Originally created as a vehicle for ex-Sweeney star Dennis Waterman, Minder gave us one of the most memorable characters in British television history, the man whose name became synonymous with dodgy goods and shady deals, who would sell his own mother if the price was right, and who knew a 'nice little earner' when he saw one. As brilliantly portrayed by veteran actor George Cole, the man was, of course, Arthur Daley. In reality it was a role that was perfect for Cole, who had been the quintessential spiv in countless British movies, and it was a role that he slipped into like a tailor-made Saville Row suit. The original outline for the series was for Waterman, as ex-boxer, ex-convict, Terry McCann, to star in a series of action packed adventures as a bodyguard or 'minder' who was in the employ of Daley. Arthur would set up the deals which usually involved a hefty profit for himself and a small one for Terry. All this, of course, without Terry's knowledge. In the course of their dealings, which usually strayed ever-so-slightly on the wrong side of legal, the twosome would try to avoid the clutches of the law as represented by local officers Chisholm, Rycott and Jones. For rest and recreation Arthur and Terry would frequent the Winchester Club, where barman Dave would listen to Daley's tales of woe and 'Er Indoors.'
Cole and Waterman hit it off right from the start with a wonderful on screen chemistry that was an instant hit with the critics if not the viewers. Series one began transmission soon after the 1979 ITV strike, when the channel was struggling to recover its previous audience levels, having lost viewers to the BBC. Apparently, the management board at Thames Television were keen to scrap the show but managing director Bryan Cowgill persuaded them to commission one further series and repeat the first. Both attracted huge audiences and a TV legend was born. But the first season was deemed too violent, so the producers turned up the humour and Minder became a runaway success. In 1980 the theme tune ('I Could Be So Good For You'), written by Waterman and Gerard Kenny and sung by Waterman himself, reached the top five in the music charts, followed by 'Arthur Daley ('E's Alright)' by The Firm in 1982, and a Christmas record for Terry and Arthur in 1983 entitled 'What Are We Gonna Get For 'Er Indoors'. There were also two 90-minute specials from Thames TV film division Euston Films. In 1991 Waterman decided that he'd had enough, and in order to avoid typecasting decided to quit the series. Undeterred, Arthur continued to ply his trade with the aid of naïve young nephew Ray, and the series slipped even further into comedy, but not in the ratings, remaining a firm favourite until it's final instalment in 1994.
The show was largely responsible for introducing a number of slang words into the British language: The name Arthur Daley has become synonymous with a dishonest salesman or small time crook - 'Er Indoors means the wife, and of course, the word minder, meaning personal bodyguard, also came into everyday usage. Many of Minder's episode titles were a take on popular movie titles, therefore you have episodes such as; 'Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette;' 'National Pelmet;' 'Whose Wife is it Anyway?;' 'The Birdman of Wormwood Scrubs;' 'Rocky Eight and a Half;' 'Senior Citizen Caine;' 'High Drains Pilferer;' 'No Way to Treat a Daley;' 'A Fridge Too Far.'
At its peak, Minder was evocative of the uniquely British comic sensibility which had engendered the classic Ealing comedies of the late 40's and early 1950's. In the character of Arthur Daily, George Cole also created a modern day equivalent of his own Flash Harry, the arch spiv of the St. Trinian movies series, and in the process ensured his status as something of a national comedy institution. In 2005 Arthur Daley came second in ITV's 50th anniversary poll to find its favourite TV characters.
Published on January 4th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (2005) for Television Heaven.