British Actor

George Cole, in his alter ego of Arthur Daley in the long-running series Minder, is to countless British viewers the quintessence of the Cockney spiv, a mischief-causing small businessman always with an eye to the main chance and often caught treading on the toes of the law. Endearingly convinced against all the evidence of his own cunning, and equally often driven to distraction by the comical collapse of his schemes, the irrepressible Daley, with his salesman's patter and naive pretensions as a big-time wheeler and dealer, became an icon for the 1980s, representing the materialist sub-yuppie culture that was fostered under the capitalist leadership of Margaret Thatcher. Every episode of the comedy series, which co-starred Dennis Waterman as his dimwitted but resolutely honest bodyguard-cum-assistant Terry McCann, featured the launch of another of Daley's shady schemes, or "nice little earners" as he called them, and culminated in the hapless secondhand car salesman and would-be executive being exposed for some fiddle or other and having to be rescued from arrest, physical assault, or worse by his long-suffering minder. Other troubles in Daley's life, from which he took refuge in his drinking club, the Winchester, came from "'Er indoors", the formidable Mrs Daley, who was never seen.

Minder, written by Leon Griffiths and filmed in some of the less picturesque parts of London, was not an instant success. The first two series failed to convince audiences, who welcomed Cole but were confused at the sight of tough-guy Dennis Waterman, fresh from the police series The Sweeney, taking a comic part. Thames Television persevered, however, and the public were gradually won over, the two stars becoming the highest-paid television actors in the Britain. After six series, each billed as the last, Waterman finally withdrew to concentrate on other work, but Cole continued just a little longer, now with his nephew Ray (played by Gary Webster) as Terry's replacement.

The part of Arthur Daley was perfect for Cole, who had in fact been playing variations of the character for years on both the large and small screen (he made his film debut as early as 1941). He had been schooled in the finer points of comic acting as the protégé of the film comedian Alistair Sim and as a young man made a memorable impression as the cockney spiv Flash Harry, an embryonic Daley figure complete with funny walk, loud suits, catchy signature tune, and suitcase bulging with dodgy merchandise, in the Saint Trinian's films of the 1950s. His television career took off in 1960, when he was seen as David Bliss in A Life of Bliss, which had started out as a radio series. Subsequently he continued to be associated chiefly with similar cockney roles, as in A Man of Our Times, in which he played the manager of a small furniture store, though in reality he has played a much wider variety of parts--including an aspiring playwright in Don't Forget to Write, a dedicated communist in Comrade Dad, the aristocratic and much put-upon Sir Giles Lynchwood in Tom Sharpe's hilarious Blott on the Landscape, and Henry Root in Root Into Europe, among other assorted characters.

It is, however, as the ever-likable if sometimes unscrupulous Arthur Daley that George Cole, an Officer of the British Empire, is best known. Such is his identification with the part that the actor reports that he frequently has trouble getting people to accept his cheques, fearing that they will not be honoured by the banks because of his on-screen reputation. The extensive use of cockney rhyming slang by Daley in the 70-odd episodes that were made of Minder is also said, incidentally, to have done much to keep this linguistic oddity from extinction.

-David Pickering

George Cole
Photo courtesy of George Cole

GEORGE COLE. Born in Tooting, London, England, 22 April 1925. Attended Surrey County Council Secondary School, Morden. Married 1) Eileen Moore in 1954 (divorced 1966); one son and one daughter; 2) Penelope Morrell in 1967; children: Tara and Toby. Served in Royal Air Force, 1943-7. Began career as stage actor in The White Horse Inn on tour, 1939; discovered by Alistair Sim in 1940 to play a cockney evacuee in the film Cottage to Let, 1941; subsequently specialized in chirpy cockney roles, notably Flash Harry in the St. Trinian's films; established reputation on television with the role of David Bliss in A Life of Bliss, 1960-1; best known to television audiences as Arthur Daley in the long-running series Minder. Order of the British Empire, 1992. Address: Joy Jameson, 19 The Plaza, 535 King's Road, London SW10 0SZ, U.K.


