George Cole

By Jeremy Miles

TURN the clock back 20 years and I'm in the middle of the English Channel , standing unsteadily on the bridge of a Channel ferry, and clinging on for dear life as the ship pitches and tosses through heavy seas.

My eyes settle on Arthur Daley, one hand on the navigation console, the other clasped to the side of his head: "Oh my good Gawd," he says, before letting out a moan that sounds not quite human. Inspector Chisholm and Terry McCann look on wanly.

No, not a bizarre dream, but real memories of being despatched to write a feature on the filming of the classic Christmas TV special Minder on the Orient Express.

It had all seemed like a great idea, until we realised that we were expected to cross the Channel in a force nine gale.

Most of the cast, which included Honor Blackman and a then completely unknown Ray Winston, made their way reluctantly aboard.

Some, however, had other ideas. Adam Faith insisted on staying firmly on dry land until the wind dropped enough for him to nip aboard a hovercraft and make a late dash for France, where he could be reunited with the Minder crew.

Veteran actor George Cole, who made devious con-man Arthur Daley into one of the enduring TV characters of the late 20th century, remembers the occasion well.

"Oh, that crossing - wasn't it dreadful?" he says. Now nearly 80, Cole is doing a round of interviews to flag up the release on VHS and DVD of the tenth and final Minder Series.

That set of programmes, now carefully packaged in a three-volume boxed set by Clear Vision, was the end of the road as far as Minder was concerned. Broadcast between January and March 1994, it saw the original Minder of the title - Dennis Waterman's Terry McCann - sidelined and replaced by Gary Webster as Daley's nephew Ray. These were considered far from vintage episodes but watching them again today you realise just how good they actually were. This wasn't only the last gasp for Minder - it marked the dying days of this level of TV production on shows of this kind. You only have to check out the technical credits to see that there was a serious budget at work here.

Cole, who says he accepted the role of Daley because the original synopsis of the character said that he "dressed like a dodgy member of the Citizens Advice Bureau", is eternally grateful for the part. It gave a late boost to an already long and illustrious career and to this day he says "the amount of fan mail that comes in is quite extraordinary".

Hardly surprising perhaps when you think that until a few weeks ago past episodes were being screened three times a day on the Paramount Comedy channels.

But Cole reminds me that Minder was far from an instant success . "The first series didn't get into the ratings at all nor the second but the third went like a rocket. "I knew something was happening when taxi drivers started saying: 'How's her indoors?' or 'You ought to give that Terry a bit more money'."

Suddenly second-hand car lots all over Britain started using the Daley brand as a kind of jokey advertising slogan. "Very strange," chuckles Cole. He also found himself getting a few sideways looks whenever he tried to cash a cheque and to this day you can buy Arthur Daley bank notes on e-Bay. "They keep sending them to me to be autographed. They're supposed to be issued by the Bank of Fulham."

A keen fan of the TV re-runs, Cole says he loves watching out for the times when something went wrong. "You recognise those moments when there were problems but we managed to get out of it without stopping."

He thoroughly approves of putting the shows out on DVD. "It's allows people the chance to see a better quality version than has ever been possible before. It's marvellous." However, he can't see the show ever being revived. "I think it's had its day," he says.

© Jeremy Miles 2022