Minder is a British comedy-drama about the London criminal underworld. Initially produced by Verity Lambert, it was made by Euston Films, a subsidiary of Thames Television and shown on ITV (originally by Thames, then Central Independent Television in 1993 and 1994 after Thames lost its franchise). The original show ran for ten series between 29 October 1979 and 10 March 1994, and starred Dennis Waterman as Terry McCann, an honest and likable bodyguard (minder in London slang) and George Cole as Arthur Daley, a socially ambitious, but highly unscrupulous importer-exporter, wholesaler, used-car salesman and purveyor of anything else from which there was money to be made, whether within the law or not.
The series is principally set in inner West London (Shepherd’s Bush/Ladbroke Grove/Fulham/Acton), and was largely responsible for putting the word minder, meaning personal bodyguard, into the UK popular lexicon. The characters often drank at the local members-only Winchester Club, where owner and barman Dave (Glynn Edwards) acted, often unwillingly, as a message machine for Arthur, and turned a blind eye to his shady deals. The series was notable for using a range of leading British actors, as well as many up-and-coming performers before they hit the big time; at its peak it was one of ITV’s biggest ratings winners.
In 2008, it was announced that Minder would go into production for broadcast in 2009 (on Channel 5) for a new version, though none of the original cast would appear in the new episodes. The new show focused on Arthur’s nephew Archie (created solely for this new version), played by Shane Richie. The series began broadcast on 4 February 2009. In 2010, it was announced that no further episodes would be made following lukewarm reception to the first series.
Minder was devised by writer Leon Griffiths as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman after his success in The Sweeney. George Cole’s wheeler-dealer character is almost secondary, with Arthur assigning Terry a new “minding” job in each episode. A number of early episodes focus on Terry in such assignments, with Arthur remaining in the background. However, as the comedy potential of Cole’s dodgy-dealing character emerged, as well as the successful on-screen pairing of Waterman and Cole (which proved to be one of the series’ most popular elements), the emphasis increasingly focused more on Arthur’s exploits, and by a few series into the show’s life, typical plots revolved more around Arthur’s latest shady scams instead of some of the more “gritty” plots of Terry’s minding jobs.
Despite its eventual success, Minder was a slow burner, not helped by being delayed by a nine-week technicians’ strike which effectively blacked out the ITV network. In the light of initially poor viewing figures, management at Thames were intent on scrapping the show but managing director Bryan Cowgill persuaded them to commission one further series and repeat the first. Both attracted much larger audiences and by series 3, the show had become a major hit, and at its peak was often cited as the jewel in ITV’s Drama crown.
Terry is a former professional boxer who has served time in prison (Wormwood Scrubs) (“two years for GBH and three for attempted robbery” according to a police sergeant in the first episode, “Gunfight at the OK Laundrette”, although other episodes slightly contradict this and the overall charges are often quite vague), having served a substantial term because he would not become an informant against his co-accused. With few options, Terry is employed as Arthur’s minder on vague and ungenerous terms, with it often being hinted that Arthur has manipulated him into this job, and indeed is seen to continue to manipulate Terry throughout the character’s run in the series, despite his often attempting to find other means of employment and break free from Arthur’s control. (The later feature-length special “An Officer and a Car Salesman”, which leads into Series 7, Terry’s last stint in the series, begins with Terry once again inside, this time after being caught with some of Arthur’s hookey merchandise).
In the title sequence, Arthur is shown meeting Terry at the prison gates following his release. He drives a white Ford Capri, although it is never made clear whether Terry had bought the vehicle from Arthur, hence their meeting, or if Arthur had given to Terry this car as part of their ensuing working deal, in the same manner as the flat that Arthur houses Terry in. (Terry drives a copper coloured Capri in some mid-run episodes, and a silver Capri in several others, and the exact model is seen to vary between different episodes). Terry enjoys a drink but usually responsibly, does not smoke and has an eye for the ladies. Despite his incarceration, he is honest, trustworthy and loyal, particularly to Arthur, although the scrapes that Arthur lands him in make him wonder why. He is intelligent and streetwise enough to disperse situations that his role as minder often lands himself – and Arthur or those around him – in, although at the same time is seen not to be strong willed enough to break free of Arthur’s often devious ways of keeping their working relationship in place.
Arthur is a mid-level professional criminal of rather mature years, a minor con man eternally involved in dodgy dealings and usually seen puffing Castella Panatella cigars. In the series 3 episode “In”, we discover from a German police officer reading Arthur’s file that Arthur served 18 months in prison during the 1950s, although we do not learn what for. It is revealed in the episode “The Balance of Power” that Arthur’s middle name is Edward.
