Minder was a British comedy-drama about the London criminal underworld. Initially produced by Verity Lambert, it was made by Euston Films, a subsidiary of Thames Television and shown on ITV. The show ran for ten series from October 29 1979 to March 10 1994, and starred Dennis Waterman as Terry McCann, an honest and likeable bodyguard (minder in London slang), and George Cole as Arthur Daley, a well-dressed but unscrupulous importer-exporter, wholesaler, used-car salesman, and anything else from which there was money to be made whether inside the law or not. The show was largely responsible for putting the word Minder, meaning personal bodyguard, into the UK and Australian popular lexicon. The characters often drank at the local members-only Winchester Club, where owner/barman Dave (Glynn Edwards) acted often unwillingly as a message machine for Arthur, and turned a blind eye to his shady deals. The series was notable for using a range of leading British actors, as well as many up-and-coming performers before they hit the big time.
In 2008 it was announced that Minder was to go back into production for broadcast in 2009, although none of the original cast will appear in the new episodes. The show will now focus on Arthur's nephew Archie, who will be played by Shane Richie.
Terry is a former professional boxer who has served time in prison (Wormwood Scrubs) ("2 years for GBH and a 3 for attempted armed robbery" according to a police sergeant in the first episode, "Gunfight at the OK Laundrette"), having served a substantial term because he would not grass up his co-accused. With few options, Terry is employed as Arthur's minder on vague and ungenerous terms. He drives a white Ford Capri that, the opening title shots suggest, he purchased from Arthur on leaving prison, which is how the two met (he drives a copper coloured Capri in some mid-run episodes). Terry enjoys a drink but usually responsibly, and has an eye for the ladies. Despite his incarceration, he is honest, trustworthy and loyal, particularly to Arthur – although the scrapes that Arthur lands him in make him wonder why.
Arthur is a mid-level professional criminal of mature years, a minor con man eternally in dodgy dealings, usually seen puffing expensive cigars. He drives typically a Jaguar (first a silver Jaguar XJ6 Series 2, then a pale primrose Daimler Sovereign Series 3) and survives by his wiles and self-belief. He exploits everyone, especially Terry. He is always trying to make a quick quid and often bites off more than he can chew, leaving Terry to sort out the mess. Arthur thinks of himself as a Thatcherite "entrepreneur", but his tailored three-piece suits, cashmere coat and Jaguar do not disguise his working class accent and origins. Arthur tests Terry's patience with dishonest and doomed schemes to make money ("nice little earners"), then uses his cunning to convince Terry to stay with him. In the same way, Arthur manipulates friends such as Dave of Arthur's haunt, the private if downmarket, "Winchester Club"). Arthur refers to his wife, who never appeared, as "'Er indoors"; the implication that she is a fierce and formidable woman is reinforced by the appearance of actress Claire Davenport (famous for such roles) as the sister of "Er indoors". Arthur is not above bending the law and sometimes attracts the keen attention of the local police. Despite being the one who has served time, it is Terry who serves as the show’s moral conscience, keeping Arthur from straying too far outside the law and convincing him to do the right thing whether Arthur likes it or not. The name Arthur Daley has become synonymous with a dishonest salesman or small time crook.
With Arthur's dodgy schemes, the duo encounter undesirable underworld figures, many of whom Arthur deals with and many of whom turn nasty, leaving Terry to fight and outwit their way out of trouble. But for all Arthur's obsession with get-rich-quick schemes, he is never malicious, and the pair often end up putting some other wrong right. Most of Arthur's schemes fail in the end, due to his greediness, but he does occasionally have the odd minor victory and puts one over on the law.
The series was conceived for Dennis Waterman, to follow The Sweeney, in which he co-starred as Detective Sergeant George Carter, which had finished its run the previous year. Indeed, as the title Minder suggests, Terry was to be the lead and Arthur, a secondary character, would find different tasks for Terry each episode. However, the rapport between Dennis Waterman and George Cole was evident and quickly became popular. The focus shifted to feature Terry and Arthur more evenly, with more screen time to Arthur and his dealings. Barman Dave (whose last name was given on a couple of occasions as Harris) at first made only occasional appearances, but the rapport between Arthur (and Terry) and Dave also become popular and by the mid-second series he too was given more screen time.
Despite its eventual success, Minder was a slow burner. The first series, although critically acclaimed, did not attract large audiences because it began soon after the 1979 ITV strike, when the channel was struggling to recover its previous audience. Management at Thames were intent on scrapping the show but managing director Bryan Cowgill persuaded them to commission one further series and repeat the first. Both attracted huge audiences.
The tone of the programme in series one and two, and much of series three, mixed poignant drama and action sequences with offbeat comic moments. As the series progressed over 15 years, more emphasis was placed on the comedic aspects of the minder-principal relationship, and the show became more a comedy driven by a dramatic plot. Social satire played a strong part throughout the series, grounded in the cinematic and social ethos of the 1970s. In the earlier series Terry would succeed in seducing a 'dolly bird', resulting in at least one scene of female semi-nudity per episode, though as the series became more popular these instances were reduced. And although always an element of the series, the fights – common and brutal in early episodes – were also toned down and became less frequent.
