Natural Causes by Eric Chappell

Broadcast in 1988, Natural Causes is a rather obscure entry from Eric Chappell’s back catalogue. That’s not terribly surprising as it was given the less than primetime slot of 11.30 pm (although it still managed to pull in an impressive 6.5 million viewers).

It began life as a play in 1985 with Ian Lavender and Michael Robbins. Chappell’s television adaptation boasts an equally impressive cast – George Cole, Benjamin Whitrow, Prunella Scales and Leslie Ash.

Walter Bryce (Whitrow) is keen to help his neurotic wife, Ceilia (Scales), depart this vale of tears, as waiting in the wings to comfort him is his young secretary Angie (Ash).

And that’s where Vincent (Cole) comes in. He works for a company called Exodus which exists to facilitate suicides. But although things initially seen straightforward, a myriad of complications soon ensue …

The theatrical origin of the story Is quite obvious, as the production remains studio-bound throughout with no attempt made to open it up. That’s not a problem for me though as it means the play has to stand or falls on the quality of its performances.

George Cole leads the way as the pernickety Vincent. Sounding not unlike Arthur Daley, Cole gives a highly effective turn, doing most of the comic heavy lifting during the early part of the story.

He initially forms a strong double-act with Whitrow, who’s entertainingly twitchy as the unfaithful husband attempting to persuade himself (and Vincent) that the death of his wife will be a mercy for her. But the first problem occurs when she decides that they should die together. He’s not keen …

Prunella Scales, like Cole, seems to be operating well within her comfort zone but that’s not really a criticism as she does what she does so well. Leslie Ash has the lesser of the four roles but there’s still a faint air of Lady Macbeth about Angie which is appealingly teased out.

The ending doesn’t come as a huge surprise but overall the 78 minutes slipped by very agreeably. Well worth a look.

Bodily Harm – Simply Media DVD Review


Mitchel Greenfield’s mid-life crisis is a bit more extreme than most. After being fired from his job, learning that his father is dying and that his wife has been carrying on with a loathsome neighbour, Mitchel snaps in a major fashion – causing havoc to those closest to him ….

Like The Fragile Heart, this is another Channel 4 drama that’s slipped into obscurity, which is surprising given the cast.  Timothy Spall is perfect as the initially affable Mitchel who, following crushing blow after crushing blow, begins to devolve into an irrational and at times violent individual. Spall, due to his lengthy film and television career, already carried a residual groundswell of public affection, which helps to explain why we’re on Mitchel’s side right from the start.

Mitchel’s a middle-aged stockbroker with a fairly affluent lifestyle, although he seems curiously out of place amongst the younger and more thrusting wheeler-dealers.  So quite how he’s managed to hang onto his position for so long is something of a mystery.

Lesley Manville, as Mitchel’s wife Mandy, offers a contrasting but complimentary performance. Poles apart in temperament (Mitchel, at least to begin with, is self-contained whilst Mandy is outgoing to an extreme level) they seem to have little in common.  Mandy’s desire to throw a massive birthday party for him and their daughter Nic (Sadie Thompson) is a good example of their non-communication. Both Mitchel and Nic view the prospect of a party with little enthusiasm, but as ever Mandy gets her way.

It’s fascinating that Mitchel and Nic seem to enjoy a stronger bond than Mitchel and Mandy. When the teenage Nic expresses her desire to move away from home (to a place where, she says, she won’t be viewed as a misfit) Mitchel is bereft at the prospect.


Bodily Harm is very dark indeed. There are a few moments of twisted humour though, and one which works well is the sequence when a drunken Mandy succumbs to the dubious charms of Tintin (Jay Simpson) in one of the upstairs rooms at the party. Dressed as an angel, as Mandy’s enthusiastic blow-job reaches its, um, climax, her wings flap with an ever increasing fury.

The quality casting continues with Mitchel’s parents Sidney and Sheila (George Cole and Annette Crosbie). Their story occupies the darker end of the narrative – an ailing Sidney locking himself into a suicide pact with a compliant Sheila. As with Spall, the familiarity of these two veteran actors ensures that we’re invested in their fates just that little bit more.

Tony Grounds’ script is sharp and punchy and features a few unexpected diversions along the way.  Originally broadcast in June 2002 across two episodes (the first running for fifty minutes, the second for eighty five minutes) it’s another Channel 4 drama that I’m glad has been brought back into circulation by Simply. Not something to watch if you’re feeling a bit down, Bodily Harm nevertheless crackles with an angry and uncomfortable intensity.

Bodily Harm is available now from Simply Media, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).


Minder – A Lot of Bull and a Pat on the Back


Arthur, shrewd businessman that he is, is always happy to turn his hand to anything.  Repossess a bull for a couple of farmers?  No problem, especially when the fee is more than generous.  But when it turns out that Terry and Arthur were duped into a spot of bull rustling, Terry insists they reunite the bull with its rightful owner ….

Leon Sinden and Derek Benfield play Smith and Brown, the two farmers who ask Arthur to arrange the bull repossession. I’ve a feeling that they’re using false names (something which also seems to strike Arthur – although it doesn’t stop him from doing the deal).

As ever, Arthur’s optimism is a wonder to behold (he tells Terry that the bull in question is a totally domesticated beast). Further amusement can be derived from the cross-cutting between Arthur ‘s visit to a gentleman’s outfitters (in which he’s obtaining the best country clothes) and Debbie’s striking performance at the striptease club.

Before Terry and Arthur’s adventures in the countryside, Terry’s called upon to help Debbie (Diana Mallin). She’s concerned about a punter who’s been threatening the girls at the strip club where she works.  With Penny (Ginnie Nevinson) also making an appearance, Terry’s cup seems to be running over – although at present it’s plain that Penny’s the girl for him.

As Terry doesn’t spot anybody hassling Debbie, this part of the story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although it’s not not too surprising that we’ll come back to it later.

Despite Arthur’s claims to the contrary, you just know that he’s going to be totally adrift in the country (having to help herd a bull doesn’t help of course).  Some of the comedy might not be terribly subtle – Arthur stepping into a cowpat – but it still raises a smile, thanks to George Cole’s supremely wounded dignity.

It’s interesting to learn that Arthur’s slip-up was unscripted, but George Cole’s cowpat (or possibly bullpat) encounter was deemed to be far too good not to include.  If it hadn’t, then presumably it would turned up on numerous editions of It’ll Be Alright on the Night.

The first time we see the bull, it’s shot in close-up (and a touch of ominous incidental music helps to ramp up the tension a little more). Arthur, supreme coward that he is, suggests that it would be best if he stayed in the lorry (the country air isn’t doing his chest any good) but Terry’s adamant that he’s not getting the bull by himself.

It’s therefore ironic that Terry ends up doing all the work anyway whilst Arthur simply blunders about and then falls over (getting even muddier than he was before).

If you want to pick holes in the plot, then it’s strange that the bull was simply standing unprotected in a field, waiting for Terry and Arthur. Since there was nobody about, why didn’t Smith and Brown take the bull themselves? If they had then it would have saved them having to pay Arthur four thousand pounds. And it’s very unlikely that the story of the stolen bull would have made the front page of the Daily Mirror, even if was a very, very slow news day.  Also, Terry and Arthur manage to track down Smith and Brown with embarrassing ease (the countryside’s a big place after all).  And it’s odd that we never meet the bull’s owner (although had the subplot of Debbie not been included then there might have been time to do so).

Dave can always be called upon for a dry comment. When Arthur and Terry find out the bad news about the bull, Dave tells them that he still thinks rustlers can be hung ….

When Terry gets back to town, he finds Debbie in hospital. She looks pretty bad, although luckily the damage to her face is only superficial.  Diana Mallin plays this scene well (Debbie’s more concerned that her cat gets fed than she is about her own welfare).  Terry’s distraught. He promised to mind her and he blames himself for her injuries. Justice therefore demands that he catches up with Debbie’s attacker (and justice is served).

A Lot of Bull and a Pat on the Back revels in the seedier side of life, so there’s a number of scenes at the strip club where bare breasts are on display.  Unsurprisingly this has to led to the episode being somewhat cut whenever it turns up in the daytime schedules.

It’s a fairly simple story, but Cole and Waterman are on fine form, especially Cole. Arthur’s misadventures in the countryside are the highlight of another entertaining script from Tony Hoare.

Minder – Caught in the Act, Fact


It’s not Terry’s day.  First of all Des cons him into delivering a car which is later used in an armed robbery.  But that pales into insignificance thanks to Arthur’s latest minding job.  It should be straightforward – accompanying Lady Margaret Thompson (Angela Browne) on a few odd jobs, such as a shopping trip to Harrods.  But after Terry is arrested for shoplifting he faces a court appearance.  Luckily Arthur offers his services as a character witness ….