Arthur typically drives an upmarket car, beginning with a silver Jaguar XJ6 4.2 Series II. In the latter part of Series 3, Arthur has changed over to a silver Mercedes 280E and in Series 4 he drives a Portland beige Daimler Sovereign 4.2 Series III. Series 7 again sees Arthur driving a silver Jaguar XJ6. As a used-car salesman, it is not surprising that Arthur occasionally makes use of other cars. In the Series 3 episode “Broken Arrow”, he uses a Ford Granada Mk.II. However, due to an accident, this car has to go in for repair and Arthur is forced to borrow a friend’s customised Chevrolet Corvette C3 Stingray that he is trying to sell. Also in Series 3, Arthur uses a brown Jaguar XJR in the episodes “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” and “Looking for Micky”. In the Series 7 episode “It’s a Sorry Lorry, Morrie!”, Arthur is down on his luck and has to resort to driving a clapped-out mustard yellow Ford Granada Mk.II. In the episode “A Nice Little Wine” Daley drives, in order to test, a pale blue Rover SD1. In the special episode “An Officer and a Car Salesman”, Arthur has moved up in the world and drives a yellow Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.
He survives by his wiles and self-belief, and exploits everyone, especially Terry. He is always trying to make a quick few quid and his schemes usually backfire and leave him either in debt to local underworld figures, or with his activities coming under the scrutiny of the police (or often a combination of both) – with Terry ultimately being left to sort out the mess and get him out of trouble. Arthur thinks of himself as an “entrepreneur”, but his tailored three-piece suits, Jaguar and social affectations do not disguise his working class accent and origins. Arthur tests Terry’s patience with dishonest and doomed schemes to make money (“nice little earners”), then uses his cunning to persuade Terry to stay with him. In the same way, Arthur manipulates friends such as Dave, the barman (and part owner with Arthur) of the private, if downmarket, “Winchester Club”. Arthur refers to his wife, who never appeared, as “‘er indoors”; the implication that she is a fierce and formidable woman is reinforced by the appearance of actress Claire Davenport (famous for such roles) as her sister. Arthur is not above bending the law and sometimes attracts the keen attention of the local police. Despite being the one who we know has served time (Arthur having served time as well but this is only mentioned in one episode (Series 3, episode 13, “In”) and no further reference is made) it is Terry who serves as the show’s moral conscience, keeping Arthur from straying too far outside the law and persuading him to do the right thing whether Arthur likes it or not. The name Arthur Daley has become synonymous with a dishonest salesman or small-time crook.
With Arthur’s dodgy schemes, the duo encounter undesirable underworld figures, many of whom Arthur deals with and many of whom turn nasty, leaving Terry to fight and outwit their way out of trouble. But for all Arthur’s obsession with get-rich-quick schemes, he is never malicious, usually simply being blinded by greed, and the pair often end up putting some other wrong right or helping others in need or who have been done wrong by, even if it proves to be Arthurs’s Achilles’ heel to his latest scheme fully succeeding. Most of Arthur’s schemes fail in the end, owing to his greediness, but he does occasionally have the odd minor victory and puts one over on the law or more serious criminals.
Arthur’s favourite drink was a large Vodka and tonic, which was referred to as a “large V.A.T”, a wordplay on Value Added Tax (the UK tax on sales).
The tone of the programme in series one and two, and much of series three, mixed poignant drama and action sequences with offbeat comic moments, and many of these tales had a grittier feel to them than the more light-hearted storylines that would go on to be more familiar. As the series progressed over 15 years, more emphasis was placed on the comedic aspects of the minder-principal relationship, and the show became more a comedy driven by a dramatic plot. Social satire played a strong part throughout the series, grounded in the cinematic and social ethos of the 1980s. In the earlier series, Terry would succeed in seducing a ‘dolly bird’, resulting in at least one scene of female semi-nudity per average episode, though as the series became more popular these instances were reduced (and some repeat viewings, even those post-watershed, toned such scenes down). Although always an element of the series, the fights – common and brutal in early episodes – were also toned down and became less frequent.
Another significant element of the series were the subplots typically found in a Minder episode. Although subplots weren’t necessarily found in all of the episodes, they were found in most and usually consisted of one of Arthur’s dodgy deals, Terry’s minding jobs and/or favours done for friends and in a few instances involved the police tackling particular cases.
The series has a number of parallels with long-running BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, with both being set in London and involving lovable dodgy dealers with endless get-rich-quick schemes that invariably backfire and get them into trouble (and both of whom tried to make out to be of a higher status than they really were), and both having a blend of comedy and drama. Indeed, Only Fools and Horses creator / writer John Sullivan claimed that one of the ways he persuaded the BBC to commission the series was by pointing to the success of ITV’s Minder, which had begun the previous year. After both having lukewarm starts, both series went on to become huge hits, and share much of the same fan base. At Christmas 1985, specials of Only Fools and Horses and Minder were scheduled against each other, angering many viewers (in the days before video recorders were commonplace in many UK homes.
by simon schofield