Keith Adams and Mike Humble go walking in the wild West End soaking up the vibes and ghosts of the brilliant Thames TV show, Minder. The MG6 is our transport for the day.
The idea of searching out some Minder locations and visiting them for a little nostalgia had been the result of another telephone call with Mike Humble on how times have changed when it comes to TV viewing. In the 1980s, we all watched the same programmes, at the same time, and when popular shows gained traction, they became events. Today, it’s all so different, with homogenised TV stations, limitless choice, too much advertising and all the deferred viewing options you can wave a remote controller at. It’s better now, of course… but the cost is certainly camaraderie between mates, who enjoyed genuine shared viewing experiences on a daily basis.
Between 1979 and 1994, an awful lot of us watched Minder. At its peak in 1984 (Series Five is generally regarded to be the show at its best), its most popular episode Second Hand Pose pulled in 16.4 million viewers and I was one of them. I’d been hooked on Minder since pretty much its first episode was aired in October 1979 and, five years on, both Arthur and Terry felt as familiar as my favourite family members – and I made sure I was plonked in front of the family’s 22in colour ITT at 9.00pm on the dot every Wednesday.
Growing up in Blackpool, the world of London Cockney Rhyming Slang, low-life villains and dodgy second-hand motors seemed a million miles away and, for some reason, it was a taste of the exotic. As an avid car-spotter from an early age, perhaps it was the sheer amount of location shooting and, therefore, cars-as-street-furniture that goes on in each episode that pulled me in. Even the opening credits are a joy – and, with a car-lot packed with a line-up that many classic car dealers would die for today, backdrops don’t come any better. However, the reason I kept coming back was far more simple. I thought Arthur Daley was brilliant and I wanted to be just like him.
So, early on a Saturday morning, Mike and I agreed to rendezvous at Brent Cross shopping centre (mentioned more than a few times in Minder and featured in the episode You lose some, you win some in Series Two), to go and revisit some of the show’s more iconic locations. My car of choice is the MG6 saloon – and one that, on the trip down from Northamptonshire, had done rather a lot to impress. The mix of A-road and motorway is a good cross-section of what most go-getting MG6 owners will enjoy on a daily basis and it’s no surprise that it performs well here. On the sweeping A509 pre-early morning rush, it steers well and flows with real grown-up verve. On the M1, it just gets on and strides along with the best of them – stable and planted at speed. A real repmobile…
As I pass Toddington services, I can’t help but be tempted to sing Dennis Waterman’s signature I could be so good for you in my loudest voice. Scene setting, yes – but it also makes up for deficiencies in the stereo, which no matter how much I play with the inbuilt graphic equaliser, I just can’t seem to get to sound good. But that’s nit-picking, because the rest of the package is spot-on for M-way cruising, right down to its controlled damping and muted engine. Even the tyre roar is kept in check – something that the Germans especially seem unable to sort out on their UK cars.
Pulling up at Brent Cross before 9am on a Saturday is a real joy. The place is empty and, as Mike is late, I can sit and watch people drive in and wrestle with the concept of leaving their cars in an empty car park. Sounds silly, but watch them if you get the chance. There were people who couldn’t line-up, didn’t know where to go and just generally meander randomly. Of course, Mike joins us in his Rover 75 and we plan the day’s activities – after comparing the two cars. And it’s here that the the term ‘chalk and cheese’ comes to mind, with his Rover looking and feeling very much like a gentleman’s club on wheels and the MG6 contrasting that with a much more modern, edgier style that just works in saloon form.
Hard to believe that the cars share a fair bit of DNA…
Time to move on and head west along the North Circular road. It always feels a bit displaced heading in the direction of posh-London, given we’re about to enter the world of dodgy geezers and funny money. Unlike many series at the time, such as The Chinese Detective, which was filmed in the grottiest locations in the East end, Minder beat a more genteel path. Britain in the early 1980s was grubby enough without it being glamorised by ITV’s new flagship show.
So Minder never went down that route and paints a sunny and slightly rose-tinted view of the London of the 1980s. But it still comes as a surprise that we end up heading West along the North Circular and towards Acton. Our first stop is Arthur’s car lot – sadly, the iconic lot (with the Ford Escort Harrier with X Pack kit, Alfa Romeo Type 105 Giulia, Fiat 132 and C1 Audi 100 among other classics) from the titles has gone.
