Minder – Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette

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It should have been an easy job for Terry (Dennis Waterman) – a simple case of minding Alfie Cavallo (Dave King) as he collected the money from his string of coin-operated laundrettes.  But a bungled armed robbery, led by Stretch (Trevor Thomas), meant that Terry, Alfie and the unfortunate Mrs Mayhew (Hilary Mason) are taken hostage and a tense stand-off with the police begins.

Richard Marson’s recent book about Verity Lambert describes how she green-lit Minder after listening to a five minute pitch.  Her snap decision paid off as it remained one of ITV’s top-rated dramas for the next fifteen years.  During that time the tone of the series certainly changed, as it became a more comedic, family friendly series – which wasn’t to the liking of everyone (especially Dennis Waterman, who left after the seventh series mainly because he’d felt the show had lost its edge).

Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette, the first episode (originally broadcast on the 29th of October 1979), retains more of the harder edge of the earlier series, but there’s still plenty of humour mixed in.  It does feel slightly odd though, mainly due to the library music used.  Stock music was often used in Waterman’s (and Euston Films’) previous series, The Sweeney, but it just feels out of place here.

The immediate aftermath of the bungled robbery (the shotgun accidentally goes off, wounding Alfie) is probably the weakest part of the episode.  In story terms, it’s important that the police know what’s happened, but the timetable is too contrived.  A shot goes off, a police-car appears from nowhere, an officer sees the hostages being moved to the back room and then calls for reinforcements.  All this seems to take place in a matter of seconds!

Minder has often been described as initially mainly a vehicle for Dennis Waterman and he’s certainly central to this story.  George Cole is much more peripheral, although he’s still highly entertaining.  I love the moment when he breaches the police barrier by the launderette, breezily telling a policeman that he’s with the serious crime squad.  His ability to make money is also readily apparent as he’s able to sell a photo of Terry’s fiance (in fact a girl he’s only spoken to twice) to the newspapers for a tidy sum.

Terry, Alfie and Mrs Mayhew are moved into the back room by Stretch and his two accomplices, Winston (William Vanderpuye) and Cosmo (Leroi Samuels).  Both of them are little more than kids and it’s obvious that they’re in way over their heads.  Stretch is the dangerous one – as it seems likely that he’ll use the gun, so Terry slowly begins to chip away at him.

He tells him that attempted armed robbery will get him seven years, but he’ll probably be out within five.  When Stretch asks him how he knows so much, Terry wryly tells him that he used to keep bad company whilst Alfie chips in that he was bad company.  Both Terry and Alfie are old lags, but they’ve done their time and have no wish to go back.  But whilst Terry is earning a (mostly) honest living, it’s one that he admits gives him little job satisfaction – since it consists of  throwing drunks out of strip clubs and providing people with a bit of muscle.  For someone who (as we’ll learn in more depth later on) could have been a contender, it’s something of a come-down.

Leon Griffiths (named after Leon Trotsky by his mother) had been contributing scripts to popular series since the early 1960’s.  The Four Just Men, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ghost Squad, Out of the Unknown, The Return of the Saint and Hazel were just some of the shows that benefited from his scripting.  But Minder was the first time that he’d devised a show, rather than take on somebody else’s characters and situations.  Although in the end his number of episodes was fairly small compared to the total number made (15 out of 109) he still set the tone and template for all the other writers who followed in his wake.

All the hallmarks of early Minder are contained within this one episode.  Grimy, seedy London (with Terry a regular around the strip-bars of Soho), Arthur’s subtle (and not so subtle) manipulation of Terry and a confrontational relationship with the police.  Terry might be straight now, but he knows that since he’s got a record, he’s a marked man and it’s his uneasy relationship with the law (as well as the conflict between him and Arthur) that would drive the series for a good many years.

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Minder – It’s a Sorry Lorry Morrie

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Following George Cole’s recent death, I had a hankering to watch some episodes of Minder as a tribute.  In the end I plumped for the seventh series – which for me is one of Minder‘s strongest runs.

