Minder was devised by writer Leon Griffiths as a vehicle for Dennis Waterman after his success in The Sweeney. George Cole's wheeler-dealer character is almost secondary, with Arthur assigning Terry a new "minding" job in each episode. A number of early episodes focus on Terry in such assignments, with Arthur remaining in the background. However, as the comedy potential of Cole's dodgy-dealing character emerged, as well as the successful on-screen pairing of Waterman and Cole (which proved to be one of the series' most popular elements), the emphasis increasingly focused more on Arthur's exploits, and by a few series into the show's life, typical plots revolved more around Arthur's latest shady scams instead of some of the more "gritty" plots of Terry's minding jobs.
Despite its eventual success, Minder was a slow burner, not helped by being delayed by a nine-week technicians' strike which effectively blacked out the ITV network. In the light of initially poor viewing figures, management at Thames were intent on scrapping the show but managing director Bryan Cowgill persuaded them to commission one further series and repeat the first. Both attracted much larger audiences and by series 3, the show had become a major hit, and at its peak was often cited as the jewel in ITV's Drama crown.
Terry is a former professional boxer who has served time in prison (Wormwood Scrubs) ("two years for GBH and three for attempted robbery" according to a police sergeant in the first episode, "Gunfight at the OK Laundrette", although other episodes slightly contradict this and the overall charges are often quite vague), having served a substantial term because he would not become an informant against his co-accused. With few options, Terry is employed as Arthur's minder on vague and ungenerous terms, with it often being hinted that Arthur has manipulated him into this job, and indeed is seen to continue to manipulate Terry throughout the character's run in the series, despite his often attempting to find other means of employment and break free from Arthur's control. (The later feature-length special "An Officer and a Car Salesman", which leads into Series 7, Terry's last stint in the series, begins with Terry once again inside, this time after being caught with some of Arthur's hookey merchandise).
In the title sequence, Arthur is shown meeting Terry at the prison gates following his release. He drives a white Ford Capri, although it is never made clear whether Terry had bought the vehicle from Arthur, hence their meeting, or if Arthur had given to Terry this car as part of their ensuing working deal, in the same manner as the flat that Arthur houses Terry in. (Terry drives a copper coloured Capri in some mid-run episodes, and a silver Capri in several others, and the exact model is seen to vary between different episodes). Terry enjoys a drink but usually responsibly, does not smoke and has an eye for the ladies. Despite his incarceration, he is honest, trustworthy and loyal, particularly to Arthur, although the scrapes that Arthur lands him in make him wonder why. He is intelligent and streetwise enough to disperse situations that his role as minder often lands himself - and Arthur or those around him - in, although at the same time is seen not to be strong willed enough to break free of Arthur's often devious ways of keeping their working relationship in place.
Arthur is a mid-level professional criminal of rather mature years, a minor con man eternally involved in dodgy dealings and usually seen puffing Castella Panatella cigars. In the series 3 episode "In", we discover from a German police officer reading Arthur's file that Arthur served 18 months in prison during the 1950s, although we do not learn what for. It is revealed in the episode "The Balance of Power" that Arthur's middle name is Edward.
Arthur typically drives an upmarket car, beginning with a silver Jaguar XJ6 4.2 Series II. In the latter part of Series 3, Arthur has changed over to a silver Mercedes 280E and in Series 4 he drives a Portland beige Daimler Sovereign 4.2 Series III. Series 7 again sees Arthur driving a silver Jaguar XJ6. As a used-car salesman, it is not surprising that Arthur occasionally makes use of other cars. In the Series 3 episode "Broken Arrow", he uses a Ford Granada Mk.II. However, due to an accident, this car has to go in for repair and Arthur is forced to borrow a friend's customised Chevrolet Corvette C3 Stingray that he is trying to sell. Also in Series 3, Arthur uses a brown Jaguar XJR in the episodes "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" and "Looking for Micky". In the Series 7 episode "It's a Sorry Lorry, Morrie!", Arthur is down on his luck and has to resort to driving a clapped-out mustard yellow Ford Granada Mk.II. In the episode "A Nice Little Wine" Daley drives, in order to test, a pale blue Rover SD1. In the special episode "An Officer and a Car Salesman", Arthur has moved up in the world and drives a yellow Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.