The brilliant minder.org confirms that a pair of houses have now built on that spot, so there’s really nothing to see there. Instead, we head for the lot that went on to star in both Series Seven and Eight (above) and heralded the end of the Terry McCann era and the beginning of the all together different Ray Daley shows. The lot is located on the High Street/Vale in Acton, and not at all where I expected it to be. But the MG’s been as good as gold in town – and once used to the light throttle it’s easy to drive smoothly in the cut and thrust. And although the suspension’s firm, it’s never crashy on London’s disintegrating roads. Searching out the location has thrown into light a major MG6 criticism – we couldn’t find a post code search on the otherwise excellent Sat/Nav/ICE set-up.
As for Arthur’s car lot, it’s an initial disappointment. It’s not open at all and all we can see at the end of the row of shops where it is located is a tall green wall. It’s difficult to start replaying episodes in your head, where there’s nothing at all to see. But at least I can see what used to be, when a technician from the neighbouring tyre fitters comes out, punches the buttons on the gate keypad and opens the door.
We sneak in a look and then Arthur’s car lot comes to life. Well, sort of…
Still, after looking around, getting a feel for this unremarkable thoroughfare and generally feeling a little underwhelmed, it’s time to jump back into the MG. Clearly, Arthur wouldn’t own one of these if Minder was set in 2011 – and neither would he own a new Jaguar XJ. I could see him in one of the last generation X350s, though. As for Terry, he’s not an MG6 man either and, if we were to pick the 2011 equivalent of his tired old R-registered Ford Capri Mk2 with vinyl roof (which sometimes in Series Two ended up being a Mk1 with the same registration plate), it would probably be an ageing BMW 3-Series Coupé – on the wrong wheels.
But could the MG6 fit into Minder 2011 style? Oh, absolutely… As we head towards the Winchester Club, I chuckle randomly to myself. I’d happily see Daley’s thin blue line nemesis ‘Cheerful Charlie’ Chisholm (left) in this car. Throughout the series, Chisholm – who ended up letting Arthur get the better of him once too often and suffered a breakdown as a result – enjoyed a number of unmarked police cars to ride around him. Often in his trademark trench coat and pork pie hat.
As we head for Portland Road W11, I’m still recalling the cars he had: Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1, Morris Marina, Talbot Solara, Austin Montego and Ford Cortina. Maybe if MG could sell a few to the Metropolitan Police, things might be a little different right now…
The first thing that strikes me about the location of the Winchester Club (Series Two through Six) is just how posh the area is. It’s the sort of place that you’d happily spend a quiet evening at the wine bar before heading off for a quiet sushi meal – and more than a million miles away from the world of fences, hooky gear and bent briefs that Arthur and Terry found themselves in. In short, we’re in Notting Hill, and this just seems wrong. But as Mike explains, sometimes finding a great location was more than getting the atmosphere right.
‘Imagine them trying to film episodes of Minder up in Acton or Brixton? Wouldn’t happen,’ he says. ‘This location would have been chosen for the quiet filming opportunities and lack of crowds.’ He’s right. There’s no through traffic and you guess that you’re unlikely to run into any snotty nosed kids bawling ‘hello mum’ during takes.
The doorway to the Winchester is now a private dwelling next door to a bar called ‘Julie’s’ and, although the context seems wrong, I have to say that within seconds of turning up, the Minder memories come flooding back and I’m back in the 1980s. Is that a good or bad thing to admit to? As it is, the Winchester was every bit as important a location in the Minder programme as the car lot or lock-up. After all, most deals were conducted there and some of the funniest incidents to take place alongside ‘Cheerful Charlie’ also happened here.
But there’s no time to hang about reminiscing about running up a slate at the Winchester. We have another location to get to and the light is fading fast.
The thing about travelling around London is that even when you expect it to be easy (such as on this Saturday), the traffic often conspires to jump up and bite you in the bum. And so it proved for, as we head towards Heckfield Place police station, near Fulham Broadway, we get stuck in some pretty impressive snarl-ups. Not caused by commuters or shoppers – but by the market stalls in the middle of the road that our Sat/Nav is taking us. Still, if this isn’t Minder land, then I don’t know what is.
During its long day in the city, the MG6 has failed to put a foot wrong. And as the minutes tick on, with the stallholders and shoppers around us doing their best to hold us up at every opportunity, I’m still enjoying being here. Stop-start, stop-start.
It should be wearing us out, but it isn’t. The seating position is spot on, the clutch and accelerator pedals remain mercifully light and the supportive seats are doing a very successful job of staving off backache. Again it’s impressing us, the MG – and that’s also the case with Mike, who I can see is warming to the car throughout the day – not by what it does, but how it does it.
