Minder (1979–1994 United Kingdom)

Anyone who had a TV set in Britain, (or in one of the colonies like here in NZ with its Anglophile programming) in the 1980s will know Minder. A beloved series to many, a guilty pleasure to many more and a load of old codswallop to a few others. It is in fact the finest comedy drama that TV has produced. Period. Yep. The show ran like a backbone through British TV in the 80’s. To watch it now is nostalgic and in some ways quite cosy viewing, but there is so much more to it than that. Unlike phony Sly Stallone, at least Dennis Waterman had some real boxing experience in the ring. This helped fight scene authenticity.

First and foremost it is gloriously entertaining. Especially the first few series – hardly a duff episode, if any. The humour and delivery are consistent throughout, always with a variety of interesting characters who are all a bit like someone you know or knew. The plots in general are reliably similar – i.e. Arthur (the wheeler/dealer businessman) ropes in Terry (the good hearted, odd job man/minder) to help out in his latest scheme, masquerading the job to Terry as something far less dodgy than it actually is. Thus, Terry lands unknowingly in hot water, fisticuffs ensue (as does the occasional bunk up with some dolly bird) but Terry usually comes up trumps and ends up saving both the day and Arthur – who more often than not ends up with egg on his face. A classic sit-com set up – but always so very enjoyable.

George Cole was a comic master. He cut his teeth in Ealing Comedy films, appearing in them since he was a youngster with the legendary Alistair Sim as his mentor of sorts. In Minder, his Arthur Daley is one of the most memorable British TV characters of all time. A lovable old rogue. Just like everyone’s Grandpa should be. (My Grandpa used to wear the trilby and very similar attire so he was a constant reminder to me of Arthur Daley). Dennis Waterman is more the straight man if you like and brings with him all the rough diamond charm established in previous programs such as the brilliant ‘The Sweeney’. Minder allows him far more room and air time to show warmth and stretch his comedy legs while losing none of the hard man who can be a bit tasty with his fists as and when required.

His appeal to women certainly helped the ratings stay high. One thing that is surprising was the fact that Terry’s character was almost perpetually pissed off. Yet this didn’t dim his popularity. Despite his thinning hair and rough looks, Dennis Waterman had this gritty working class hero vibe to him like Ian Botham or John Lennon. The series also features a whole host of British classic and character actors, too numerous to mention. It’s a real treat watching Minder, not knowing who will turn up, how or when.

(There’s even some surprising nudity here and there.) In fact that is one of the great things about Minder: it feels like a huge family of UK TV greats portraying with solidity, quality and often a tongue in cheek. A whole world of London that is sadly pretty much gone now, replaced by a mostly a sterile, characterless, multi-cultural emptiness. Decades since it first aired, it is amazing already as a time capsule. In one episode Arthur drives his mustard XJ6 Jaguar through a posh, residential square– and sweeping straight into a parking space!

There were no other cars parked, no yellow lines, no parking restriction signs, no speed bumps, no closed circuit TV etc. Oh, how things have changed. Not only that, but he then offered to buy a bloke’s Chelsea flat for £10,000. You couldn’t buy a garage for that now. So it serves now as a caper through a very real London of the time. Warm and light of heart, tough, gritty and almost bleak in places but always funny. There have been many hilarious comedy TV shows. There have also been many classic dramas. But to marry the two up is a delicate balancing act that usually fails. Minder succeeded. We simultaneously care and smirk.

OK, I admit the drama of Minder is not Anna Karenina but of an everyday, urban, late 20th century kind. Hum drum. Like our workaday lives. To anyone who wants to know what it was like in London in the 1980s, this would be an essential piece of your TV jigsaw. When Dennis Waterman left in 1989 that was the end. It limped on for another 5 years with Gary Webster as his replacement but it was like trying to re-heat a soufflé. My fave episode has to be the Orient Express special of 1985. Grand entertainment when trying to do your homework…

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Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more! Thumbs up for including the theme tune on your review, it’s iconic at this point. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks! I like all the pouting and frowning Dennis Waterman gives George Cole as he inspects the ‘motor.’ (Silent t of course)

    Like

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