Although the earlier episodes are grittier, there’s something rather appealing about these six episodes (broadcast in early 1989).  Partly, it’s the quality guest stars – Minder had always attracted decent casts, but there seems to be even more familiar faces in these episodes (Roy Kinnear and Ronald Fraser in this one and the likes of Brian Blessed and Ian McShane later on).

Some people though, especially Dennis Waterman, had decided that Minder had become too comedic and had lost its edge (which was the reason he decided to leave at the end of this series).  I personally disagree, but although Minder carried on for several more years the departure of Waterman was the clear end of an era.

One notable aspect of It’s a Sorry Lorrie Morrie is the gentle highlighting of Waterman’s advancing years.  Terry has always famously been a bird magnet, but when he attempts to chat up a young woman in the launderette he gets short shrift – she tells him he reminds her of her father!  It’s got nothing to do with the plot, it’s just a nice character moment that acknowledges his advancing years.

The plot’s quite simple – Arthur buys a job-lot of electrical goods from Morrie (James Marcus).  Terry picks them up and drops them off at Arthur’s new car-site.  Of course, the goods are stolen and the police stake the van out – waiting for the criminals to return.  Terry’s prints are all over the cab, so he faces a lengthy stretch inside.

But the joy of Minder isn’t the plot, it’s the interactions of the characters.  George Cole’s on fine form as the temporarily world-weary Arthur, who’s persuaded by the eager young Justin (Mark Farmer) to make a deal with Morrie.  Justin is Arthur Daley’s number one fan – for reasons never quite explained – and he mistakenly thinks he’s doing Arthur a favour by introducing him to Morrie.

Ronald Fraser is perfectly cast as the booze-soddled Self-Inflicted Sid.  Sid is a pathetic character – someone who hangs around the fringes of the criminal fraternity, hoping to be accepted.  He looks pretty mean, thanks to a large scar down the side of his face, although Arthur tells Justin that Sid did the damage himself (with a razor) in the hope it would make him more acceptable to the criminals he wanted to emulate.

Although the tone of the episode is quite light, there’s a dark moment when Arthur asks Sid to torch the van under the noses of the watching police.  If the van is torched, then Terry’s fingerprints are destroyed and he’s off the hook.  Arthur has no compunction in manipulating Sid, especially since he knows that Sid will do anything he’s asked, but Terry does have a moment of conscience.  But the moment passes, and Sid sets off to do the deed.

Chisholm (Patrick Malahide) departed during the 1988 Christmas special, An Officer and a Car Salesman, so DS Rycott (Peter Childs) is now the senior officer tasked with making Arthur’s life a misery – although DS Jones (Mark Povey) has stepped out of Chisolm’s shadow and is quite keen to make Rycott’s life a mystery too.

Peter Childs’ performances during series seven are another reason why these episodes are so enjoyable.  Sadly. they would be his last appearances as Rycott, as he died in late 1989 at the age of just fifty.  Later series of Minder would feature various actors in the police roles (including a young Stephen Tompkinson) but none had the comic chops of Childs.

The best moment comes when Arthur and the others drive round to see how many police are staking out the van.  Arthur’s in the back of another van and he pops his head up to look out the back window – straight into Rycott’s unbelieving face!  It’s clearly signposted before it happens, but that makes the moment even better – between Cole’s shocked expression and Childs’ unbelieving stare, it’s comedy gold.  Luckily for Arthur, Rycott passes it off as an hallucination!

Another interesting touch is that although Morrie swindles Arthur out of five thousand pounds for a van-load of goods that he’s had to destroy, Morrie isn’t forced to pay the money back.  Arthur does make a little money (thanks to another of Justin’s schemes) but Morrie walks away.  This might be a hint that Terry’s days as a top-line minder are coming to an end.

