MINDER

British Crime Comedy/Drama

A long-running and perennially popular comedy drama series focusing on the exploits of a wheeler-dealer and his long suffering bodyguard/right hand man, Minder was the brainchild of veteran TV scriptwriter Leon Griffiths. Griffiths, who had been active in television since the 1950s, also wrote for the cinema including the screenplays for the hard hitting crime dramas The Grissom Gang and The Squeeze. It was one of his film scripts, also called Minder, that gave rise to the series. Griffiths' screenplay was a humourless and tough gangland story which his agent felt would be difficult to sell in Britain, so Griffiths shelved the project.

Later, however, that same agent suggested that two of the characters from the script; a wily, small time London crook and his uneducated but streetwise "minder" (East London slang for bodyguard), would work well for a television series. Griffiths wrote a treatment for the series featuring the two characters, and took the idea to Euston Films (a division of Thames Television) a group he knew were looking for a follow-up to their successful, tough, London based police series The Sweeney (Sweeney was also London slang, actually cockney rhyming slang, "Sweeney Todd: Flying Squad," a special quick response unit of the Metropolitan Police). At Euston script consultant Linda Agran, and producers Verity Lambert, Lloyd Shirley and George Taylor quickly decided that the series had all the ingredients they were looking for--and there was a general consensus that Sweeney star Dennis Waterman would be right for the character of the minder, Terry McCann.

Waterman, however, had his reservations and was worried about immediately going on to another London based crime series after The Sweeney, but after reading the treatment and the initial scripts he was persuaded by the "difference" and the humour of the piece. But the true potential of the project was only fully realised with the casting of George Cole as Terry McCann's employer Arthur Daley. Cole had been active in film and television for many years and in his early days had specialised in playing "spivs" (shady characters specialising in black marketeering, and other illegal activities). He had become a respected actor over the years with a wide repertoire but the character of Arthur Daley was like one of his earlier spiv incarnations grown up.

Although the production may have initially been perceived as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman the casting of Cole and the rapport between them insured that the series became more balanced. Cole fitted the roguish persona perfectly and as the series progressed, with generous support from Waterman, he turned Arthur Daley into a TV icon.

Originally the series was to have been located in the East End of London but it was found to be more convenient to shoot in South London so the location changed, but the patois remained that of the cockney influenced East End. Arthur was always known as "Arfur" due to the cockney habit of pronouncing "th" as "f" and much of the flavour of the series came from the colourful slang, some traditional and some invented specially. Although some cockney rhyming slang was widely known throughout Britain, Minder (along with other shows set in the area, such as the BBC's Only Fools and Horses) introduced many lesser known examples to the population as a whole. Soon every Minder aficionado knew that "getting a Ruby down your Gregory" meant going out for an Indian meal (popular 1950s singing star Ruby Murray providing a rhyme for curry, Gregory Peck:Neck), and that "trouble on the dog" meant your spouse was calling (Trouble and Strife:Wife, Dog and Bone:Phone). As the series went from strength to strength and the character of Arthur Daley captured the imagination of a generation, East London slang became trendy and cod cockneys (or mockneys) could be found throughout the country.

The early episodes of Minder have the emphasis firmly on drama although there is humour in the dialogue and from the character of Arthur Daley, who seems to haunt the fringes of the plot while Terry McCann gets involved at the sharp end. Daley is devious, cowardly and exploitative as opposed to McCann's straightforwardness, courage and loyalty. Most plots hinge round a problems, created by Daley's greed, that are solved by McCann. But McCann almost always suffers in some way; losing a girlfriend, being involved in a fight, not getting paid. Daley on the other hand usually thrives, managing somehow to emerge from the scrape with body unscathed and bank account intact or, more often than not, somewhat inflated. Brushes with the law are commonplace as are confrontations with "nastier" villains. The local police are endlessly trying to "feel Arfur's collar" (arrest him) but Terry is the only one who actually goes to prison.

Later in the show's run, reacting to the positive feedback from the public, the show shifted slightly but noticeably more towards humour. Scripts tapped the comedic potential of Arthur Daley and his schemes became wilder and more outrageous while at the same time the regular policemen who dogged him became more caricatured and less threatening. Recurring characters in the series included Patrick Malahide as the long suffering Detective Sergeant Chisholm and Glynn Edwards as Dave the barman at Arthur's private drinking club, the Winchester.

 


Minder
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute

Finally, in 1991, Dennis Waterman had had enough of Minder and left to head up a new series. He was replaced by Gary Webster as Arthur's nephew Ray. Ray was a different character from Terry, well educated and well dressed. But he could handle himself well in a fight and was perfectly suited to the role of assistant and bodyguard to his uncle. Initially he was in awe of Arthur and Daley takes full advantage of this but soon Ray saw the light and became much more difficult to manipulate. Arthur, however, rises to the challenge and still seemed to get his own way. Webster's involvement gave the series a new lease of life and the scripts for his episodes seemed as sharp and as witty as when the programme had first begun.

Throughout the run of the series jokey episode titles were used, usually a pun on a film or other TV series ("The Beer Hunter," "On the Autofront" and "Guess Who's Coming to Pinner," an area to the north of London.)

Minder was yet another example of a television programme bringing forth a character that seemed bigger than the show. The name Arthur Daley is used in Britain as an example of a wheeler dealer in the same way that Archie Bunker's name came to be synonymous with bigotry in the United States. Daley may be a villain but he is very much perceived as a hero, someone getting away with foiling the system. In the show's rare satirical moments Daley would align himself with Margaret Thatcher, seeing himself as the prime example of the help-yourself society that Thatcher advocated, a man of the 1980s.

-Dick Fiddy

CAST

Arthur Daley ...............................................George Cole Terry McCann ....................................Dennis Waterman Dave .....................................................Glynn Edwards Des .......................................................George Layton Det. Sgt. Chisholm ...............................Patrick Malahide Sgt. Rycott ................................................Peter Childs Maurice .............................................Anthony Valentine Det. Insp. Melsip ...............................Michael Troughton Ray Daley ................................................Gary Webster Det. Sgt. Morley........................................ Nicholas Day DC Park .......................................Stephen Tompkinson

PRODUCERS Verity Lambert, Johnny Goodman, Lloyd Shirley, George Taylor, Ian Toynton

PROGRAMMING HISTORY 96 60-minute episodes 1 120-minute special 1 90-minute special

ITV
29 October 1979-21 January 1980                 11 Episodes 11 September 1980-18 December 1980         13 Episodes 13 January 1982-7 April 1982                       13 Episodes 11 January 1984-21 March 1984                   11 Episodes 5 September 1984-26 December 1984           10 Episodes 4 September 1985-9 October 1985                 6 Episodes 25 December 1985                              Christmas Special 26 December 1988                              Christmas Special 2 January 1989-6 February 1989                     6 Episodes 5 September 1991-21 November 1991           12 Episodes 25 December 1991                              Christmas Special 7 January 1993-1 April 1993                         13 Episodes

FURTHER READING

Armstrong, John. "Obituary: Leon Griffiths." The Independent (London), 13 February 1994.

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 British Programming; Cole, George; Lambert, Verity; Waterman, Dennis