1960-61 A Life of Bliss
1968 A Man of Our Times
1977-9 Don't Forget to Write
1979-85 Minder
1982-3 The Bounder
1985 Blott on the Landscape
1986 Comrade Dad
1988-94 Minder


1985 Minder On the Orient Express


Cottage to Let, 1941; Those Kids from Town, 1942; Fiddling Fuel, 1943; The Demi-Paradise, 1943; Henry V, 1944; Journey Together, 1945; My Brother's Keeper, 1948; Quartet, 1948; The Spider and the Fly, 1949; Morning Departure, 1949; Gone to Earth, 1949; Flesh and Blood, 1951; Laughter in Paradise, 1951; Scrooge, 1951; Lady Godiva Rides Again, 1951; The Happy Family, 1952; Folly to Be Wise, 1952; Who Goes There?, 1952; Top Secret, 1952; The Clue of the Missing Ape, 1953; Will Any Gentleman, 1953; Apes of the Rock, 1953; The Intruder, 1953; Our Girl Friday, 1953; Happy Ever After, 1954; The Belles of St Trinian's, 1954; An Inspector Calls, 1954; Where There's a Will, 1955; A Prize of Gold, 1955; The Constant Husband, 1955; The Adventures of Quentin Durward, 1955; It's a Wonderful World, 1956; The Weapon, 1956; The Green Man, 1956; Blue Murder at St Trinian's, 1957; Too Many Crooks, 1958; Don't Panic Chaps, 1959; The Bridal Path, 1959; The Pure Hell of St Trinian's, 1961; The Anatomist, 1961; Cleopatra, 1962; Dr Syn Alias the Scarecrow, 1963; One Way Pendulum, 1964; The Legend of Young Dick Turpin, 1965; The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery, 1966; The Green Shoes, 1968; The Right Prospectus, 1970; The Vampire Lovers, 1970; Girl in the Dark, 1971; Fright, 1971; Take Me High, 1973; Gone in 60 Seconds, 1974; The Blue Bird, 1976; Double Nickels, 1978; Perishing Solicitors.


A Life of Bliss (series).

STAGE (selection)

The White Horse Inn, 1939; Cottage to Let, 1940; Goodnight Children, 1942; Mr Bolfry, 1943; Dr Angelus, 1947; The Anatomist, 1948; Mr Gillie, 1950; A Phoenix Too Frequent, 1951; Thor with Angels, 1951; Misery Me, 1955; Mr Bolfry, 1956; Brass Butterfly, 1958; The Bargain, 1961; The Sponge Room, 1962; Squat Betty, 1962; Meet Me on the Fence, 1963; Hedda Gabler, 1964; A Public Mischief, 1965; Too True To Be Good, 1965; The Waiting Game, 1966; The Three Sisters, 1967; Doubtful Haunts, 1968; The Passionate Husband, 1969; The Philanthropist, 1971; Country Life, 1973; Déjà Revue, 1974; Motive, 1976; Banana Ridge, 1976; The Case of the Oily Levantine, 1977; Something Afoot, 1978; Brimstone and Treacle, 1979; Liberty Hall, 1980; The Pirates of Penzance, 1982; A Month of Sundays, 1986; A Piece of My Mind, 1987; Peter Pan, 1987; The Breadwinner, 1989; Natural Causes, 1993; Theft, 1995.


Berkmann, Marcus. "Still a Nice Little Earner." Daily Mail (London), 9 October 1993.

Bradbury, Malcolm. "Requiem for an Old Rogue." Daily Mail (London), 9 October 1993.

Buss, Robin. "Minder." Times Educational Supplement (London), 8 November 1991.

Truss, Lynne. "Television Workhorses Finally Put Out to Grass." The Times (London), 10 March 1994.


See also Minder; Sweeny