Minder – Not a Bad Lad, Dad

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Terry’s latest minding job is an unusual one – a nine-year old boy called Peter (Warren O’Neill) who might possibly be his son ….

Given that Terry’s something of a bird magnet, it would be surprising if he didn’t have a few children dotted around that he knows nothing about.  Could Peter be one of them?  When his mother, Beryl (Sharon Duce), leaves him in Terry’s care, he’s certainly left with that impression.

Even this early in the story, the viewer might have a few questions – firstly why has Sharon come back into Terry’s life after so many years? It’s also very strange that she dumps her son on Terry’s doorstep and then disappears (although she does keep a watching brief, hidden around the corner).

Arthur’s not happy.  Peter’s a distraction who could blunt Terry’s effectiveness and this concerns Arthur greatly.  As the series progressed over the years, the rough edges of the characters were gradually smoothed down, but this is very much the early, selfish Arthur – a man who only thinks of himself and is quite happy to manipulate others to achieve his ends, no matter what the consequences might be.

Early on, he tells Terry that it’s unnatural for him to imagine he could be a father. “I’m referring to your erratic lifestyle, your total lack of ambition, your cavalier attitude to matters domestic. It don’t exactly make you odds on favourite for the fatherhood stakes”. Arthur’s advice about Peter is stark (“dump him”). Not in the river, he qualifies, but down at the social.

Tony Hoare’s script offers a change of pace for the series as we see Terry slowly adjusting to the possibility of being a father (although Peter’s under the impression that Terry’s his uncle).  As the episode progresses it’s plain that he’s doing all he can to entertain the boy – games of football and trips on the river – but the negative aspects of Terry’s personality surface from time to time.

Peter’s a lad with attitude, best demonstrated when he gets into a mild fracas with a couple of older youths (Terry’s been forced to take him along to his bouncer’s job at the local pub).  Terry attempts to draw a line under events with his usual diplomatic skill.  “Shut your mouth, sonny or I’ll squeeze all your pimples. Now on your bike, both of you!”  The lads don’t take the hint though and when one of them wonders if Peter will grow up to be as big a pillock as his uncle, Terry responds in the only way he knows how – violence.

We’ve seen Terry hand out similar punishments on numerous previous occasions, but due to Peter’s presence this feels somewhat different.  The way that Peter looks at him afterwards is a telling moment – suggesting that Terry’s world of violence disturbs him. It’s an interesting touch that as Terry and Peter look at each other, the ambient sound fades away. This helps to make the moment seem a little more claustrophobic (the fact that Terry is unable to hold Peter’s gaze is notable too).

Giving Terry a son (even if he didn’t appear in every episode) would certainly have changed the dynamic of the series.  If they’d been thinking ahead, making him a teenager would have meant he could eventually have taken over from Terry (as it was, the family tradition was maintained from the Daley side, with young Ray).  But since Minder was never a series with continuing threads, it’s no real surprise when Beryl’s husband, Ronnie (Dicken Ashworth), turns up, with Beryl not too far behind, both intent on reclaiming their boy.

If Ashworth’s size wasn’t enough to create a sinister impression, there’s also a sprinkling of stock music which helps to hammer this point home. Whenever Ronnie appears he’s accompanied by ominous-sounding music which tells us he’s a man who’s no stranger to violence. We’re never in any doubt that Terry will be able to deal with him (they have a cracking fight though) but Beryl and Peter’s fate is less certain.

The ending didn’t please everybody (one correspondent to the TV Times complained that it was “a poor man’s Kramer vs Kramer with slow motion and sentimental music”).  I’ve never minded it too much, although it’s easy to see why it wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

Beryl’s manipulation of Terry (raising his hopes for a while that Peter was his child) does seem somewhat cruel, although since Ronnie is a man who’s been violent to both his wife and son on numerous occassions, it’s not surprising that she’s acting a little erratically. But if Peter’s speaking the truth when he tells Terry this is the first time he’s left Warrington, how has Beryl coped on all the previous occassions when Ronnie became agressive?

Apart from a few quibbles about the script and the oversentimental ending, Not A Bad Lad, Dad engages, thanks to the partnership of Dennis Waterman and Warren O’Neill.

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