But the traffic clears, and we’re on our way Heckfield Place (left). The talk of going to the ‘nick’ does get me thinking about Arthur’s adversaries, Detective Sergeant Chisholm and Rycott, and how neither managed to nail him with anything approaching a criminal offence. They were both so close throughout the years, but thanks to luck and maybe a little of Terry’s help, he always escaped blotting is copybook.
It’s actually interesting to see how the shows changed over the years. When Minder started and the first episode, Gunfight at the OK laundrette! aired, clearly, the programme was a vehicle for the post-Sweeney Dennis Waterman. He was one of the UK’s best-loved actors and most popular of sex symbols – and billed from the beginning as the star of the show. George Cole, on the other hand was there as a slightly seedy ‘Flash Harry’, there to stitch up Terry for the sake of a few quid at every opportunity – and that he managed beautifully in some of the best character acting British mainstream TV has ever seen.
As the episodes and series progressed, the series producers and writers played to Cole’s strengths beautifully and turned it into his show. So much so that when Dennis Waterman decided to leave the series in 1988, he said that ‘the show has become the Arthur Daley comedy hour’.
However, that is most definitely to downplay Minder’s quality. Yes, it was centred on Arthur’s increasingly unsuccessful ventures and his constant mistreatment of Terry, but the sheer depth of talent in the show’s guest stars has probably never been surpassed in a British popular series. The minder.org website lists a few on its front page, ‘these include Billy Connolly, Honor Blackman, Adam Faith, Alfie Bass, Kenneth Cope, Brian Glover, Lionel Jeffries, Mel Smith, Jimmy Nail, Brian Blessed, Ralph Bates, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Mower, Steve McFadden, June Brown, Michael Sheard, George Sewell and more!’ But we’ll throw a few more into the mix such as Derek Jacobi, Saeed Jaffrey, Kenneth Cope, Nicky Henson… And, of course Patrick Malahide as Chisholm. I could go on. But at no point was George Cole in any danger of being overshadowed. A true class act…
It also reflected the political situation of its time – when the UK was struggling, so did Arthur and Terry; but when the grimness of the early 1980s made way for the Thatcher-fuelled boom years, Arthur joined the yuppie revolution in his own unique style. Somehow the Jaguar XJ that he drove (not always, though – he’s also had a Mercedes-Benz W123, a Rover SD1 and and Ford Granada Mk2 in banger trim) suited Arthur down to the ground. Even if he created an image for the XJ that Jaguar ended up being keen to shake off for years to come.
As we roll up to the police station for that final couple of pictures of the day, I’ve come away from the day a little bit more wiser about a couple of things. Minder wasn’t quite all it seemed – those locations just aren’t as they seem on the telly – and the nostalgia truly is on the screen and not in the locations.
Mind you, it remains a truly pivotal programme in my life, and one that I’m glad gives enjoyment to countless others to this day, some 30-plus years since it first aired. The day also showed that my chosen chariot, the MG6, really is the consummate all-rounder on the roads that Terry and Arthur pounded on week after week throughout the 1980s. It might not be the national phenomenon that its makers may have hoped it would be – yet – and it will be interesting to see how people feel about the model 30 years from now…
Mike Humble on what makes nostalgia so special…
…and how our long-independent ITV stations shaped it
You can’t beat a bit of nostalgic telly when things are glum. If it contains a few old cars along the way even better. Our capital city used to be blessed with a pair of great ITV companies who oddly enough hated each others’ guts yet between them were famed for some truly epic TV shows, many of which still get repeated and in some cases daily. In the days before telly went all wrong or rather before 1993, our nation was blessed with a whole host of truly Independent companies from Anglia through to Yorkshire.
Those station idents and jingles for those over a certain age, will be forever etched in our minds, the Anglia Knight and Handel’s Water Music would tell your mum in the kitchen that Sale Of The Century was starting on Sunday tea times and the the gold Yorkshire chevron and five note “Ba Da Da Ba Baaa” tune would pre warn the viewing public of an impending Emmerdale Farm.
The London stations of London Weekend and Thames were probably the most influential stations on the whole of the ITV network. London Weekend operating from the South Bank on Friday evenings through to Sunday night only gave us memorable Saturday night shows such as Game For A Laugh, Blind Date and The Gentle Touch.
Monday to Friday, the London network was the domain of the mighty Thames and most of us remember Rainbow, The Kenney Everett Show, Benny Hill and This Is Your Life being beamed through our 24in colour sets as we sat cross legged on the living room floor.
Monday morning break-times at school would be spent dissecting and discussing the previous weekend’s TV schedule at great length. The recent influx of Government meddling and cable/satellite stations has all but killed off the independent network and their incumbents, but at least their output is still here for us to enjoy…