Thursday, 2 June 2016
First viewed : 29 October 1979
Wow, the iconic series are coming thick and fast now. Minder was conceived by Euston Films as a new vehicle for Dennis Waterman after the success of The Sweeney . George
Carter had always enjoyed a good ruck so Waterman's new guise was Terry McCann, an ex-boxer just out of prison who did "minding" jobs put his way by shady petty criminal Arthur Daley ( George Cole ) who invariably didn't tell him the full story especially where the fee was involved. Terry usually had to fight his way out of trouble but he got a fair amount of bedroom action along the way. For all the fighting and shagging, Terry was a rough diamond who went out of his way to help others often at a cost to himself.
I still recall the first episode clearly because it was so untypical, Terry trapped as a hostage with some nervy gunmen after a hold-up in a launderette goes wrong, It was very tense with precious few laughs until Terry's good sense saved the day. Although series creator Leon Griffiths had no involvement in The Sweeney it was recognisably set in the same world. However the first season had episodes which were lighter in tone and the series would gradually shift in that direction as it became more popular.
It was soon apparent that George Cole's Arthur Daley was a strong character in his own right. His shiftiness and cowardice was the perfect foil for Terry's courage and integrity and the two actors had great onscreen chemistry. What's more, Arthur's entrepreneurial spirit, social pretensions and pursuit of the fast buck made him one of the most politically pertinent characters on TV. He quickly came to share top billing with Terry.
The first season did not draw big ratings and there was some doubt the series would continue but after it was repeated as a trailer for a second season it became a huge hit. Waterman had recorded the theme tune with Gerard Kenny and this reached number three in the charts in the autumn of 1980 ( something that would come back to haunt him ).
Early on at least Minder was pretty un-pc. Arthur refers to the gunmen in the first episode as "three dopey spades " and in episode 5 Terry comes out with a completely gratuitous impersonation of a Sikh employee. It has to be said though that some of the most politically incorrect stories are among the funniest such as "Whose Wife Is It Anyway ? " where Terry has to mind "an iron " and "The Bengal Tiger " where Terry stands up for an Asian girl's right to be with Mike Grady rather than the ugly buggers her father and his rivals have got lined up for her. That episode's also notable for the still-unusual sight of an Asian actress ( Shireen Anwar ) apparently nude ( though you don't see more than her shoulders ) in bed with a white guy.
From the second series onwards there was a third regular member of the cast, Glyn Edwards ( otherwise best remembered as one of the villains despatched by Michael Caine in Get Carter ) as Dave the barman at the Winchester Club though he often only appeared in a couple of scenes. There were other semi-regulars, perhaps most notably Patrick Malahide as the uptight sarcastic Sgt Chisholm who was completely obsessed with feeling Arthur's collar although sometimes Arthur's adversary was the glory-hunting Sgt Rycott ( Peter Childs ) instead. George Layton and then a squeaky young Ray Winstone played mechanics, Arthur's chief source of income being the dodgy motor trade. Terry had two reasonably regular squeezes , an air stewardess called Penny ( Gennie Nevinson ) and most memorably a stripper called Debbie ( Diana Malin ) who didn't mind flashing the flesh . In the Season 3 episode "Looking for Mickey" you got to see her routine and although she was modestly endowed for a stripper she was still a gorgeous girl.
As the series got more popular the comedy element was ratcheted up and the violence and bed-hopping ( sorry Dennis ) were toned down. There were more hit records , The Firm's "Arthur Daley ( E's Alright )" in 1982 which was completely independent of the show and a year later Cole and Waterman's best-forgotten "What Are We Going To Get For Her Indoors ". There were more prestigious guest stars including Mrs Waterman at the time ( Rula Lenska ) on a couple of occasions.
There was a problem though with switching the focus to comedy. Most sitcoms are only half an hour long; Minder asked you for twice that commitment and didn't always repay it . I remember a guy at my hall of residence saying "I haven't got the energy for Minder tonight and I knew what he meant. Some of the stories were quite laboured and flat.
The high water mark of the series was probably Minder on the Orient Express , a feature length episode broadcast over Christmas 1985 . It was a caper set on the famous train and featured Ralph Bates as an excitable French policeman and Adam Faith as a charming heavy . My favourite scene was the one where Chisholm realised he hadn't been given enough money and had to go to Arthur for a loan.
That did appear to be it at the time and no new episodes were made for four years although it remained popular through frequent repeats. Then a seventh season started at the beginning of 1979 . It was trailed with another feature length episode which was also used as a send-off for Chisholm , now working as a security consultant. That for me was the jump the shark moment . Chisholm wasn't ever-present but he was one of the series' strongest characters and losing him seemed a major blow. By the end of that season ( which only lasted six episodes ) Dennis Waterman had reached the same conclusion and announced he too was quitting the show.
There was a further two and a half year hiatus before the show returned with Arthur's young nephew Ray ( Gary Webster ) replacing Terry who had apparently emigrated to Australia. Dave was still in it but otherwise it relied on a new cast. I was on holiday in Keswick at the time of the first episode and without much to do in the evenings I gave it a chance but had started to doze off by the time it was half way through. I switched it off and that was it for me until 2003 when I got Freeview and started watching the edited repeats on ITV 4.
To give Webster his due, the series lasted for another three seasons (36 episodes ) until the plug was pulled in 1994. That wasn't the end of the story though. In 2008 Channel 5 decided to have a crack at reviving it with Shane Richie playing a different nephew of Arthur's now in charge of the business. None of the original cast were involved and Ritchie was forced to deny that he'd vetoed Waterman's involvement. He was better off out of it anyway , the six-part series pleased neither critics nor audiences and it was promptly binned.