Boxers, Spivs And Ford Capris: A Love Letter To Minder

Like a well dressed Robin Hood, Arfur Daley's exploits in the criminal underworld won the hearts and minds of the nation, and showed a side of London lost to history.
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"In my opinion he was a rather unlikable person. In fact, not to mince words, I think he was a dreadful character. I can't understand how he became so popular."

It's true to say that certain actors sometimes don't get the fuss over their most famous roles. Such was the case for George Cole. The English character actor, who died in 2015 was non-plussed right up till the end as to how his portrayal of a selfish, scheming car dealer on the make could capture both the hearts and ratings of the British television public. As the infamous 'Arfur', Cole was the blue-centre light of a show that would still be in production nearly 30 years after it's original episode. A show that gave the old fashioned criminal 'spiv' a brilliant reworking in a modern era.

From 1979 onwards Minder would have a different slant on what at that time had been an unfiltered look at the criminal underworld. By the mid to late Seventies television had tried to echo its cinematic cousin in trying to show the dark underbelly of London. Suddenly out went the truncheons and in came the sawn off shotguns, particularly in a show like The Sweeney - which seemed to revel in the cruelty of both the criminals and the force trying to catch them. For Minder however it was a different vibe. Its almost slapstick look at the London underworld had more in common with Ealing comedies than anything else. Its great trick however was drawing a subtle line between comedy and drama. There were laughs aplenty, but it wasn't afraid to go dark at times and throw the watching viewer off kilter. Minder had something else on its side too. Britain in the late seventies onwards was a place where unemployment was high and social injustice caused by the Tory government bubbled under the surface. Any show that challenged the idea of authority and championed the ethos of getting on by any means necessary was always going to be celebrated. Like a well dressed Robin Hood, 'Arfur' and his bunch of merry men were the fictional heroes of the day

Central to the show was the relationship between Cole's archetypal con man and his constant 'Minder' Terry played by Dennis Waterman. Both Cole and Waterman had an affection for each other both on and off the screen and it showed. The bounced off each other brilliantly, which given the ying and yang of their on screen relationship was almost vital to the success of the show. Terry, an ex boxer was the moral conscience of Minder who almost always ended up being slightly immoral because of it. His constant rebuffing of Arfur's nefarious schemes always ended up with him having to dish out a hiding to revenge seeking henchman in various lock ups in and around London. The irony of that was simple. The most well meaning character of the show was the only one who really got his hands bloody. Symbolically and as a constant narrative arc that pay off was perfect.

Like that other great British TV staple Only Fools and Horses, it was the quality of cameos that made it such a brilliant show too. You could describe it as a bunch of hapless fools being played by a group of talented auteurs. The list of great actors in fact that turned up in Minder was hugely impressive but, its staple characters were peerless. Dave the barman brilliantly played by Glynn Edwards was, according to certain critics, the greatest part of the show, but really it was another portrayal of a character on the verge of a nervous breakdown that was Minder's ace card. The hapless sergeant Chisholm, sublimely portrayed by actor Patrick Malahide was part Kafka part Krusty the Clown, terminally twitching in frustration at being unable to pin down his cigar smoking nemesis in 'Arfur'. It was so perfect you could hardly wait for his arrival on the screen. When he did his pained expressions left you in no doubt that he was as pivotal to the show as any character in it.

Alas, it couldn't last. In 1989 and after 10 years of playing Terry, Dennis Waterman announced he was leaving the show. Despite a reboot in 1991 starring Gary Webster, the show never really had the same quality or feel. It would run until 1994 (with a further one off series in 2009), but even despite a mixed reception the show's reputation would never really be tarnished. It had been such a staple part of the British public's viewing hearts that they could never fall out of love with it. It was in so many ways, despite its dubious morals, absolutely perfect.