Actor George Cole, who will be forever remembered for playing Arthur Daley in ITV‘s Minder, from 1979 to ’94, has died, aged 90 following a short illness. Although Cole and Daley became almost indivisible in the eyes of his adoring fans, this was very much an Indian Summer in his acting career, which spanned generations.
Cole arrived in the business in the 1940s before coming to prominence as the character Flash Harry in the St Trinian‘s series of films between 1954 and ’66. Ironically, it was a role he pretty much reprised in Minder – the shady underworld trader, who was a million miles in personality from the gentle and likeable actor who played him.
For AROnline readers, Cole’s Arthur Daley character will be the cigar-smoking, sheepskin coat wearing car salesman and entrepreneur, who was always looking for the next big deal, while keeping ‘er indoors in clover. He was a Jaguar man through and through, despite occasionally dallying with various ‘other’ cars from Vauxhall, Ford, Rover, and – gasp – Mercedes-Benz. He staunchly bought British for himself while selling knocked-off talking dolls from China which spoke fluent Mandarin to his customers – Daley was a scoundrel, and one who loved double-standards.
For George Cole, though, Daley was a character he did not like, despite the British public’s adoration – and perhaps it’s a lasting legacy of the sheer depth and talent that Cole possessed when in front of a camera, that he pulled off this role so magnificently.
Another testament is that Minder was actually created as a vehicle for TV hearthrob Dennis Waterman, who needed a new venture after the end of The Sweeney. However, by the end of the second series of Minder, Cole was the de facto lead actor (even if he wasn’t billed as such), with the scriptwriters quickly developing Waterman into his hapless sidekick – the punchy and loyal loser with a heart of gold.
Such was the love affair the UK public had with Arthur and Terry, they even made the Top 20 with this wonderful Christmas song, ‘What are we gonna get for ‘er indoors?‘ in 1983.
Today, Dennis Waterman acknowledges the genius of George Cole, telling the BBC, he was ‘a dream to work with – loved on both sides of the camera. I am so sad to hear of George’s death. His family must be devastated, and I am absolutely certain that anybody who ever knew him, will feel the same.’
When Gary Webster (below) replaced Dennis Waterman for the final two series of Minder, two important wrongs were righted – Cole finally had lead billing in the credits, and his gentler side was revealed as he enjoyed a more paternal relationship with his young new minder, nephew, Ray Daley.
Cole did end up falling in love with the Daimler Sovereign that featured from series four to series six of Minder. He nearly bought the car himself back in 1985 but it was eventually decided to give the car away in a TV Times competition. However, this wasn’t exactly what George Cole wanted at the time. He said : ‘I was sitting in the Minder Jaguar and talking to the Location Manager and I said I must get myself a new car, because I was driving a rather battered Capri at the time.
‘He said, “Well, why don’t you put an offer in for this Jag?” So I said, “Yes, I might do that.” So he got on to Jaguar and said would they give it a good service and make me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So they said “Yes” and that was that. ‘A couple of days later the phone rings, it was TV Times, they said “I understand you’re going to buy the Minder Jaguar?” and I said “Yes”. They said “Well, we want it, because we want to give it away as a prize in a competition”. So I said, “Well I’m sorry, I want it.”
‘So a few days later they ring up again, “If we get Jaguar to get you a very hefty discount on a new Jaguar, will you let us have the Minder Jaguar?”. So I sobbed a bit and said “Yes, alright”. So then I went down to present it someone who’d won in the raffle.’
He was made an OBE in 1992, and is survived by his second wife, Penny Morrell, whom he married in 1967, and their son, Toby, and daughter, Tara; by a son, Crispin, and daughter, Harriet, from his first marriage, to the actor Eileen Moore, which ended in divorce; and by three grandchildren, Harry, Amelia and Thomas.