He survives by his wiles and self-belief, and exploits everyone, especially Terry. He is always trying to make a quick few quid and his schemes usually backfire and leave him either in debt to local underworld figures, or with his activities coming under the scrutiny of the police (or often a combination of both) - with Terry ultimately being left to sort out the mess and get him out of trouble. Arthur thinks of himself as an "entrepreneur", but his tailored three-piece suits, Jaguar and social affectations do not disguise his working class accent and origins. Arthur tests Terry's patience with dishonest and doomed schemes to make money ("nice little earners"), then uses his cunning to persuade Terry to stay with him. In the same way, Arthur manipulates friends such as Dave, the barman (and part owner with Arthur) of the private, if downmarket, "Winchester Club". Arthur refers to his wife, who never appeared, as "'er indoors"; the implication that she is a fierce and formidable woman is reinforced by the appearance of actress Claire Davenport (famous for such roles) as her sister. Arthur is not above bending the law and sometimes attracts the keen attention of the local police. Despite being the one who we know has served time (Arthur having served time as well but this is only mentioned in one episode (Series 3, episode 13, "In") and no further reference is made) it is Terry who serves as the show’s moral conscience, keeping Arthur from straying too far outside the law and persuading him to do the right thing whether Arthur likes it or not. The name Arthur Daley has become synonymous with a dishonest salesman or small-time crook.
With Arthur's dodgy schemes, the duo encounter undesirable underworld figures, many of whom Arthur deals with and many of whom turn nasty, leaving Terry to fight and outwit their way out of trouble. But for all Arthur's obsession with get-rich-quick schemes, he is never malicious, usually simply being blinded by greed, and the pair often end up putting some other wrong right or helping others in need or who have been done wrong by, even if it proves to be Arthurs's Achilles' heel to his latest scheme fully succeeding. Most of Arthur's schemes fail in the end, owing to his greediness, but he does occasionally have the odd minor victory and puts one over on the law or more serious criminals.
Arthur's favourite drink was a large Vodka and tonic, which was referred to as a "large V.A.T", a wordplay on Value Added Tax (the UK tax on sales).
As the series progressed, the focus shifted to feature Terry and Arthur more evenly, with more screen time to Arthur and his dealings. Barman Dave (whose last name was given on a couple of occasions as Harris) at first made only occasional appearances, but the rapport between Arthur, Terry and Dave also become popular and by the second series he too was given more screen time: In Series 7, the final series to feature Dennis Waterman as Terry and thus the last to feature the original opening credits, the sequence was modified very slightly to include shots of Terry, Arthur and Dave at the Winchester, giving Edwards his own billing (previously he had been credited amongst the guest cast).
The tone of the programme in series one and two, and much of series three, mixed poignant drama and action sequences with offbeat comic moments, and many of these tales had a grittier feel to them than the more light-hearted storylines that would go on to be more familiar. As the series progressed over 15 years, more emphasis was placed on the comedic aspects of the minder-principal relationship, and the show became more a comedy driven by a dramatic plot. Social satire played a strong part throughout the series, grounded in the cinematic and social ethos of the 1980s. In the earlier series, Terry would succeed in seducing a 'dolly bird', resulting in at least one scene of female semi-nudity per average episode, though as the series became more popular these instances were reduced (and some repeat viewings, even those post-watershed, toned such scenes down). Although always an element of the series, the fights - common and brutal in early episodes - were also toned down and became less frequent.
Another significant element of the series were the subplots typically found in a Minder episode. Although subplots weren't necessarily found in all of the episodes, they were found in most and usually consisted of one of Arthur's dodgy deals, Terry's minding jobs and/or favours done for friends and in a few instances involved the police tackling particular cases.
The series has a number of parallels with long-running BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses, with both being set in London and involving lovable dodgy dealers with endless get-rich-quick schemes that invariably backfire and get them into trouble (and both of whom tried to make out to be of a higher status than they really were), and both having a blend of comedy and drama. Indeed, Only Fools and Horses creator / writer John Sullivan claimed that one of the ways he persuaded the BBC to commission the series was by pointing to the success of ITV's Minder, which had begun the previous year. After both having lukewarm starts, both series went on to become huge hits, and share much of the same fan base. At Christmas 1985, specials of Only Fools and Horses and Minder were scheduled against each other, angering many viewers (in the days before video recorders were commonplace in many UK homes).