Caught in the Act, Fact is an episode which sees Terry used as a fall-guy on multiple occasions.  Firstly, it’s Des who incurs his displeasure after the trusting Terry delivers a hot motor for him.  Terry’s about to inflict some serious damage on Des when Arthur appears.  After Terry explains why he’s about to dish out his own brand of summary justice, Arthur sorrowfully tells Des that what he did wasn’t very nice.  “I don’t want to be nice Arthur, I just want to be rich” replies Des, which doesn’t improve Terry’s temper!  Des later backtracks and claims this was a joke, but although he’s always been an affable and amusing character, Des is also a crook and it’s easy to believe he knew exactly what he was doing.

Arthur’s latest scheme is a beauty – goldfish for old clothes.  Arthur subcontracts Stevie (Colin Proctor) to go round the estate, collecting clothes from children in exchange for goldfish (“Old Clothes for Fish”).  This is ridiculous, even for Arthur, although you have to love the way he proudly shows off his goldfish to Terry. Terry agrees that, yes, they’re goldfish but Arthur’s ripsote is “goldmine, Terry. Goldmine”.

Arthur’s explanation as to why a goldfish would make the perfect pet is another priceless moment. “There is nothing wrong with a goldfish. It would be a good friend. Loyal, trusting, quiet. And the nice thing about them is if they start to give you any hump you can always flush them down the toilet”.

But Terry’s not interested in being a goldfish handler. Eventually he admits to a chortling Arthur that he doesn’t like the thought of touching them. Of course, had Terry taken the fishy job then he wouldn’t have got tangled up with Des. So for once sticking with Arthur would have been the safer option.

As Terry’s prints were found on the car, Chisholm is more than interested in him. Maybe Arthur hopes that minding Lady Margaret will take his mind off his problems.  Although Arthur can’t resist instructing his associate about exactly how he should behave when attending the gentry.  Terry tells him that he’ll be sure to tug his forelock every so often.

Lady Margaret’s story has some parallels to the real-life Lady Isobel Barnett, although this must have been a coincidence (albeit an eerie one, as Lady Isobel committed suicide in October 1980, a few days after being found guilty of shoplifting goods to the value of eighty seven pence.  This episode of Minder was recorded in August 1980 and broadcast in November 1980).

Although Arthur is told, off-screen, by Lady Margaret’s husband Harry (Glyn Houston) about her little “problem”, he doesn’t let Terry know. This is rather odd – when the pair meet up with Harry he assumes that Terry’s been fully briefed. Otherwise, how would he be able to spot the warning signs when Lady Margaret decides to pick up something without paying? He can’t, of course, meaning that Terry is forced to carry the can after Harry and Lady Margaret disown him.

When Terry finds himself in court, he needs all the friends he can get – and this is where Arthur comes in.  There are few more glorious sights than Arthur Daley in full flow and the tone is set from the moment he steps into the witness box.  “I swear by almighty god the evidence I give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, stand on me”.

When Des later tells Terry that Arthur did him a right turn in the courtroom, Dave counters with “gave him a right turn you mean”.  Tony Hoare’s script is typically sharp, with exchanges like this occurring throughout.

The sight of Arthur playing golf with Harry is another scenario that’s ripe with comic potential. And Arthur doesn’t disappoint, chuckling that there’s nothing wrong with him when Harry wonders what his handicap is. These scenes don’t advance the plot at all but they’re worth it for the sight of Arthur in his tartan bobble hat alone ….

On the trivia front, this episode sees the first appearance of DC Jones, although he’s played here by Ken Sharrock rather than Michael Povey. It’s also worth listening out for the phone call that Harry receives from Chisholm some thirty five minutes in. I don’t know who was on the phone, but it certainly wasn’t Patrick Malahide ….

Juggling three plotlines – the stolen car, fish for clothes and Lady Margaret – there’s certainly plenty going on. It’s a shame that Angela Browne doesn’t have more screentime, but that’s about the only drawback I can find in another strong script.

Minder – All About Scoring, Innit


When Arthur crosses paths with celebrity footballer Danny Varrow (Karl Howman) he spies a nice little earner.  Danny has a story to sell and if Arthur can locate Fleet Street’s finest – Ronnie Raikes (Antony Douse) – then he hopes he’ll be quids in.

Terry’s assigned to mind Danny, but he’s a wanted man.  Not only is he being pursued by Leo Rafferty (Sean Caffrey), a bookmaker who’s rather miffed that Danny’s been sleeping with his mistress Jenny (Adrienne Posta), but the shotgun-wielding Arklow (Forbes Collins) also wants a word …..

All About Scoring, Innit opens in the countryside, where the bucolic peace and quiet is shattered by Danny’s efforts to escape Arklow and his shotgun.  Subtle is not a word you could use to describe Forbes Collins’ performance here.

If the viewers were wondering exactly who Danny was, then the next scene neatly fills in the gaps.  Arthur holds up a paper in which Danny’s latest disappearing act is featured prominently.   Danny might be a talented footballer, but he’s equally as talented at drinking, gambling and chasing birds.  George Best is an obvious real-life parallel.  Unsurprisingly, Terry respects him (“one of the chosen, he is”) whilst Arthur is much less impressed (“he’s a muddied oaf”).  But once Arthur realises just how much money Danny makes – and how he may be able to cream a little off himself – his opinion changes ….

Although the story may be a little thin, the interaction between Arthur and Terry is so good that this really isn’t a problem.  There’s plenty of wonderful little moments spread throughout the fifty minutes, such as Terry’s desire to clock off so he can head over to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea.  Arthur is affronted by this – who will unload his sporting goods?  Terry’s answer is brief and to the point.  “Balls”.

He elaborates. “Ping pong, for the playing of”.  After leaving Arthur holding a box of ping pong balls, it’s inevitable that the box is going to break and the balls will go everywhere.  Out of nowhere Arthur finds himself besieged by a gang of kids (“go on, go and play in the river”).

Next we see Arthur – preparing to enter the Winchester – observe a gang of football fans walking down the street.  Since they’re somewhat boisterous, he pops back into his car, pulls his hat over his eyes and waits for them to walk on by.  After they’re out of earshot he feels brave enough to call after them.  “Thickheads. Louts. Come back and try that again and I’ll push you through the wall”.  After he’s made his heroic gesture he spies an old woman standing in the street.  “The highway’s quite safe now madam, I’ve seen them on their way”.

Arthur walks into the Winchester, bemoaning that you can never find a copper when you want one.  He then wonders who originally said that. “G.H. Chesterton, wasn’t it? Or was it the Bard himself, George Bernard?”  Simply glorious.

There’s a chance to see the grimy reality of early eighties football since Minder was able to shoot at Stamford Bridge during an actual match.  This gives the story a little extra reality as we spy Terry standing on the heaving terraces.  It leads into another classic comedy moment as Terry incredulously spies his name on the scoreboard, requesting him to contact the office urgently.

A police sergeant (Bill Dean) has some bad news for him – his mother’s been run down by a green-line bus.  Terry takes the news rather calmly, indeed he’s so laid-back that when he notices Chelsea have scored he bemoans the fact that they couldn’t do so when he was watching them.  But he’s not really hard-hearted, as Terry’s mum has been resident at Kilburn Cemetery since 1967.  The sergeant (a wonderfully world-weary performance by Dean) is less than impressed by this hoax call and flings Terry out of the ground, which is exactly what Arthur wanted.

With all this going on, what should be the main plot – Danny’s troubles – somewhat pales into insignificance.  But although he somewhat plays second-fiddle, it’s still a decent portrait of the footballer-as-celebrity, something which was already fairly well established then (although nothing like nowadays of course).  He and Terry enjoy themselves in a luxury penthouse whilst they debate the ethics of professional sport.

Danny has no loyalty to anybody but himself.  This irritates Terry, who believes he should show some respect to his team-mates, his manager and the fans.  Danny is unrepentant though and the message seems to be that Danny can behave like he does because he has talent – if he didn’t then it wouldn’t be acceptable.  That’s questionable logic it has to be said.  It’s also interesting that Danny mentions he owes a considerable sum – five thousand pounds – to Rafferty.  For a modern footballer, that sort of money would be little more than loose change ….

Terry’s minding skills aren’t at their sharpest in this one – he nips off to the toilet, Danny opens the hotel-room door and is snatched by Rafferty’s goons.   Terry manages to track Danny down before he’s given a beating, but the imposing figure of Clifton Fields (George Sweeney) bars his way.  But once Clifton recognises Terry (they both boxed against each other in the old days) they suddenly become less interested in fighting and take a stroll down memory lane instead.

With Rafferty nullified, everything seems settled.  But then Arklow re-appears and Terry gets in the way of his shotgun blast.  But luckily (and somewhat unbelievably) he escapes with only a scratch.  This gives us yet another glorious Arthur/Terry moment as Arthur visits him in hospital.  Firstly, Arthur has a present for Terry (a pot-plant) which he declines.  No matter, Arthur will take it back home to Er Indoors.  Even better is when Terry fishes into Arthur’s bag for a grape.  No, he’s told – they’re for Er Indoors too.  The sight of Arthur calmly removing the single grape from Terry’s hand and replacing it in the bag is yet another classic comic moment from an episode that’s overflowing with them.

