Remember when the family all crowded around the telly to all watch the same thing? Remember when TV specials were an event? Back in the 1980s, longer-length specials of the most popular TV programmes of the day were all the rage – especially during the Christmas break, and as such Minder was ripe for the Christmas family special treatment.
It’s difficult to appreciate just how big a phenomenon Minder was by the mid-1980s. First aired in October 1979, it was originally designed as a vehicle to extend Dennis Waterman’s career after Sweeney had come to an end. In the end, Waterman ended up playing second fiddle to George Cole – but it’s difficult to imagine many people not being upstaged by such a gifted actor at the peak of his powers. Between that first episode and the end of the tenth series in 1994, an awful lot of us watched Minder. At its peak in 1984, its most popular episode Second Hand Pose pulled in 16.4 million viewers and I was one of them.
Given the series’ popularity, a Minder Christmas special was bound to happen. Filmed in early 1985, Minder on the Orient Express proved to be the perfect longer-form episode, and unsurprisingly it featured an absolute wealth of talent in the cast list. It was a reflection of the strength of the scripts that pretty much every episode in the 10-series run of Minder featured at least one brilliant actor, aside from Cole and Waterman.
But despite a low production budget, Minder on the Orient Express pulled in a particularly strong cast. Not only did it treat us by having DS ‘Charlie’ Chisholm (Patrick Malahide) and DS Rycott (Peter Childs) in the same episode, but other notables included Ralph Bates, Honor Blackman, Adam Faith, Maurice Denham and Ronald Lacey. And as a consequence, the viewer was drawn in, and enjoyed 106 minutes of pure escapism, humour and sheer joy. And that’s before we even go car spotting…
So, tell us about the cars
Because much of Minder on the Orient Express was set aboard, er, the Orient Express, there’s not much car spotting to be had. That’s a shame because so many other regular episodes are jam packed with lovely street scenes crammed with some interesting motors. But what there is in this episode counts as absolute gold.
Arthur Daley’s lot leads with a 1969/G Ford Capri Mk1 up for the princely sum of £1995. Although it was, by then, a very old car, and this one does look to have the patina of a cared-for example, it looked expensive for what it was. But imagine what you’d pay for it today. Arthur’s stock in this episode was a very mixed bag – nearest the camera is an early Renault 5, and next to that is a Hillman Avenger (50 this year!). The cars obviously fit the bill of banger fodder back then, but we’d say they’re far from that now.
On the front of the lot, it’s Rover SD1 heaven. This is clearly the executive end of the car lot, with a Series 1 nearest the camera joined by a pair of Series 2s further from camera. There’s also a nice Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 sandwiched by two of the SD1s and, furthest away, is a Ford Sierra XR4i. Strange to think this was a typical car lot back then. It’s interesting how different it looks to the car lot Arthur was in possession of in 1979 (below) – the Capri was a Mk2, there was an X-Pack Ford Escort (originally meant to be Terry McCann’s car) an Alfa Romeo Giulia, a Fiat 132 and an Audi 100 (C1) among others. They looked several generations older!
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