The theme tune, "I Could Be So Good for You", was released on 13 October 1980 and originally written in 1979 by Gerard Kenny and Patricia Waterman and sung by Dennis Waterman, the official credits of Kenny/Waterman often lead people to mis-credit Dennis as co-writer. The record reached No.3 in the UK charts in November 1980 and led Waterman to tour as a singer. Dennis Waterman also sang the theme songs to other programmes he starred in, including On the Up, Stay Lucky, and New Tricks, and this led to a parody in Little Britain where Dennis Waterman is offered acting work; he always assumes he will also "write the theme tune, sing the theme tune...".
Glasgow band Attic Lights re-worked the theme for the 2009 series.
Writer Gerard Kenny has also released his own version of the song, appearing on his 1994 album "Time Between The Time". A live version of the song sung in duet between Gerard Kenny and Dennis Waterman was released on 1997's "The Best of Gerard Kenny - The Singles" album. Also, in 2004, Kenny released yet another album called "Coming Home" which featured a "chilled" (and slower) recording of the song as its opening track.
The show's opening credit sequence shows the Arthur Daley and Terry McCann characters negotiating over the sale of the white Ford Capri interspersed with still photos of the two main characters, highlighting Terry's credentials as a retired boxer and ex-convict, this presumably symbolising the characters' first meeting and the terms of their partnership. During the Dennis Waterman era, the closing credits consisted of a number of black and white (with blue tint) still photographs of Arthur and Terry together outside famous London landmarks, and a few hinting of (unseen) previous escapades typical of a standard episode plot. In the later Gary Webster series, this changed to Arthur and Ray walking along Southend Pier, over a mile long: at the end Arthur realises he has left his lighter at the other end of the pier and they start to walk back to find it.
Given the nature of Arthur's activities, he was always in the spotlight of the local police and crossed paths with several regular and occasional characters:
DS Albert Chisholm; Detective Sergeant Albert "Cheerful Charlie" Chisholm (played by Patrick Malahide) made a brief appearance in the first episode and appeared in another 23 episodes in the first six series. Chisholm frequently arrested Arthur, but was not clever enough to make charges stick. Beginning in Series 3, he was accompanied by:
DC/DS 'Taff' Jones; (Michael Povey), a Welsh policeman. Although, not seeming particularly bright on first sight, Jones often proved sharper (though only mildly) than his superior, and was quietly amused by Arthur's frequent humiliation of Chisholm, even occasionally going into the Winchester for a social drink, away from Chisholm's domination. He tolerated the put-downs of his senior officer with 'Celtic willpower and a morbid fear of unemployment'. Jones was promoted to Detective Sergeant in Series 7, with DC MacDonald (Robin Cameron) as his assistant.
DC/DS Ronald Rycott; Detective Constable Ronald "Kenny" Rycott (played by Peter Childs) made his first appearance in Episode 3, "The Smaller They Are". Rycott previously had a 'spot of bother', which prevented him from rising through the ranks, although, he later became a Detective Sergeant. A lone figure, not afraid of violent situations and more than willing to do a bit of "freelance" work, he was frequently on the edge of a nervous attack as Arthur slipped through his fingers. Rycott appeared in another 14 episodes up to the end of Series 7. His regular assistant was:
DC Melish; (Michael Troughton). DC Melish was, like DC Jones, mainly amused at Arthur's activities.
Many episodes in the first seven series featured either Chisholm and Jones or Rycott and Mellish, and the two pairs sometimes appeared together, emphasizing the professional rivalry between them, much to the annoyance of their superior officer, Detective (Chief) Inspector Norton (Tony Caunter). This rivalry reached fever pitch in the episode "Around the Corner" (which closed Series 5) when all four officers, in two cars, crashed head-on whilst attempting to arrest Arthur and Terry. D.I. Norton's subsequent comments were scathing. Although Norton's appearances were always brief, they demonstrated the personal nature of Chisholm's and Rycott's campaigns. In the Series 6 episode "From Fulham with Love", Norton appears for less than a minute, but spends that entire appearance denouncing Chisholm for his "personal vendetta against Arthur Daley".
