor sharp and the comic jousting of Terry and Arthur a delight. 

A glorious array of supporting characters – above all, Patrick Malahide’s morose copper, “Cheerful Charlie” Chisholm, and Glynn Edwards’ Dave, barman at the low-life private members’ club, The Winchester – added hugely to the show. 

Minder was created by writer Leon Griffiths, initially as a vehicle for Waterman, who had made his name playing detective sergeant George Carter in The Sweeney. As the BFI pointed out in its obituary, Minder showcased “Waterman’s deceptively deft skills as an actor”. The part required him to be a traditional tough guy and ladies’ man, but also vulnerable and hapless – the fall guy when Arthur’s scams unwound. 

Waterman also sang the theme tune, I Could Be So Good for You, a trick he repeated on the title song It’s Alright on his third long-running series, New Tricks, where he returned to the right side of the law, playing retired cop Gerry Standing. 

It became rapidly apparent to the producer, Euston Films, that the relationship between Terry and Arthur was the heartbeat of the show, which earnt George Cole equal screen time and billing with Waterman. 

Arthur is a greedy, cowardly, dodgy used-car dealer, forever sacrificing Terry to a beating or a night in the cells. He should be a comic monster but, thanks to Cole’s comic chops – the actor was best known at the time as the spiv, Flash Harry, in the St Trinian’s films – Arthur becomes a lovable rogue. 

Always on the hunt for a “nice little earner”, Arthur – like the equally deluded “Del Boy” Trotter in Only Fools and Horses – sees himself as a successful small businessman, the embodiment of the get-rich-quick 1980s. Equally, Rodney in Only Fools and Minder’s Terry are peas from the same pod – put upon and long-suffering. 

The glory years of the two shows span, almost identically, those of Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street, and any satire on Thatcherism was very much intended. 

Waterman bowed out after series seven, feeling the scripts had lost their sharpness but Minder continued without him – TV never likes ending a show at its peak. Terry emigrated to Australia and was replaced by a new character, Arthur’s nephew Ray Daley, played by Gary Webster, who, conveniently, could also handle himself in a tear up.  

Three series later, in 1994, Minder bowed out (though Channel 5 disastrously and briefly revived it 15 years later) with an episode titled The Long Good Thursday, with Ray, Dave and – at last – Arthur, taken away in the back of a police van. 

To the end, Arthur remains utterly oblivious to his true self, protesting: “I spend my life worrying about my fellow man, my friends, my family; making sure her indoors has a crust, pushing the economy of this septic isle ever upwards with my entrepreneurial skills… 

“I don’t understand – why me, why me? Have I not always conducted my life with decency and dignity? Have the time-honoured values of yesteryear deteriorated to the point where there is no place left in the black economy for men of vision?”

Minder is on ITV4 and BritBox. 

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