Minder – The Old School Tie

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Despite only having a few months left to serve on his five-year sentence, an old schoolfriend of Terry’s, George Palmer (Paul Copley), escapes from prison in order to prove his innocence.  Naturally enough, Terry offers to help him, but this decision puts those nearest to him in danger ….

The Old School Tie opens with yet another split in the Arthur/Terry relationship.  Terry’s been out of contact for a few days, doing a friend a favour, and Arthur’s incensed at his lack of consideration.  Terry’s equally irritated at Arthur’s controlling nature and tells him from now on he’ll find this own jobs.  Arthur has the last word.   “Modern bloody generation, you’re all the same. Give ’em a leg to stand on and they use it to kick you up the arse”.

The dynamic between Arthur, Terry and Dave is at the heart of this episode.  It’s revealed that Dave was the friend Terry did the favour for and because of this Terry asks him to shelter George.  Dave is reluctant – if the police find him then there’ll be trouble all round – although eventually he agrees.

But what’s really interesting is Arthur’s reaction.  When he learns that Terry was doing a job for Dave he seems to regret his earlier harsh words.  Other writers might have had Arthur demand payment from Dave for Terry’s services (Terry declined any money) but Jeremy Burnham didn’t go down this obvious route.  Arthur may often be painted as mercenary and self-seeking, but it does seem that friendship overrides all other concerns.

Yorkshire-born Paul Copley seemed to be struggling a little to master a London accent but he’s still effective as the mild and honourable criminal.  The early scenes between George and Terry waste no time in telling us that George is a career criminal (and was actually out on another job when he was arrested in error for the diamond blagging).

Terry therefore doesn’t see what George has to complain about – he might have been innocent of the crime he was sentenced for, but since he was guilty of many others then natural justice has been served.  Ironically this was no doubt the attitude held by many bent coppers and would have served as their justification for fitting up suspects.

George has a wife, Olive (Sherrie Hewson) who’s concerned about George, although she pretends not to be.  Olive’s brother, Harry (Derek Thompson), is also concerned, although for different reasons.  From the moment we first see Harry he’s operating in a very shifty fashion, making it plain that he knows more than he’s telling.   The later revelation that he was involved in the diamond blagging is not a very surprising revelation.

This is a much grittier and harder-edged episode of Minder than usual.  The two heavies, Billy (Ziggy Byfield) and Tommy (Nick Stringer), don’t look too different from similar characters who pop up most weeks, but the difference is that Billy and Tommy actually do some damage.

First they pay a visit to Debbie (Diana Malin), a stripper who’s staying at Terry’s flat for a few days.  She’s plainly terrified of them and would have no doubt told them everything she knew with only a little persuading, which makes the fact that we later see her with a badly bruised face somewhat disturbing.  Presumably they gave her a going over off-screen just for the fun of it.  Dave is also the recipient of an off-screen beating from them, although in his case it’s easier to imagine that he would have kept quiet until they started inflicting real pain.

Prior to visiting Dave, they’d called on Arthur.  It’s Arthur who gave George’s location away and later he admits this to Terry.  They didn’t physically attack Arthur – only damaged some of his stock in the lockup.  Arthur’s cowardice initially irritates Terry,  but again the scene’s played straight as Arthur tells Terry that he couldn’t have stood up to physical violence.  Terry instantly agrees and understands.

When Terry and George are captured by the baddies they too receive some punishment, although this happens on-screen for once.  Everything’s set up for the final reel as the cavalry – in the unlikely form of Rycott and Arthur – come riding to the rescue.  This was Peter Childs’ only S2 appearance, but he’s great value in each and every scene – especially the brief fight at the end.  As Arthur cowers in the doorway, Rycott steams in and smashes one unfortunate against the wall.  Ouch!

As ever, Arthur and Terry are reconciled.  I like the tag scene in which Arthur, blind drunk, asks Terry to drive him home.  When quizzed about how long he’s been in the pub, Arthur replies half an hour!  He’s clearly a fast drinker.

A refreshingly tougher story which ranks as one of the strongest from the second series.

Minder – Diamonds Are a Girl’s Worst Enemy


Terry rates his latest minding job (a dog with a thirst for beer) as an all-time low.  So when Arthur dangles what appears to be a cushy number – driving a chap called Mr Lily around for a few weeks – he’s interested, although he’s also waiting for the inevitable catch.

When Mr Lily turns out to be Rose Mellors (Ann Lynn) certain alarm bells should have started to ring for him.  But it’s only when Rose’s car is stolen from under Terry’s nose that things really start to go awry.  Rose explains that she uses the car to courier stolen diamonds and that a consignment (worth £100,000) was in the car at the time.  The owner of the diamonds, Mr Tajvir (Zia Mohyeddin), gives Arthur, Terry and Rose a choice – the diamonds returned or they can expect their health to start deteriorating very quickly ….

Following her S1 appearance in Bury my Half At Waltham Green, Rose Mellors makes a welcome reappearance here.  As previously seen, Rose is the wife of a major criminal (currently enjoying a long stretch inside) and has clearly picked up some tips from him over the years.  For example, when Rose becomes the object of unwelcome attention from a hairy type at the local pool club, she’s quite prepared to give him a quick slap with his own cue to quieten him down.

For once, both Arthur and Terry are innocents – neither were aware that “Mr Lily” was actually Rose.  But given that their previous encounter with her was slightly bruising, it’s possibly not too surprising that she used an alias to begin with.  Arthur remains in the dark a little longer than Terry, which allows Terry to wind him up (telling him that Mr Lily enjoys dressing up in women’s clothes and also likes to give him a peck on the cheek).

The ever dependable John Ringham plays Harrison, an exasperated police officer who has to contend with Arthur (he’s come to the station to report Rose’s car as stolen and is insistent that the police do their duty).  This was a point in the series where the comedy would have been ramped up a little had there been a regular police face for Arthur to interact with (Harrison never appears again).

George Cole still entertains in these scenes though, as Arthur’s clearly not impressed with the efficiency of the modern police force.  “You’re not like the way you’re shown on the telly, I’ll tell you that.  There it’s one phone call after another, grab your hat and off.  Diving in and out of cars, bells ringing in all directions.  Book him Dano, Murder One. Here, it’s like rest time at the old folks home”.

Ringham is equally as good.  Harrison wonders why Arthur is so keen to assist Rose.  “In all my years I’ve never known you so much as help an old lady across the street unless you were paid for it”.  Lovely stuff, as is Arthur’s affronted reaction.  And whilst Arthur’s at the police station, Terry’s in bed with Rose.  He clearly believes in fiddling (as it were) whilst Rome burns ….

Tony Selby, as Rose’s hapless gofer Jack, also reappears from Bury My Half At Waltham Green, and his presence helps to inform the audience that Rose knows much more about this business than she’s letting on.

Not the most complex story that the series ever produced, but there’s plenty of entertaining dialogue along the way.  Although not all of it is connected to the matter in hand – for example, the banter between Arthur and Dave at the start of the episode.  Arthur is attempting to tell Dave a very funny story about a chimpanzee who goes into a pub, but finds his storytelling flow constantly interrupted by pointless questions from Dave (“was the chimp over eighteen?”).  Arthur manfully presses on, but since Dave beats him to the punchline it was hardly worth the effort!

Minder – All Mod Cons

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Terry and Arthur’s relationship is put under strain after Arthur attempts to sell Terry’s flat without his knowledge.  Further complications in the property game occur after Vickery (James Ottway) and his granddaughter Kate (Toyah Wilcox) ask Terry to evict several squatters from one of their properties.  But things aren’t as straightforward as they first appear ….

It takes a little while before the plot(s) of All Mod Cons kicks into gear.  First, we have the unusual sight of Arthur playing Space Invaders.  He doesn’t appear to be very good but things change a few minutes later after a couple of passing punters challenge him and Terry to a Space Invaders contest, with a hefty side-bet to make it interesting.

Were there really Space Invaders Sharks, like Pool Sharks?  It’s hard to believe, but once there’s money on offer Arthur suddenly becomes an expert, shooting aliens left, right and centre!  This doesn’t really ring true, but it’s amusing nonetheless.

Arthur’s ruthless side is on show after he offers Terry’s flat to McQueen (Michael Robbins).   True, if Terry does clear Vickery’s property of squatters then there’s a flat in it for him, but Arthur’s still motivated by pure self interest here.  And if Arthur is thinking of himself as usual, the more gullible Terry still shows Arthur a degree of loyalty he probably doesn’t deserve.