In the feature-length, "An Officer and a Car Salesman" that preceded series 7, Chisholm was written out (he was seen to have taken a job as a security officer), and Jones was promoted to D.S. Although, he took over the probing of Arthur's plots, he was less hell-bent on nabbing him, finding most of Arthur's schemes humorous.
New police officers appeared from Series 8:
DS Michael Morley; (Nicholas Day) DS Michael Morley was also a highly driven officer, but tempered with a sense of humour that Chisholm lacked. He also failed to make charges against Arthur stand up in court. His assistants were:
DC Park; (Stephen Tompkinson). DC Johnny Park was openly amused at Arthur and Ray's activities, but knew his duty, as did
DC Field; DC Field (Jonty Stephens) was a conscientious officer but occasionally did Arthur a good turn when he deserved it (which was rare).
DS Rogerson; (James Warrior). DS Richard Rogerson was a loyal and tenacious 'old school' officer. On occasion, he even assisted Ray to prove that Arthur was innocent of police charges.
Arthur's world was mainly populated by petty crooks, 'tea leaves', 'fences' and those happy to quickly turn over dodgy goods, usually (but not always) without violence. They included such memorable characters as 'Mournful Morris', 'Self Inflicted Sid', 'Freddy, the Fly', 'Scotch Harry', 'Pongo Harris' and 'Dipso Pete'. As the seasons progressed, the guest stars became more prestigious, including Michael Kitchen as 'Maltese Tony', and the last season starring Cole and Waterman featured Billy Connolly playing Tick-tack, a bookie and grifter, Brian Blessed as DI Dyer, Ian McShane as gangster Jack Last and Roy Kinnear as Fat Charlie.
Recurring characters included Des (George Layton) (series 1-3), a back-street mechanic friend of Terry's who was friendly and likable, but not beyond car theft when called for; stripper Debbie Mitchell (Diana Malin) and air stewardess Penny (Gennie Nevinson), both recurring girlfriends of Terry's; Ray Winstone as mechanic Arnie (series 4-7, conceived as a replacement for George Layton's Des and as dim as Des was sharp); and wide boy Justin James (Mark Farmer) (series 5-7), who idolised Arthur and aspired to be like him, seeing him as a kind of godfather. Royce Mills also starred as Arthur's financial advisor, Andrew, whose character appeared in a number of episodes across several series.
At its peak, the show was one of ITV's most popular programmes, even repeats pulling in over 10 million viewers. The highest rated episode was 1984's "Second Hand Pose", clocking up 16.4 million viewers. In 2005, Arthur Daley came second in ITV's 50th anniversary poll to find its favourite TV characters.
As well as heavy use of leading British actors, other features were Arthur's constant rhyming slang and other misquoted sayings (one being "the world is your lobster" and "I had a dream"), the derelict sites used as locations, and the episode titles, which contained references to films (e.g. "Gunfight at the O.K. Launderette", "Monday Night Fever", "National Pelmet", "The Beer Hunter", "Days of Fines and Closures", "The Wrong Goodbye" and "Guess Who's Coming to Pinner?").
The show was a number of times said to have come to its end, only to reappear. For example, in 1984, TV Times reported that series 5 would be the last. In 1985, it again seemed as if that the current series was the last one, and it was off-air (bar repeats) for three years, to reappear in 1988. This series appeared to be the last as Dennis Waterman announced his departure at the end of its run. However, after a two-and-a-half-year break, the show was back again for a further two-and-a-half-year run, which ended with the tenth series in 1994.
The series inspired a hit single, "Arthur Daley (E's Alright!)" by The Firm, which made the UK Top 20 in 1982. George Cole and Dennis Waterman released a Christmas record in 1983 called "What are We Gonna Get 'Er Indoors?" which reached No. 21 in the charts. The duo performed it on Top of the Pops on 22 December 1983.
In 1989, after filming the seventh series, Waterman announced he had left the series, feeling that the character had run its course, and that it was becoming harder for the writers to come up with plots as sharp as the series had been accustomed to. This seemed to signify the end, but the series made another return in 1991, with another character replacing Terry. Waterman's final broadcast episode, Series 7's coincidentally titled "The Wrong Goodbye", had closed as a standard episode, filmed before Waterman's announcement that he was to leave and so with no clue as to Terry's forthcoming departure. In the opening episode of series 8, "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Entrepreneur", Arthur finds Terry (unseen in the episode) had married and emigrated to Australia to finally escape his influence. At the same time, he is stuck with looking after his nephew Ray Daley (Gary Webster), at the request of Arthur's brother to give him employment and keep him out of trouble.