Morrie has some imposing muscle (including a pre-Eastenders Steve McFadden) and although Terry throws a few punches, he’s persuaded to walk away.  Maybe it was felt it wouldn’t be realistic for Waterman to beat two much younger men, and this might have been another reason why Waterman decided to leave the series.

All this and Roy Kinnear’s last small screen appearance as well – It’s a Sorry Lorry Morrie is a cracking episode.

Minder – Bury my Half At Waltham Green

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After jumping ahead to sample from episodes from series seven, it’s back to series one and the second episode – Bury My Half at Waltham Green.

Arthur convinces Terry that it’s the easiest money he’ll ever earn – all he has to do is mind Albert Stubbs (Nicky Henson) for a few days.  Stubbs has just been released from prison and is keen to dig up a large stash of money stolen by him and his associates. Rose Mellors (Ann Lynn) is the formidable wife of one of Stubbs’ old colleagues and she, along with her gorilla of a minder Jack (Tony Selby), is hot on their trail.

Terry’s got problems though – Stubbs is erratic and unpredictable and he quickly makes Terry’s life a misery.  When Jack pays them a visit, he manages to extract him from Terry’s grasp and proudly takes him back to Rose.  She’s far from impressed though – she doesn’t know who he is, but he’s certainly not Albert Stubbs …..

Bury My Half at Waltham Green is an excellent early example of Arthur’s highly devious nature.  Knowing full well that Stubbs would be a hunted man from the moment he was released, he arranged for Terry to mind a decoy.  The man that Terry thought was Stubbs is actually a character called George Wilson.  It’s fair to say that Terry’s far from pleased at being manipulated in this way, but he’s going to have to get used to it as it’s going to happen on a regular basis from now on.

Nicky Henson’s good value as the ebullient Stubbs Mk 1 whilst the ever-dependable Kenneth Cope is just as solid as the real, if rather less jovial, Stubbs.  Ann Lynn is a memorable femme-fatale who’ll stop at nothing (including bedding Terry) to find out where Stubbs is.  When Arthur learns that Terry’s slept with Rose, his expression is a joy to behold!  Tony Selby rounds off the first-rate cast as the accident prone, but intimidating Jack.  Both Lynn and Selby would return as Rose Mellors and Jack in the series two episode Diamonds are a Girl’s Worse Enemy.

If you want to be picky, then it’s hard to believe the rather elaborate decoy scene which sees Arthur and Stubbs drive off in a car (watched by Rose, Terry and Jack).  Rose and Jack follow them, but don’t realise they’re actually following an identical car, which contains Terry and George.  This scheme seems to have been dreamt up by Terry within a very short space of time and it does beggar belief that he’d be able to rustle up two identical cars (plus a lorry to drive one of the cars into) so quickly .

After various adventures, Albert digs up the money, although his joy is short lived as Rose steps in to relieve him of it.  Arthur also manages to get a small share, but the sting in the tail is left until the end – as it’s revealed that the money (comprised of one pound notes) is no longer legal tender, because those type of notes were phased out the year before.

It’s maybe a coincidence that the very next episode also revolves around a large sum of money which turns out to be worthless.

Minder – The Smaller They Are

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When Scotch Harry (Phil McCall) and his faithful friend Big Stan (David Jackson) steal a case from the airport they get more than they bargained for – it contains half a million dollars. And when Arthur learns of this he’s keen to offer his services, for a small commission naturally.

He tells Harry they’ll have to give it back, whoever these people are for this sort of money they won’t hesitate to get very nasty indeed.  Arthur agrees to negotiate the case’s return, although the presence of DC Rycott (Peter Childs) is an added complication.

It’s clear that The Smaller They Are is a very early Minder episode for several reasons – one of the most obvious is Arthur’s lecherous nature.  He casts an appreciative eye over a young woman wearing a tight pair of jeans in the Winchester and later attempts to chat up the pleasant airline receptionist (played by Hilary Ryan, probably best known for playing Rodan in the Doctor Who story The Invasion of Time).  Arthur’s roving eye is something that’s phased out pretty quickly, shortly after this he’ll leave that sort of thing to Terry!

