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.