Terry’s girlfriend Helen (Annette Lynton) works at a swanky nightclub and after Terry, popping by to see her, easily deals with a couple of intoxicated toffs, the manager, Simon (Simon Cadell), has no hesitation in offering Terry a job.  It would mean good money and decent hours, but Terry declines, feeling obligated to Arthur.

It seems that Helen’s been on the scene for a while – plainly long enough for her to have formed a low opinion of Arthur and also to have expressed a wish for Terry to better himself. When Helen asks Terry what he’s going to be doing some ten or fifteen years down the line, it’s interesting that she’s echoing an enquiry made by Penny a few stories back.  “You’ll be older, slower and some young bloke will come along and cripple you for life”.

It has to be said that the well-spoken Helen seems to be somewhat out of Terry’s league and we can assume that Terry’s reluctance to break with Arthur severed their relationship.

Terry sums himself up.  “I’m as thick as two short planks, I’m generous when it suits and as for ambition … a three figure break at snooker would make me a happy man”.  He’s obviously being hard on himself, but there’s a kernel of truth here – Terry seems to have a fear of commitment, meaning that a steady job and a settled relationship with Helen isn’t something he desires, even if many others would.

Michael Robbins (best known for On The Buses of course) is good fun as McQueen, a plumbers merchant with a thriving business.  He’s interested in Terry’s flat for his niece (hmmm) and he’s also able to do Arthur a good turn (“Kevin, can you put Mr Daley’s bidet in his car. Midnight purple”).  McQueen later turns up at the Winchester with his shirt open to the navel, displaying both a generous amount of chest hair and a gold medallion.  Glorious!

When McQueen introduces his niece Shirley (Frances Low) to Arthur and Dave, it’s obvious that Dave knows Shirley.  But the way Dave mutters that he didn’t know McQueen and Shirley were related (and McQueen’s shifty expression) shows the bond they share isn’t a familial one. Further evidence can be heard later at Terry’s flat ….

The other part of the plot – Kate turns out to be collecting rent from the people she’s tagged as squatters without her grandfather’s knowledge – doesn’t quite hold water.  Since Kate turns out not to be the innocent girl she first appears (we later see she has no trouble in recruiting heavies) why didn’t she simply organise her own muscle to evict them?  This does lead to a pulsating fight between Terry and Kate’s heavies though – one of the best from the second series.

When Terry learns that his flat has been sold under his nose it sparks what appears to be an irrevocable split between him and Arthur.  Of course, we know this isn’t going to happen (Minder is a programme that has to hit the reset button at the end of every episode).  The way that Arthur frantically attempts to buy the flat from McQueen is clear evidence of his desperation to win Terry back, but this is another part of the story which doesn’t really work.  Even if Vickery’s property had been renovated and turned into flats, it would have been some time before any were ready for use.  So what would Terry have done until then?

Although Terry accepts a job at the nightclub, Simon’s corrupt ways disgust him and so he resigns.  Therefore after finding that the grass isn’t greener elsewhere he ends up back with Arthur and life goes on just as before.

A few gaps in logic aside, All Mod Cons is entertaining, if not stellar, fare.  But the number of familiar faces present – Michael Robbins, Toyah Wilcox, Simon Cadell, Mike Savage, Tony Osoba and Harry Towb – help to make up for this.

mod 02

Minder – A Nice Little Wine


When Clive Stannard (Peter Jeffrey), a business associate of Arthur’s, is robbed by a prostitute in his hotel room, he’s convinced that Arthur’s set him up.  So Arthur and Terry have three days to find Stannard’s stolen money, otherwise Arthur will receive a beating from Billy Gresham ….

Arthur’s social climbing is always a wonderful source of comic material.  Stannard is a wine dealer and his erudite knowledge of the trade clearly impresses Arthur.  The sight of Dave acting like a wine waiter at the Winchester is something of a treat as is the scene where Arthur and Stannard pop round to Terry’s flat to drop off Arthur’s purchase.

Arthur can’t bring himself to admit that his business associate could possibly live in such a run down part of the city, so he tells Stannard that it’s simply Terry’s London address, where he stays for the odd day (he has a much more palatial property in the country).  Of course the sight of Terry in his dressing-gown, wondering why his living room is filling up with boxes of booze, rather punctures this picture, but to be fair to Terry he plays along.

The wine part of the story doesn’t really continue after the first ten minutes or so (apart from one later section and the tag scene).  Instead, the action switches to a reasonably palatial hotel where Stannard plans to spend a relaxing evening.  But when a note pushed under his door offers a discrete massage service, his plans change.  Bettina (Rachel Davies) is an alluring young lady, but she doesn’t stay for long – once she’s drugged and robbed Stannard there’s no reason to.

After setting up the reason for the plot, Stannard then drops out of the picture until the final few minutes.  And it’s interesting that although he tells Arthur that he’s got friends in low places (Billy Gresham) who are capable of handing out considerable punishment, we never actually see Gresham or any of his associates.  This means that although there’s a sense that the clock is ticking for Arthur, it’s never reinforced by anybody popping up to ram the point home.

If Bettina is a tart without a heart then Sandra (Lois Baxter) is a tart with one.  With Terry posing as a punter looking for a massage, she’s able to provide him with a link to Bettina.  Coincidentally, both Peter Jeffrey and Lois Baxter appeared in the same Doctor Who story (The Androids of Tara) although they don’t share a scene here.  Sandra is a prostitute purely out of necessity and, unlike Bettina, never robs her clients.

Terry tracks Sandra down to her house, where he meets her mother (played by Pam St. Clement) and one of her sons.  Everyone is clearly unaware of her double-life and Baxter exudes a touching vulnerability as Sandra asks Terry if he’d like to come out for a drink sometime.  He does ring her later on, but when her mother tells him that she’s out working he takes it no further.  A nice, bittersweet moment.

When Terry poses as a guest in the same hotel where Stannard was robbed, the porter George (Ron Pember) decides he must be part of the wine conference and points Terry in the direction of the tasting.  This part of the story feels a little contrived – Terry hardly looks like a wine buff, plus it’s rather a coincidence that, given the theme of the episode, a tasting is taking place right under Terry’s nose.  No matter, as it leads into another strong comedy scene where Terry holds his own amongst the erudite connoisseurs.

But possibly the funniest moment of A Nice Little Wine occurs when Terry and Arthur’s investigation leads them to a dodgy shop in Soho.  Terry goes inside to”persuade” the staff to tell him where Bettina is whilst Arthur remains in the car.  So far, so good, but he’s parked on a double-yellow line which irritates a passing policeman (played by Davyd Harries).  Arthur claims that a migraine has made him unable to move the car and every time he witnesses a spot of violence coming from the shop it gives him an authentic twinge.  George Cole is as good here as you’d expect, and whilst it seems more than a little unlikely that the copper wouldn’t twig something odd was going on, they just about manage to get away with it.

A Nice Little Wine is packed with familiar faces.  We’ve already seen the likes of Ron Pember and Pam St. Clement, whilst Burt Kwouk also pops up as another of Bettina’s victims.  Cyd Child might be less of a household name (she plays Bettina’s flatmate) but the reason for her presence – she was an experienced stuntwoman, doubling for Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson on The Avengers – becomes clear after Terry and Arthur attempt to retrieve the money from Bettina.  This they do, but only after the girls put up something of a fight.

Patrick Malahide appears for the third time (and the first during S2) as Chisholm.  At this point in the series the character clearly wasn’t viewed as a potential regular, as his part is limited to turning up and carting off the unfortunate Stannard, who therefore turns out to be just as big a crook as Arthur.

Stanley Price’s sole script for the series (during the 1970’s he was a writer in demand – penning a number of film screenplays, including Gold, Shout at the Devil and Golden Rendezvous) is a most agreeable episode.  Not the finest vintage that the series produced, but not unpalatable either.

Minder – The Beer Hunter


Arthur’s reunion with Yorkie (Brian Glover), an old pal from his army days, doesn’t go to plan after Yorkie disappears following a night of drunken revels. This means that Arthur and Terry have a race to find him before his wife, Dora (Pat Ashton), arrives from Rotherham …

The sight of Cole and Glover, drunkenly singing off-key, is an early episode highlight. Arthur and Yorkie have clearly been having a good evening, Terry less so. He’s been dozing in Arthur’s car, waiting to pick them up and drive them home.

The sight of Terry in an expensive motor catches the eye of a passing policeman but although there’s a brief moment of tension when Terry admits he doesn’t know the registration, the officer accepts his story and walks on by.

Yorkie’s presence helps to shade in a little of Arthur’s backstory.
We learn that Arthur’s military career was far from distinguished, but possibly Yorkie was the key to his survival anyway. Arthur tells Terry that Yorkie was “my best mate in the Army. I would go to hell and back again on my hands and knees for Yorkie”.

Did he operate pretty much as Terry does now, as a minder, keeping Arthur safe from his fellow soldiers? It’s easy to imagine Arthur back then running various dodgy schemes and if Yorkie did have his back it makes sense why Arthur now feels indebted to him. It would also explain Terry’s presence today- a Yorkie substitute, if you will.