We also see the first appearance of Peter Childs as Rycott.  Another sign that it’s the early days of the series is the notion that Rycott is corrupt.  After nabbing Scotch Harry, Rycott delivers him to the gang – rather than taking him to the nick – and on the way offers an oblique justification why (after years of solid service he’s still only a DC, due to a previous indiscretion).  Maybe Rycott was planned as a one-off character and when it was decided to reuse him his previous corruption was forgotten.  There’s certainly no suggestion after this episode that he’s a wrong ‘un.

Scotch Harry is such an unlikeable character (especially when he’s drunk, although he’s pretty bad when he’s sober) that it’s no surprise Terry’s keen to give him a slap to sort him out.  David Jackson (Gan from Blake’s 7) is his loyal, but none-too-bright friend.  Hans Meyer (best known as Hauptmann Franz Ulmann from the classic BBC series Colditz) is suitably intimidating as Bonnett, the leader of the money smuggling operation.

Although Meyer radiates intimidation, the episode does rather end in farce after Arthur, Terry and Big Stan return the case to him.  Stan’s upset to find that Harry’s been badly beaten up and attempts to retaliate – he’s not very successful, but Terry’s rather more so.  In the melee, Arthur attempts to take the case back (given all he’s previously said about how dangerous these people are, that does seem rather reckless).  He doesn’t succeed, but in the general confusion Bonnett ends up dropping the case on his foot and hops around the room in pain, whilst Arthur manages to take another wad of money before leaving!

But it has to be shown that crime doesn’t pay and it’s down to Dave to break the bad news – the notes are forgeries and therefore worthless.  Even this early on, it’s clear that Arthur’s only going to end up on top very infrequently.

Minder – A Tethered Goat

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Terry’s latest job is acting as a bodyguard for an Arab banker Bassam Sayin (Lee Montague) who has flown into the UK to transact some business deals.  Sayin and Terry don’t quite hit it off as he’s far from impressed with Terry’s skills as a bodyguard (mainly because he doesn’t carry a gun).

Naturally, Arthur’s convinced Terry that this will be easy money, so the idea that he would need to be armed instantly sets alarm bells ringing.  But perhaps he should have been, as later Terry and Sayin find themselves menaced by a group of armed men ….

A Tethered Goat is one of my favourite episodes from series one of Minder – not only for the sparkling script from Murray Smith (incredibly his only contribution to the series) but also for the first rate guest cast.  The pick of the bunch is Kenneth Griffiths as Sayin’s temporary valet, Dai Llewellyn.  Dai’s Welsh (in case you haven’t guessed) and also likes a drink (or two).  He’s pure comic relief and gets some of the best lines, such as when he spots armed men approaching the house. “Terry, shooters! Oh my god!”.  It may not sound like much, but it’s all in the delivery and Griffiths is first rate.

Lee Montague, an actor still going strong today, has a great deal of presence as Sayin.  His relationship with Terry is the key to this episode and it’s fascinating to chart how their opinions of each other change (from distrust to mutual respect).  Another couple of very familiar television faces, Michael Sheard and Nadim Sawalha, provide the menace whilst Jenny Lee-Wright (who was well-known at the time for the likes of The Benny Hill Show but is now a leading Foley artist, working on a score of major films) provides the glamour.

As for Arthur, he attempts to ingratiate himself with Sayin in such an obvious way that it’s almost painful to witness.  Sayin’s reaction to Arthur’s hustling is a joy to behold!  But you have to give Arthur credit, he keeps on trying to make a profit – even when the bullets are flying.