The series has a number of parallels with long-running BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, with both being set in London, both involving lovable dodgy dealers with endless get-rich-quick schemes (and both of whom tried to make out to be of a higher status than they really were), and both having a blend of comedy and drama. Indeed, Only Fools... creator / writer John Sullivan has claimed that one of the ways he persuaded the BBC to commission the series was by pointing to the success of ITV's Minder, which had begun the previous year. After both having lukewarm starts, both series went on to became huge hits, and share much of the same fan base. One Christmas, specials of Only Fools... and Minder were scheduled against each other, angering many viewers (in the days before video recorders were quite as commonplace in UK homes).
The theme tune, I Could Be So Good For You, was written in 1979 by Patricia Waterman and Gerard Kenny and sung by Dennis Waterman. The record reached No.3 in the UK charts in November 1980 and led Waterman to tour as a singer.
A character called Dennis Waterman appears as a character in David Walliams' and Matt Lucas' Little Britain. Dennis Waterman is portrayed as a tiny out of work actor obsessed with writing and singing the theme tune to whatever programme, film or play he is offered. The tune is often based on the Minder theme. Waterman himself eventually appeared live on stage with Walliams' parody character during the 'Little Britain Live' tour to sing the theme tune.
As well as heavy use of leading British actors , other features were Arthur's constant, ambitious and sometimes questionable Cockney rhyming slang and other mis-quoted sayings (one being "The world is your lobster"), the derelict sites used as locations, and the episode titles, which contained references to phrases and names (e.g. "Gunfight at the O.K. Launderette", "Monday Night Fever", "National Pelmet", "The Beer Hunter", "Days of Fines and Closures", "The Wrong Goodbye" and "Guess Who's Coming to Pinner").
The show was a number of times said to have come to its end, only to reappear. For example, in 1984, TV Times reported that series 5 would be the last. In 1985, it again seemed as if that the current series was the last one, and it was off-air (bar repeats) for three years, to reappear in 1988. This series appeared to be the last as Dennis Waterman announced his departure at the end of it's run. However, after another three year break the show was back again for a further three year run which ended with the tenth series in 1994. For many years it appeared that Minder was finally off-air for good, until the 2008 announcement that the show was to return again.
The series inspired a hit single "Arthur Daley (E's Alright)" by The Firm which made the UK Top 20 in 1982. George Cole and Dennis Waterman released a Christmas record in 1983 called What are we Gonna Get 'Er Indoors? which reached No.21 in the charts. The duo performed it on Top of the Pops on December 22 1983. Minder was also featured in the lyrics of a song titled 'Plastic Gangsters' by The 4-Skins ("I stay at home on Thursdays, Minder's on TV. I'm learning Cockney rhyming slang off to a tee. So when I go out on Fridays I know what to say. I wish I was like Arthur and get my own way".)
Although Terry was never stupid, Ray was portrayed as smarter, having good intelligence and education (O Level French and Woodwork) as well as being able to fight. He was also a snappy dresser, and not a heavy drinker. Ray did not have a regular car and usually lumbered with the old blue Ford Transit from Arthur's lock-up. The theme tune was replaced by a rock-style instrumental, credited to "Kenny" (Gerard Kenny). By this stage, the rough and ready elements of the early series had been toned down, concentrating on the comedic aspects of Arthur's dodgy dealings.
Waterman praised Gary Webster for fitting into the series, but said the series was no longer about a Minder and that the re-vamped version should go under a different title, reflecting its orientation around Arthur.
Other new characters in this re-vamped version were Sidney Livingstone as Bert Daley, Arthur's gullible, over-trusting brother, and Ray's father, who views Arthur as a successful businessman and not a con-man and entrusts Ray into his care; Bert's wife and Ray's mum Doreen (Lill Roughley); and Emma Cunningham as Ray's re-occurring girlfriend Gloria, frustrated with Ray's being torn between her and being Arthur's lackey. The new police nemesis was Detective Sergeant Michael Morley (Nick Day), paired with D.C. Park (Stephen Tompkinson) in series 8, who in turn was replaced by D.C. Field (Jonty Stephens) in series 9.
In the late days of the programme, critics felt it had overstayed its welcome and that Thames were using it as a cash cow. Some pointed to its audience declining, although the series still pulled in reasonable ratings.
The end of the final episode, "The Long Good Thursday", saw Arthur (and Ray) finally being caught and driven away in a police convoy. In a final monologue over closing credits, Arthur was bemused, citing himself as a hard working, upstanding citizen. The following week, a repeat showing of the first episode, "Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette" (slightly edited for its pre-watershed start) was broadcast. Cole made an opening introduction, saying he had been asked to choose his favourite episode but all were of such quality that he couldn't. He closed with "Goodbye... for now", hinting that he and/or the show may return. In 2008 it was announced that after a break of some 14 years an eleventh series of Minder was indeed going into production, to be broadcast on Five in 2009. However the show will now focus on Arthur's nephew Archie, played by Shane Richie, and a new 'minder' character played by Lex Shrapnel. Five have stated that there are currently no plans for Cole, Waterman or Webster to reprise their roles in the relaunched series.