Naturally, it doesn’t take long before Willis Hall’s script undercuts Arthur’s drunken reminisces of heroic endeavour (lovely playing, as usual, by Cole). Terry reminds him that he wasn’t called up until 1949! It quickly becomes clear that Arthur spent most of his service time propping up the bar, but it’s entirely characteristic that over the decades he’s rewritten this humdrum chapter of his life into something much more impressive.

We get a close encounter with ‘Er ‘Indoors – possibly about the nearest she ever came to making an onscreen appearance. As Arthur, propped up in bed, makes an early morning phone call to Terry, we see and hear the curtains being quickly drawn back (causing Arthur a momentary spasm of pain) followed by the slam of the bedroom door. Two off-screen moments which suggest his better half is not amused.

Carlos Douglas plays the imaginatively named Carlos, one of the hotel staff at Yorkie’s seedy hotel (Janine Duvitski is another) . He’s probably best known for playing the equally imaginatively-named Carlos in Duty Free. An uncredited Phil Rose (Friar Tuck from Robin of Sherwood) makes a brief appearance whilst Harry “Aitch” Fielder pops up as one of the patrons in the Winchester – if his face is instantly recognisable then, like me, you’ve clearly watched far too much old television …

The mystery of Yorkie’s disappearance isn’t a mystery for long. He’s ended up in the bed of a prostitute called Renee (Georgina Hale). Hale had previously appeared in Budgie (scripted by Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse) which might explain her presence here. Hale’s acting style has always been unique – thanks to her drawling delivery – and she’s typically entertaining here, as poor Yorkie wakes up to find he’s lost his trousers and Renee does her best to help him.

A later highlight has to be when Arthur interferes with a school rugby match – he picks up the ball and runs off, pursued by the pack of kids! Arthur subsequently compares himself to Gareth Edwards, although Terry thinks Jimmy Edwards is nearer the mark. And Arthur’s earlier comment, as he runs onto the rugby pitch (“don’t you speak to me like that! I used to play for the All Browns!”) is another wonderful line from an episode packed with first-class comic moments.

Yorkie’s hero-worship of Arthur is also developed as the episode progresses – he tells the disinterested Renee that Arthur’s got more cars than British Leyland. This sort of dog-like devotion might also explain why Arthur enjoyed having him around during their service days.

There’s some other lovely performances scattered throughout – Alan David as a chef who’s obsessed with hats that don’t stand proud, for example – and although The Beer Hunter does feel at times like a series of vignettes, there’s plenty to enjoy in this densely-packed script, not least the wonderful performance by Brian Glover. The sight of Glover hiding in a Wendy House is just one treat amongst many.

Minder – Not a Bad Lad, Dad


Terry’s latest minding job is an unusual one – a nine-year old boy called Peter (Warren O’Neill) who might possibly be his son ….

Given that Terry’s something of a bird magnet, it would be surprising if he didn’t have a few children dotted around that he knows nothing about.  Could Peter be one of them?  When his mother, Beryl (Sharon Duce), leaves him in Terry’s care, he’s certainly left with that impression.

Even this early in the story, the viewer might have a few questions – firstly why has Sharon come back into Terry’s life after so many years? It’s also very strange that she dumps her son on Terry’s doorstep and then disappears (although she does keep a watching brief, hidden around the corner).

Arthur’s not happy.  Peter’s a distraction who could blunt Terry’s effectiveness and this concerns Arthur greatly.  As the series progressed over the years, the rough edges of the characters were gradually smoothed down, but this is very much the early, selfish Arthur – a man who only thinks of himself and is quite happy to manipulate others to achieve his ends, no matter what the consequences might be.

Early on, he tells Terry that it’s unnatural for him to imagine he could be a father. “I’m referring to your erratic lifestyle, your total lack of ambition, your cavalier attitude to matters domestic. It don’t exactly make you odds on favourite for the fatherhood stakes”. Arthur’s advice about Peter is stark (“dump him”). Not in the river, he qualifies, but down at the social.

Tony Hoare’s script offers a change of pace for the series as we see Terry slowly adjusting to the possibility of being a father (although Peter’s under the impression that Terry’s his uncle).  As the episode progresses it’s plain that he’s doing all he can to entertain the boy – games of football and trips on the river – but the negative aspects of Terry’s personality surface from time to time.

Peter’s a lad with attitude, best demonstrated when he gets into a mild fracas with a couple of older youths (Terry’s been forced to take him along to his bouncer’s job at the local pub).  Terry attempts to draw a line under events with his usual diplomatic skill.  “Shut your mouth, sonny or I’ll squeeze all your pimples. Now on your bike, both of you!”  The lads don’t take the hint though and when one of them wonders if Peter will grow up to be as big a pillock as his uncle, Terry responds in the only way he knows how – violence.

We’ve seen Terry hand out similar punishments on numerous previous occasions, but due to Peter’s presence this feels somewhat different.  The way that Peter looks at him afterwards is a telling moment – suggesting that Terry’s world of violence disturbs him. It’s an interesting touch that as Terry and Peter look at each other, the ambient sound fades away. This helps to make the moment seem a little more claustrophobic (the fact that Terry is unable to hold Peter’s gaze is notable too).

Giving Terry a son (even if he didn’t appear in every episode) would certainly have changed the dynamic of the series.  If they’d been thinking ahead, making him a teenager would have meant he could eventually have taken over from Terry (as it was, the family tradition was maintained from the Daley side, with young Ray).  But since Minder was never a series with continuing threads, it’s no real surprise when Beryl’s husband, Ronnie (Dicken Ashworth), turns up, with Beryl not too far behind, both intent on reclaiming their boy.

If Ashworth’s size wasn’t enough to create a sinister impression, there’s also a sprinkling of stock music which helps to hammer this point home. Whenever Ronnie appears he’s accompanied by ominous-sounding music which tells us he’s a man who’s no stranger to violence. We’re never in any doubt that Terry will be able to deal with him (they have a cracking fight though) but Beryl and Peter’s fate is less certain.

The ending didn’t please everybody (one correspondent to the TV Times complained that it was “a poor man’s Kramer vs Kramer with slow motion and sentimental music”).  I’ve never minded it too much, although it’s easy to see why it wasn’t to everyone’s taste.

Beryl’s manipulation of Terry (raising his hopes for a while that Peter was his child) does seem somewhat cruel, although since Ronnie is a man who’s been violent to both his wife and son on numerous occassions, it’s not surprising that she’s acting a little erratically. But if Peter’s speaking the truth when he tells Terry this is the first time he’s left Warrington, how has Beryl coped on all the previous occassions when Ronnie became agressive?

Apart from a few quibbles about the script and the oversentimental ending, Not A Bad Lad, Dad engages, thanks to the partnership of Dennis Waterman and Warren O’Neill.

Minder – Don’t Tell Them Willie Boy Was Here


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.

Minder – You Lose Some, You Win Some

lose some

Professional gambler Maurice Michaelson (Anthony Valentine) has organised a group of ordinary punters who, under his instructions, intend to make a killing at the roulette table. Unfortunately for Maurice, casino boss Parsons (Leslie Schofield) is keeping tabs on him, which makes it essential he protects his team from Parsons’ intimidating ways.

Ever the good Samaritan, Arthur suggests that Terry’s flat would be the ideal place to keep them safe, although Terry – who had planned to spend some quality time alone with Penny (Ginnie Nevinson) – needs a little convincing ….

Following on from his S1 appearance in Aces High and Sometimes Very Low, Anthony Valentine makes a welcome return as Maurice (although sadly this would be the last we’d see of him).

Maurice has assembled together a mixed group of individuals who include the lovely Beth Morris as Jackie, the imposing Peggy Thorpe-Bates (probably best known as the long-suffering “She” – wife to Leo McKern’s Horace Rumpole) as Mrs Beecham and Ronald Leigh-Hunt (a very familiar television face) as Major Lampson.  And after appearing, uncredited, in Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette, Lynda Baron has a more substantial role – here she plays Sadie, a friend of Maurice’s long-suffering wife Maureen (Lesley Joseph).

Penny’s disdain for Arthur, and his manipulation of Terry, is made plain.  She tells Terry that “you never make any plans, you just drift around letting that Arthur con you out of your hard-earned wages”.  And when Arthur calls round to Terry’s flat, her antipathy is even more pronounced.  After she angrily tells Arthur that he needs Terry more than Terry needs him, Arthur responds derisively (George Cole on great form here).

Terry is adamant that he’s not interested in Arthur’s latest minding job, but it would be a rather short episode if that was the case.  So when Arthur mentions that there’s six hundred pounds in it for him, Terry starts to waver.  Arthur then explains the mathematics to him.  “Look, my agreement with Maurice is 10% of his 50%.  He reckons they can clear five grand a night, work it out for yourself.  No maybe not”.  For once it appears that Arthur’s not diddling him, Arthur’s 10% would work out as £1,500.00 – 60% for him and 40% for Terry.  Although you might want to wait until the end to see if Arthur keeps his word.