Minder – The Bounty Hunter

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When Arthur learns that an old friend of his, Jo (June Richie), is somewhat down on her luck he does his best to help.  Following her husband’s death, she decided to sink all her savings into a Spanish villa.  Unfortunately, the villa was never built as the company responsible, Sunworthy, went bust and all her money (along with a great many other people’s) was lost.

He knows just the man for the job – Terry, of course.  And after traipsing around the streets, Terry manages to run down Freddy Fenton (Derek Jacobi) – who was the brains behind Sunworthy.  He pleads poverty, but it’s clear that he’s a skilled con-man who’ll be a tough nut to crack.

The first episode of Minder to be filmed, The Bounty Hunter is chiefly memorable for Jacobi’s turn as Freddy Fenton.  Initially, he seems to be a broken man, living on social security, but it’s later revealed that he lives in a palatial house, complete with servants and a gorgeous lady-friend, Val (Rikki Howard – best known as a yellowcoat from Hi-De-Hi!).  And even when Terry tracks him down, Fenton remains as slippery as ever.  He tells Terry that he owns nothing – everything is leased.

Jacobi’s spot on as the arrogant wide-boy, convinced that Terry’s threats are meaningless.  In the immediate years following his career-defining appearance in I Claudius (BBC 1976) he only made a handful of television appearances, so there must have been something in the character of Fenton that appealed to him.  Speaking of I Claudius, I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that Christopher Biggins (who appeared as Nero) also has a role in this story?

George Layton, as Des the mechanic, would be a semi-regular during Minder’s early years.  Here we see him con Terry into stealing cars (Terry, trusting as ever, believes that Des has authorisation to remove them!).  But he’s able to later put Des’ skills as a thief to good use when they steal Fenton’s Rolls-Royce and refuse to return it unless he pays them the money he owes Jo.

Like some of the other early episodes, this one is fairly heavy on the library music tracks (which would tend to diminish in later series).  But although some of the cues are a little on the cheesy side and the story is quite slight, Jacobi’s presence makes it well worth watching.

Minder – Aces High and Sometimes Very Low

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Professional gambler Maurice Michaelson (Anthony Valentine) has a problem – he’s simply too good at his job.  Because of his skill at poker, he’s found himself barred from a local casino and is later robbed of his winnings.  He’s convinced that he can make good though, thanks to a high stakes poker game run by some shady Greeks.

With Terry onboard as his minder, Maurice loses heavily.  Convinced the game was crooked he manages to persuade Arthur to advance him some more stake money (using his Jaguar as collateral) and prepares to do battle once more.

Some of the regular television characters that Anthony Valentine had played in the past tended to follow a familiar pattern.  For example, Toby Meres in Callan (charming and borderline psychotic), Major Horst Mohn in Colditz (not charming and borderline psychotic) and Raffles (charming and not borderline psychotic at all), etc etc.  Maurice Michaelson, on the other hard, is charming but he’s not really a criminal type or a sufferer of any form of neurosis – he’s just been blessed with a skill that he can’t exploit to the full.

Both Terry and Arthur take something of a back-seat in this one, as Maurice’s gambling exploits are the key focus.  But although they aren’t as prominent in the narrative as usual, they do have some good moments.  Terry tangles with the alluring Stella (a pre-Star Trek:The Next Generation Marina Sirtis) whilst Arthur naturally attempts to make the maximum amount of profit from Maurice’s car (much to Terry’s amusement).

This episode also gives us the unusual, if not unique, sight of Terry and Arthur sitting in the Winchester playing cards.  It’s obvious though that the scene only exists so that Maurice can turn up and criticise Arthur’s playing style (and their low stakes – a penny a point) and then demonstrate his own undoubted skills.

Maurice would return in the series two episode, You Lose Some You Win Some, and whilst the later episode is my favourite of the two since it has a more entertaining storyline (Maurice recruits a group of non-gamblers to work undercover at a casino he’s barred from) this one does have an authentic, seedy and smoky atmosphere – conjured up by Minder’s creator, Leon Griffiths.