With Terry out of the scene, local undesirables start to muscle in on Arthur, but it soon emerges that Ray is able to handle himself in a fight, and indeed in a tight situation, and Arthur appoints him his new "minder". Ray was portrayed as smarter, having good intelligence and education ("O" Level French and Woodwork) as well as being able to fight (instances of which, by this stage, were far less frequent and far less graphic than seen in the show's early episodes). He was also a snappy dresser, typically seen in designer suits, and not a heavy drinker, usually seen sipping mineral water or soft drink. Ray did not have a regular car and was usually lumbered with the beaten up old blue Ford Transit from Arthur's lock-up.
The original theme tune was replaced by a rock-style instrumental version, credited to "Kenny" (Gerard Kenny). By this stage, the rough and ready elements of the early series had been toned down, concentrating on the comedic aspects of Arthur's dodgy dealings. Waterman praised Gary Webster for fitting into the series, but was vocal in his comments that the series was no longer about a minder and that the re-vamped version should go under a different title, reflecting its orientation almost solidly around Arthur.
Other new characters in this revamped version were Sidney Livingstone as Bert Daley, Arthur's gullible, over-trusting brother (and Ray's father), who views Arthur as a successful businessman and not a con-man and entrusts Ray into his care; Bert's wife and Ray's mum, Doreen (Lill Roughley); and Ray's recurring girlfriend Gloria (Emma Cunningham), who is frustrated with Ray being torn between her and Arthur's lackey. The new police nemesis was Detective Sergeant Michael Morley (Nick Day), paired with D.C. Park (Stephen Tompkinson) in series 8, who in turn, was replaced by D.C. Field (Jonty Stephens) in series 9.
The end of the final episode of Series 10, "The Long Good Thursday", saw Arthur (with Ray, Dave and crazy prisoner, Frankie (Matthew Scurfield)) finally being caught and driven away in a police convoy. In a final monologue over closing credits, Arthur was bemused, citing himself as a hardworking, upstanding citizen. The following week, a repeat showing of the first episode, "Gunfight at the O.K. Laundrette" (slightly edited for its pre-watershed start) was broadcast. Cole made an opening introduction, saying he had been asked to choose his favourite episode, but all were of such quality that he couldn't. He closed with "Goodbye... for now", hinting that he or the show may return.
In July 2008, it was announced Minder was to resume on Channel 5 after a 15-year break. The first episode of the six-part series was broadcast on 4 February 2009. The makers emphasised that it was a revival, rather than a remake.
The show focused on Arthur's nephew Archie, played by Shane Richie, and a new 'minder' character, Jamie Cartwright, played by Lex Shrapnel. Channel 5 stated in July 2008, that there were no plans for Cole, Waterman or Webster to reprise their roles in the relaunched series. The series was produced by Talkback Thames.
In the weeks leading up to the new series, Channel 5 launched a national advertising campaign to promote the show's return. These featured a series of contemporary adverts on television, as well as billboards. Other promotions included advertisements on taxi receipts, a social networking campaign and branded beer mats, all designed to attract the young male audience Channel 5 was targeting. The Sun reported that Richie banned Waterman from appearing in the series remake, but Richie told fans to ignore this story, saying it would be an honour to be in the company of Waterman and Cole, let alone work with them on television. On 31 May 2009, UK newspaper The Mirror reported that, due to alleged poor ratings, Channel 5 would not be commissioning a new series of Minder.
In 1980, an annual based on the series was released by Grandreams. It was based upon the early concept of the series being based around Terry, and made no reference to Arthur. Two further annuals were released by World International Publishing for 1985 and 1986. These annuals featured both Terry and Arthur, with illustrations of both Dennis Waterman and George Cole.
In 1985, an officially licensed Minder computer game was published for the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. The player's aim was to make money by buying and selling goods. The game was written by Don Priestley and published by dK'Tronics.