Boxer Willie Reynolds (Paul Barber) has returned to the UK for a comeback fight. Terry is assigned to be his minder and, after a few early disagreements, also agrees to coach him back to winning ways …
Paul Wheeler’s script may be rather predictable, but the journey is pleasant enough. It’s fairly obvious that although Willie starts off as deeply antagonistic towards Terry (viewing him as little more than a hired help) they’ll form a bond over time. No doubt Terry (who could have been a contender) sees more than a little of himself in Willie – a man at the mercy of others, especially his manager Barney Mather (Alfred Marks, on fine form as usual).
The opening – a chat show with Willie and Jackie Collins (playing herself) – is an unusual touch for Minder. Although it doesn’t quite work, it’s a useful dramatic device as it helps to quickly show us that Willie is something of a loudmouth and braggart (dubbed “The Mersey Mouth” – no doubt a tribute to Muhammed Ali’s nickname of “The Louisville Lip”). Jackie Collins isn’t called upon to do a great deal except gaze adoringly at Willie and ask him if he’d be interested in a part in her new film, Black Stud. A sequel to The Stud no doubt.
Undoubtedly best known for playing the hapless Denzil in Only Fools and Horses, Paul Barber’s credits stretch back to the mid seventies. One of his first regular television roles was as Malleson in Gangsters, in which Tania Rogers (who here plays Willie’s wife, Ruth) also appeared. Barber’s good value as the arrogant Willie, managing to put a little meat on the bones of what is a rather two-dimensional character (an over-the-hill fighter who’s concerned he now lacks the killer instinct).
This is a Terry-centric episode, although Arthur does get a few moments to shine. Arthur’s surprisingly hard-edged at times – tipping a pint over a young man (played by Jesse Birdsall) at the Winchester for example. It’s also one of the rare episodes where Arthur ends up on top (having made a nice little bundle after betting on Willie to win).
I love Arthur’s monologue to Terry, where he bemoans the state of the country. “It’s dog eat cat in this world today. I mean I often wonder to myself what has happened to all the smiling bus-conductors or the service you used to get? Whatever happened to flying boats?” Out of all the things from the past to hanker for, flying boats was a very leftfield choice.
Barney’s first meeting with Arthur is a treat. Arthur’s offered a cigar (“made in Japan? What will they think of next?”). The sight of him spluttering on his Japanese cigar after taking a few puffs is a lovely one (George Cole milks the scene for all its worth).
Arthur may consider himself to be a shrewd businessman, but he’s an amateur compared to Barney, whose sense of PR is firmly on show when he organises a couple of attractive girls (one played by future Allo Allo! star Vicki Michelle) to pose with Willie. “Teeth and tits” is what Barney requires from them (their t-shirts, emblazoned with “I like Willie” is a classy touch). Within a few minutes we’ve had plenty of evidence that Barney is a monster and Alfred Marks, a vision in his check suit, seems to be having a ball playing him.
Another familiar face can be spotted when Willie and Terry head out to the disco. Imogen Bickford-Smith (Fawlty Towers/Doctor Who) plays the object of Willie’s unwelcome attention. The music chosen for the disco scene is very odd – it’s supposed to be 1980, so you’d have assumed the young people would have been grooving to the latest New Wave hits. Instead, they’re jiving to a piece of library music dating from 1971 – Atomic Butterfly by Barry Stoller – which sounds incredibly out of place ….
After Willie’s sparring partner twists his ankle, you just know that Terry’s going to volunteer to take his place. And so he does. It’s also less than surprising that Terry easily manages to get the best of an out-of-condition Willie. Dennis Waterman’s in his element here, with no doubles being required.
The fact that Willie eventuality triumphs against all the odds does seem a little unrealistic, but it does ensure a suitably feel-good ending. But before we get to that point we have the obligatory training scenes – the Rocky theme would have been the perfect accompaniment, but we have to make do with the Minder theme instead!
Barney, concerned about Terry’s influence over Willie, fires him. Terry leaves Willie with something to think about. “We never did sort out your punching problem, did we champ? But I’ll tell you what to do. You have a look around you. ‘cos these nice gentlemen here are using your skin to make a packet. Go on, you have a good look. And when Jack Straw starts hurting you, you remember their faces”.
Don’t Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here might be slightly corny, but the two leads (as well as the strong guest cast) aren’t pulling their punches, leaving us with a convincing win.