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(New English Library, London, 1979)
price: 75p; 144 pages

The blurb on the back:

'He's a handy lad, that Terry. His big trouble is he gets ambitious. He hasn't the head for ambition.'
Terry was out after eighteen months in Wandsworth - and lucky not to have pulled a three-year stretch, his lawyer said. Arthur had dropped him in it again. But Arthur came up with the jobs, and if a job went wrong - well, that was no direct fault of Arthur's, just like he said. And a man like Arthur Daley had a lot to lose; Terry McCann had nothing.
One day, Terry kept telling himself, he was going to cut loose, walk on the pavement instead of in the gutter. He didn't need Arthur, and plenty of people needed someone like Terry; muscle, but with style. Arthur was sure he could get by, too, find himself a new minder - 'There's hundreds of lads like Terry around London, thousands most likely.'
Then the disasters began to pile up for both of them...

If all that Minder means to you is Dennis Waterman's rubbish theme song ('I Could Be So Good For You'), his even more rubbish haircut and a string of George Cole catchphrases, then it might be worth having a look at this book. Written by Leon Griffiths, the creator of the series, and issued around the time of the first broadcast, it's a much tougher proposition than you might imagine.

The West London that small-time criminal Arthur Daley and his ex-boxer sidekick Terry McCann originally used to inhabit was not the cosy quasi-sitcom world of Only Fools and Horses. It was a miserable, cold little place where lonely people failed to make any contact with each other, where a violent criminal elite preyed on the helpless poor and where the police were at best powerless and at worst corrupt. The humour is in there, but it's a much more desperate affair than you remember: a resigned response to a bleak existence.

All that changed, of course, when it hit the TV. The casting of George Cole as Daley was a crucial decision that ensured the series fell on the comedy side of the comedy-drama divide. Fine actor though he is, Cole was always going to play the character for laughs rather than existential meaninglessness. And the most telling fact of all is the position of Mrs Daley. On TV she was never seen, only referred to as 'Er Indoors, but here you discover that she has a name (Sarah Daley) and that her home-life is pretty unenviable:

'I'm trying that bran diet.' Sarah touched her pudgy hip self-consciously. 'I think it's starting to work.'
Arthur shook his head. 'Don't want to mess around with that chemical rubbish. There was a bit in the Sunday Telegraph about it. Leads to cancer in some people.'
'I think that was something else,' Sarah said diffidently.
'Suit yourself.' He patted her again, the second time in a minute and the third time in a year. (p.24)

On TV there was no such depiction of the marriage, settling instead for a fantasy of arrested development in which boys would always be boys. It was a much safer option - less interesting, but ultimately much more sensible if you wanted a hit show.

And of course, it was a massive hit. It ran from 1979 to '85, at which point Dennis Waterman gave it up as a busted flush. Even then it wasn't over: Cole returned in 1988 for a further six years in the company of Gary Webster. All of which was okay - in fact it was very good indeed in the early days - but it was nowhere near as good as this book.

the boys
Messrs Waterman & Cole


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