Once Terry’s togged out in a nice suit provided by Arthur (at a price of course) he’s able to start protecting his charges, although the odds seem to be against him.  How can he look after six people when they all go their separate ways at the end of the night?  This leads them to bunk up at Terry’s (luckily Arthur’s got a consignment of sleeping bags from the last Everest expedition!).  Poor Terry, he’s no match for Arthur.

There’s some nice comic moments during this section – from the Major’s bitter comment that he was more comfortable out in Kenya, fighting the Mau Mau, to Penny’s forced politeness as she takes the drinks order (tea, coffee and either a cocoa or hot chocolate, if possible).  Penny’s quiet week with Terry has suddenly become very crowded ….

When Terry sets out to find Maurice’s wife, Maureen (who’s disappeared) it’s Arthur who’s left in the flat, minding the punters.  He later bitterly remarks that even ‘Er ‘Indoors would be preferable to this.  There’s another lovely scene when Arthur attempts to wake Penny, who is occupying the sleeping bag next to him.  In her sleepy state she mistakes him for Terry and prepares to give him a fond embrace.  He mutters “geroff” whilst she reacts in horror once she wakes up!

Anthony Valentine’s on fine form as usual (since there was clearly more mileage in Maurice, it’s odd that he never appeared again).  Stock music makes an unwelcome comeback (it’s rather strident and electronic) as Terry and Maurice attempt to find Maureen.  And when Maurice finds himself getting a beating from Parsons’ goons there’s a touch more stock music (this time it all goes a bit funky).

Although the casino stuff is entertaining (especially when Terry tangles with – and bests – Parsons) the hunt for Maureen is a little less involving.  Not quite top tier then, but with a cast of familiar faces and Terry’s relationship with Penny placed under extreme pressure, the episode zips along nicely.

Minder – Whose Wife Is It Anyway?


When Arthur’s friend Alex Brompton (David Daker) is hospitalised after a hit-and-run accident, Arthur asks Terry to mind Alex’s antique shop.  It’s fair to say that Terry doesn’t hit it off with Jim (Alun Lewis), the shop’s co-owner and Alex’s partner ….

Tony Hoare’s script is very much of its time.  After meeting Jim, Terry’s convinced that he’s an iron (iron hoof = poof).

Terry: Listen, if you think I’m spending time in the same pad as that, you’ve got another think coming.
Arthur: What are you talking about, what’s wrong with him?
Terry: Leave it out, can’t you see?
Arthur: See? What is there to see? A perfectly charming young man. I mean he may not be one of the chaps …
Terry: Arthur, the geezer is a raving iron.
Arthur: Don’t be ridiculous, an iron?
Terry: Do I have to scream it?
Arthur: How’d you know he’s a poofter? How can you tell?
Terry: I can tell, believe me! Go on have another look. Don’t make it too obvious, eh?

Terry’s a thoughtful lad in other ways though, best demonstrated when he visits his gran (Molly Veness) to wish her a happy birthday.  Arthur pops by later with chocolates and flowers with the result that his presents end up overshadowing Terry’s own efforts!  Terry’s suitably narked although Arthur is defensive (“I didn’t know you bought her flowers as well”).  It’s a nice comic moment, even if it seems a little unlikely – after all Arthur only came by to pick up Terry, surely he’s too much of a tightwad to splash out on gifts for Terry’s gran for no good reason?

Back at the antiques shop, Terry tells Arthur that he’s “got nothing against irons, I just don’t want to live with one”.  Arthur tells him not to worry and if Jim does try any funny business “tell him you’re sorry but you’re normal.  Say it’ll upset your mum or something like that”.  Given that Jim’s somewhat effete, Terry hardly needs to worry about having to fight him off – it’s more that Terry is worried about his reputation.  What happens when it becomes known on the manor that he’s living with an iron?

Arthur finds it difficult to believe that his friend Alex (who he calls a real “man’s man”) could be involved with Jim.  But it quickly becomes plain that he is, which makes sense of his earlier comment that Jim’s his partner (not just in the business sense then) and that he’s no longer living with his wife.

Ironically, although Terry is uncomfortable around Jim whilst Arthur’s there, when Terry and Jim are by themselves (and especially after Terry’s enjoyed Jim’s cooking) he appears to be much more relaxed – although this may just be his professional instinct kicking in (possibly Alex’s injuries weren’t accidental and they may be connected to the apparent threats made against the shop).

Although the comedy and attitudes are politically incorrect (to say the least) there’s some undeniably funny moments.  When Jim and Terry visit a gay bar (although Terry seems to be totally oblivious about this) Terry runs into an acquaintance, Chas (David Auker), who congratulates him on his new choice of partner.  Terry’s not impressed ….

Even better is the moment when Jim comes into Terry’s room and wakes him up to apologises for his off-hand attitude.  He promises that things will be different from now on and lays a friendly hand on Terry’s knee.  This, of course, is the moment when Arthur chooses to walks in (George Cole’s expression is priceless!).

Tony Hoare wrote some of Minder‘s best episodes, but Whose Wife Is It Anyway? doesn’t fall into this category.  If the story been made today then probably Arthur and Terry would have been called upon to confront their prejudices.  This doesn’t happen here, meaning that their opinions (that gays are unnatural as well as predatory – always on the lookout to convert straight men) remain unchallenged.

Alun Lewis chose to play Jim in a low-key manner, rather than as a raving queen, which given some of the material was probably the right move – although this does mean that he ends up as a somewhat pallid character who never really engages.  The mystery part of the story feels rather tagged on as well.

But there’s a decent roof-top punch-up towards the end, featuring a heavy who’s concerned about the way that Terry’s grabbing his hair (“Please, I’ve only recently had a transplant. Would you mind not pulling it so hard?”).  An interesting time-capsule of the period then, but not one of the series’ best efforts.

Minder – National Pelmet


Terry is far from impressed with his latest minding job – a racehorse called Pelmet – but the sight of its attractive jockey, Jocelyn Maxwell-Saunders (Liza Goddard), softens the blow somewhat ….

National Pelmet, scripted by Willis Hall, was the first episode of Minder‘s second season and was originally broadcast on the 11th of September 1980.  It opens at a racecourse and after a couple of minutes of horsey colour we see Arthur and Terry emerging from a marquee.  Naturally, Arthur has entered into the spirit of things – he’s an absolute vision. decked out in wellingtons, binoculars, walking stick and a bow-tie.

Early on, the Arthur/Terry dynamic seems firmly slanted in the older man’s favour.  Arthur rubbishes Terry’s choice of a horse (“Lily Law?”) and advises him to stick his money on Spring Return.  Terry does so and it’s utterly predictable that Spring Return refuses the first fence whilst Lily Law (with Jocelyn onboard) romps home to an easy victory.

Arthur being Arthur, of course, is completely unabashed after leading Terry astray.  “If you have a fancy, a feeling in your water, stick to it. You shouldn’t listen to me, you should be strong-willed in this world, Terry. Implacable, like me”.

Arthur has two gross of 100% genuine reproduction statuettes of Milton (“Paradise Lost, Paradise Got Back”) and believes that his well-healed contact Jeremy Burnham-Jones (Robert Swann) will be able to help him shift them (Jeremy has an antiques shop in Brighton).   And since Jeremy has a racehorse called Pelmet which he wants protected before the big race, Arthur sees a way to kill two birds with one stone.

En-route to Brighton on the train, there’s a telling non-verbal moment which suggests that Terry’s not always going to be a pushover.  Arthur and Terry visit the buffet car and Arthur asks for a couple of light-ales and sandwiches.  After Arthur’s been told the price, he looks encouragingly at Terry who ignores him, forcing Arthur to find the money himself.  This is very underplayed – there’s no outward change in either of their expressions – but it’s a good character moment nonetheless.

As they settle back into their seats, Arthur – always a nostalgic – bemoans the fact that luxury rail travel is now a thing of the past.  At one point, he tells Terry, all the famous theatrical knights would be on the London to Brighton train – but not any more.  “Can you see Johnny Gielgud, Sir Johnny Gielgud no less, with his light ale slopping around in his plastic beaker while he stuffs an individual fruit pie into his north and south?”  Simply glorious.

There’s plenty of comedy to be mined from Terry’s reluctant guarding of Pelmet – from the fact that the horse is rather flatulent, to the way that Terry accidentally eats food prepared for one of the other horses (which has a dose of laxatives included!)  It’s not subtle but it passes the time nicely enough.  Indeed, National Pelmet is a story that’s low on incident and action – we’re more than thirty minutes in before the mysterious stranger who’s been keeping tabs on the stables – Brickett (Ken Hutchinson) – makes a move and attacks Terry.

