Thursday, 2 June 2016

406 Minder

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.


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