The ensuing fight is brief but thanks to the combination of straw from the stable and an overturned lamp, it creates a fire which wakes everybody up and moves the story up a gear.  But it later becomes clear that this is something of a cheat – Brickett isn’t interested in Pelmet, he’s the ex-husband of stable-girl Rita (Jane Carr) and although they’re now divorced he’s still following her around the country, attacking anybody who even speaks to her.

From the first time we meet her, Rita is clearly shown to be interested in Terry, but he’s utterly dismissive of her.  Given Terry’s insatiable interest in the opposite sex this is a little difficult to fathom – possibly Rita was written as a more dowdy character but as Jane Carr isn’t unattractive and plays Rita as a perfectly pleasant young woman it makes Terry’s indifference and cutting remarks seem rather cruel.

When Terry and Rita confront Brickett, it gives her the chance to explain exactly what the situation is – which she does most forcibly.  Carr delivers this impassioned monologue very well (Rita’s ex-husband turned overnight from a normal chap into a religious maniac) although this sudden lurch into drama seems a little out of place with the light-hearted tone of the rest of the episode.

You might have expected that Jocelyn, especially given the casting of Liza Goddard, would have played a larger role in the story but she’s somewhat of a peripheral figure.

It doesn’t take a mind-reader to guess what will happen when, towards the end of the story, Arthur confidentially predicts that Pelmet is a dead-cert.  This time Terry is wiser (especially after having witnessed Jeremy placing all his money on the second favourite) and puts his bet elsewhere.  Jocelyn falls off (a blatant dive) which means that Arthur’s lost a bundle whilst Terry’s emerged ahead for once.

When we learn that Jeremy and Jocelyn are an item, all becomes clear.  This surprises Terry who’d tagged Jeremy as gay (Terry’s hostility towards anybody he considers to be “queer” is one of his less attractive traits in these early stories).  It’s slightly unexpected that Jocelyn turned out to be a wrong ‘un, but since she wasn’t too developed a character it’s not the jolt it could have been.

Arthurs’ incurable optimism can be seen at the end, in my favourite scene from the story.  Arthur’s still lumbered with his Milton statuettes but he has a plan – paint them blue and white and they can be sold as Chelsea footballers!  When Terry points out that Milton’s a famous poet with a book in his hand, Arthur has a ready answer.  “FA handbook, innit?”

Possibly not the tightest script that Minder ever had, but Willis Hall’s first contribution managed to easily nail the Arthur/Terry relationship and if that’s right then it’s possible to forgive a slightly humdrum story.

Gideon’s Way – The Firebug


Tom Bishop (George Cole) is a man with a secret.  Outwardly he appears to be just another normal member of society, but he’s responsible for starting a number of fires in abandoned buildings.  After his wife and daughter were killed in a recent fire, Bishop has found himself driven to become an arsonist – in this way he hopes to demonstrate just how deadly and dangerous fire can be.  But events take a tragic turn when his latest arson attack kills fours squatters and badly injures a police officer.  But after the initial shock of learning of the fatalities, Bishop only becomes more and more obsessed to carry on  ….

Before finding his niche as Arthur Daley, George Cole seemed to spend a lot of his time playing flawed characters – people who seemed to be normal on the surface but were disturbed or homicidal underneath.  Other examples include the UFO episode Flight Path and Return of the Saint‘s The Armageddon Alternative.  Bishop fits into this pattern perfectly – his landlady regards him as a nice, quiet man but there’s clearly something slightly off-kilter about him.

The way he clutches his daughter’s doll (and the fact that it shows obvious fire damage) is a sign that something’s not quite right.  It’s the only tangible thing he has of hers – which makes it precious – but it’s also an indicator that he remains tied to the past and unable to proceed with his life.  In this way he’s not too dissimilar from Max Fischer (The State Visit) although Bishop is a much darker character.  Max had murder on his mind, but he didn’t carry it out: whereas Bishop finds himself caught in a spiral of destruction.  Although he never intended to kill anybody at first – he only set fires in buildings that he thought were empty – once his arson addiction has taken hold he finds it impossible to stop.  Whilst his shock at discovering the latest fire killed four people is evident, he’s quickly able to rationalise what’s happened and decides the innocent will have to continue to die, as only in that way will action be taken by the authorities.

George Cole is excellent throughout the episode, especially during the scene where he tells his landlady how his family died.  “There was all these people in the street. I didn’t realise at first it was my house, then I saw the fire engine. It was all over by then, the fire was out. The fireman were very nice, very kind. We looked, looked all through the ashes. All we ever found was Carrie’s doll.”

There’s obviously a sombre tone to this one, but there are a few touches of levity – centring around Gideon’s second in command, David Keen.  His eye for the ladies, something of a running gag throughout the series, is mentioned yet again and there’s also a nice comic moment when Gideon insists he finds a bike in order to examine the area of the latest fire in more detail.  He commanders one from a child (who rather reluctantly gives it up) and later makes his report to Gideon, who then looks askance at the fact he’s standing in his office still wearing bicycle clips!

Gideon decides that Bishop has to be the guilty party, since his house was the first to be destroyed in the recent wave of fires.  The audience knows that he’s right of course, but this is rather thin evidence – not that it stops the police plastering Bishop’s photograph on the front cover of the newspapers (“have you seen this man?”).  Just as well they had the right man then.

It’s slightly hard to accept that Bishop’s character devolves so quickly that by the end of the episode he’s driving around London on a scooter, lobbing sticks of dynamite about.  But the chase around the streets does give us the chance to yet again marvel about how few cars were about.  Truly it was a different age.


Return of the Saint – The Armageddon Alternative

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Simon is abducted by a masked man and driven to an unknown location.  He’s shown an atomic bomb and the man tells him (via pre-recorded taped messages) that unless his demands are met the bomb will be detonated in the heart of London.

The mystery man’s demands are quite simple – he wants Lynn Jackson (Anouska Hempel) to be guillotined in public.  He gives Simon and the authorities until early evening to accede to his request – and in order to prove he’s serious, a conventional explosion will be set off every hour, on the hour ….

The Armageddon Alternative is a somewhat flawed story and the flaws are apparent from the pre-credits sequence.  Why does the masked man never speak?  The logical answer is that he’s a member of a team and the taped messages were recorded by somebody else.  Alas, logic has rather taken a holiday in this episode.

Simon later explains that the voice was recorded in order to disguise it (otherwise he would have instantly known who it was).  But that makes no sense – as soon as we hear the tape it’s obviously George Cole putting a funny voice on.  And when we see Fred (George Cole) a few minutes later it hardly takes a nuclear scientist to put two and two together.

Fred looks after the cars in Simon’s block of flats and is clearly the last person in the world you’d assume would be in possession of an atom bomb or have the skill to use it.  The mid episode reveal that he’s responsible should be a shocking twist – but it’s no surprise at all.  This possibly isn’t the fault of Terence Feeley’s teleplay though.  He would no doubt have assumed that director Leslie Norman (father of Barry) would be able to effectively disguise Cole’s voice.

What is a mystery is why Fred should want a gorgeous young woman like Lynn executed.  Although when it’s revealed that her father, Professor Loder (Frank Gatliff), is the Government’s chief psychiatric vetting officer, things begin to fall into place.  It seems obvious that someone who Loder filed a negative report against has decided to take the most drastic of revenge.

A likely suspect is Parkinson (Gordon Gostelow).  He turns out to be innocent, but takes a perverse delight in stringing Simon and the police along.  It’s a nice cameo from Gostelow who plays unhinged very well.  Indeed, the cast here is very strong – George Cole is his usual dependable self, whilst Anouska Hempel is also very watchable.  True, she’s not the strongest-drawn female character that ROTS has ever offered us, but Hempel manages to make something out of nothing.

Although laughs are thin on the ground, there was one (although I’m not sure whether it was intentional).  When Simon is kidnapped, he asks the man a question and amazingly the next thing on the tape is an answer to the question!  This is either an incredibly sloppy piece of scripting or a good joke.  It does rather bring to mind the Monty Python sketch featuring Michael Palin as a barber who has an uncontrollable fear of cutting hair though.

Great cast, but as the identity of the bomber is blown before we see the opening credits I can only give it two and a half halos out of five.

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Minder – You Gotta Have Friends


Billy Gilpin (David Buck) is a wanted man.  The police want to question him about the attempted murder of Lord Ingrave, whilst local villain Bobby Altman (George Baker) is also keen to track him down.  Billy worked for Altman and has absconded with seventy thousand pounds worth of bearer bonds.

As Terry gave Billy a lift, that makes him an object of interest for both the police and Altman.  The police are fairly easy to deal with but the barely stable Altman is another matter.  He’s convinced that Billy gave Arthur the bonds and issues a stark ultimatum – if Arthur doesn’t return them, his life expectancy will be very short.

Moments of levity are few and far between in You Gotta Have Friends.  They mostly occur at the start, as we see a very drunken Arthur making his way home after a night spent with his friends at the Lodge.  He’s accosted by Billy who urgently needs a ride out of town.  Arthur’s in no fit state to drive (some lovely drunk acting from Cole in this scene) but he knows just the man – Terry, of course.  It may be the middle of the night, and Terry’s rather preoccupied with the lovely young Valerie, but this doesn’t really register with Arthur.

After this, things take a darker turn when Terry’s picked up by the police for questioning the following day.  In the years to come he probably would have been quizzed by either Chisholm or Rycott and that would pre-condition the viewer to know that nothing particularly serious is going to happen.  But here we have the more imposing form of D.I. Barnett (Allan Surtees).

Although Terry’s never really in serious trouble, it’s the tone of the scenes at the station which feel different from similar moments from later series.  The bleak, whitewashed walls do seem to have a more oppressive feeling here.  Even Terry’s temporary cell-mate, Whaley (a decent cameo from Roy Kinnear), might not be all that he appears.  On the surface, Whaley looks like a friendly chap, genuinely interested in Terry’s plight – but is he one of Barnett’s tame grasses, there to act as a possible prosecution witness?  We never find out for sure, so Terry may just be acting a little paranoid (possibly brought on by his brief confinement).

George Baker is imposing and powerful as Bobby Altman.  His meeting with Terry demonstrates he has trouble keeping his temper under control.  This, together with his group of minders (including Brian Hall and Prentis Hancock), give us an early indication that he won’t be a pushover.  When Altman tells Terry that he’s going to kill Arthur, we believe him.  And whilst Terry could easily take the older Altman, he’s told quite plainly that with the superior numbers on his side, Altman would always emerge victorious.

There’s a fairly heavy use of library music in this episode and since most of the cues tend to be dramatic and suspenseful ones, that simply adds to the tension.

Later, Altman abducts Arthur and gives him one more chance to tell him where the bonds are.  As Arthur doesn’t have them he can’t do this – but Altman has long since passed the point of reason.  A health-fanatic, he forces Arthur to go for a jog with him and pushes him to the point of collapse.  When Terry rescues him, it’s slightly played for laughs, but before this it’s another disturbing scene.

Luckily for Arthur, Terry arrives in the nick of time with the bonds, which had been in the possession of Lady Ingrave (Deborah Grant).  Despite their mis-matched backgrounds, she was in love with Billy and the pair planned to disappear together (although his death – he’s later fished out of the river – puts paid to that).

The Arthur/Terry dynamic is quite obviously what makes Minder work.  Arthur might be self-centered and manipulative, but there has to be some kernel of respect between the two of them – otherwise the series simply wouldn’t work.  This is demonstrated when Terry finds a barely-conscious Arthur, with Altman towering above him.  He hands over the bonds, but has no hesitation is aiming a well-thrown punch in Altman’s direction, knocking him down.

Honour is therefore satisfied.  Altman’s got his bonds back, but Terry’s struck a blow for his friend.  And despite the power (and man-power) Bobby Altman has, he knows that this is one time he should walk away.

You Gotta Have Friends brought the first series of Minder to a conclusion.  It would be Leon Griffiths’ last script for a few years, due to ill-health, but he’d set up a very firm foundation which ensured that the many writers who followed in his footsteps would have plenty to work with.

Minder – The Dessert Song


Terry and Arthur rescue a Greek-Cypriot called Charlie (Peter Bland) who was being attacked in the street by three men.  They take him back to a restaurant, run by his cousin Christina (Diane Keen), who although initially unwelcoming later seeks Arthur’s help.

She tells him she’s being hounded by Omar (Godfrey James) – the brother of Christina’s late husband, who wants to take over the running of the restaurant.  Arthur’s rather taken with Christina and agrees that Terry will keep an eye on the place.  But things turn out to be slightly more complicated than they first appear …..

One notable thing about The Dessert Song is that all the actors playing Greeks – Diane Keen, Godfrey James, Peter Bland, Daniel Hill (as Johnny) and Michael Angelis (as Nick, the waiter) – are British.  It was common enough during this era of British television, as the pool of ethnic actors was much smaller than today, but it is a little distracting.

Still, it’s always a pleasure to see Diane Keen (one of those actresses who was ever-present during the Seventies and Eighties) and it’s plain that Arthur’s equally taken with Christina.  Just one episode after his misadventure with Sharon, he seems prepared to make a play for Christina’s affections.  Although it’s probable that her restaurant is more appealing to him than she is!

Once Terry is installed as the restaurant’s minder, Arthur’s quick to take advantage – dropping in for a meal (on the house, of course) and delighting in ordering Terry about.  Understandably, Terry doesn’t appreciate this, nor does he really like having to wear a shirt and tie.

Peter Bland is rather endearing as Charlie.  He appears to be harmless, if a little eccentric, but things take a strange turn when he pulls a gun on Terry and Arthur.  Luckily, no harm is done – he’s come to England to right an old family wrong and doesn’t mean them any harm – and Christina resolves to put him on the next plane back to Cyprus.  But the conniving Johnny is easily able to manipulate him into attempting to kill Omar – which means that once again Terry has to wade in and save the day.

Terry and Arthur are slightly less prominent in this episode, although Terry has some decent fight scenes and even Arthur manages to be proactive (trapping Johnny in a telephone box).  The banter between the pair of them (Terry ribbing Arthur about his interest in Christina, Arthur treating Terry like a waiter – clicking his fingers and asking for a menu!) is, as ever, top notch.

The first of twelve episodes written by Andrew Payne (including the feature-length Minder on the Orient Express from 1985) The Dessert Song might feel a little inconsequential (there’s no impressive bad guys – Omar’s quite a reasonable chap after all and Johnny’s obviously no match for Terry) but it’s still an entertaining fifty minutes.

Minder – Monday Night Fever


Arthur is convinced that Sharon Dobbs (Sheila White) is a singing sensation just waiting to be discovered.  He’s so enamoured of her, both personally and professionally, that he hands over six hundred pounds to Chris Lambert (Eric Deacon).  Lambert runs a local nightclub and tells Arthur he’ll use his record business contacts to invite some top people down to hear her sing.

But the evening ends in disaster for Sharon (a combination of the sparse audience’s disinterest and her own flat singing) and Arthur (when he realises that Chris has conned him).  Arthur demands that Terry goes round to give him a spanking and retrieve his money, but Terry refuses.  Those days, he says, are over – since it’s a certain way to ensure he goes back inside.  So Arthur fires Terry and seeks an alternative …..

Whilst Monday Night Fever has some gags, at heart it’s a very bleak tale.  And the bleakness mostly revolves around Arthur as it shows us just how out of touch and insignificant he is.  He blithely assumes he’ll be able to get Sharon engagements at all the top West End nightclubs – only to be told by Terry that they all shut down a decade or so earlier.  His portrayal as yesterday’s man is reinforced when he later tells Terry that he’s still a respected man around the manor.  In a few drinking clubs and car auctions maybe, says Terry, but nowhere else.

Arthur’s relationship with Sharon is the most intriguing part of the story.  He’s clearly attracted to her (although he reacts strongly to Terry’s label of her as the “singing scrubber”).  We see them kiss and after he’s thrown out of his house by ‘Er ‘Indoors, he even floats the possibility of them moving into a flat together.  But this, just like his promise to her that he’ll be able to use his contacts to get her a record deal, is nothing but a pipe dream.

There doesn’t seem to be anything malicious or exploitative in his relationship with her.  He does seem to genuinely believe she’s talented (although he’s in a minority there) and thanks to his deluded belief in his own importance once he’s told her that he’s a connected man in the business, he can’t back down.

This leads him to Chris Lambert, who cons the usually astute Arthur very easily.  Maybe this is because he’s outside of his comfort zone – if it was dodgy jeans or perfume then he’d drive a hard bargain, but Sharon’s clearly impairing his judgement.

Sheila White gives a nice performance as the seemingly innocent and naive Sharon.  She appears to have genuine affection for Arthur, but later we see her shacked up with a keyboard player who’s offered to show her some chromatic scales.  This suggests that like everyone else she’s used Arthur for her own ends.  Her singing had to tread a delicate path between being slightly off-key, but not so bad that Arthur’s interest in her would strain credibility.  And it works, just!

Arthur and Terry’s falling-out is another key part of the story.  It demonstrates that, despite Terry’s protests, he does have genuine affection for Arthur (his girlfriend Penny reminds him that he’s mentioned how he looks upon him as a father figure).  So when Arthur enlists the unstable Vic Piner (Anthony Heaton) to help him get his money back from Lambert, Terry can’t sit on the sidelines.  As Dave says, if things go wrong then Arthur will be in the frame for conspiracy to murder.

As might be expected, all is sorted out in the end and Arthur and Terry are reconciled (once Terry’s felled Vic with a single punch).  He may have lost the girl, some of his money and everything from his lockup but at least he’s got his minder back.