British Actor (1925-2015)

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    World, lobster & all that
    A  L I F E

    All images © Estate of George Cole.

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    Biography [1925 - 2015]

    Date of Birth
    22 April 1925, Tooting, London, England, UK

    Date of Death
    5th August 2015, Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, UK

    Aug. 6th, 2015: He's gone. Gone for good. Can't believe it really. He was 90 and he'd been either on the big screen or the small screen in so many rooms across the country for so many years I can't think of a time when he wasn't there. Really sad and that is a surprise as I never met the man. But his body of work, from when he was a youngster in Cottage to Let to the classic Minder and the work thereafter is simply priceless. Just dig out some old Minders (in particularly the Dennis Waterman years) and watching him and the series is truly like watching a moving work of art.

    Looking back, and remembering as a kid watching Minder I realise it was a kind of rite of passage. Remember those times? 9pm slot if I remember correctly, ITV, Thames Television iconic intro. music and graphics, then the Minder music with Waterman and Cole - I can see it as if it was yesterday.

    Priceless memories.

    George Cole is definately one actor the like of which we will never see again. Often said but it's as true here as night follows day.

    Agent Derek Webster, who represents Dennis Waterman (who was informed of his co-star's death last night) said Cole had died at the Royal Berkshire hospital following a short illness, surrounded by his family.

    "George Cole passed away yesterday at the Royal Berkshire Hospital after a short illness. His wife Penny and his son Toby were with him at his bedside," he said.

    George Cole is one of Britain's best loved actors. Protege of the incomparable Alastair Sim, he's been appearing in films since Cottage to Let in 1941 (Sim also appears), but it is for his Arthur Daley in TV's Minder (1979-94) that he is best known for.

    Arthur Daley. A kind of father to his 'Flash' Harry character in the St Trinian movies of the 1950s & 60s. In lesser hands the role wouldn't have worked. He is after all slightly bent (in a not entirely straight in a business type of way rather than anything sexual I'll have you know), does a little bit of this, a little bit of that, almost anything for 'a nice little earner'. 'Her Indoors' is so unimportant in his day to day life that we never see her. Daley's a dodgy London geezer who employs a younger dodgy London geezer to do his fighting for him and be his minder.

    Cor, I'm making him sound like Mack the Knife! Or one of the Richardsons from my side of the river; the Krays on your side. Of course, the reality is that in Cole's hands Arthur Daley has become almost as much loved a character as David Attenborough to the British public. Deliciously, Daley has been imbued with George's charisma: he is charming, loveable, and his charm means the audience is with him when it knows what Daley is doing is wrong. Similar I suppose to David Jason's Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003) but George's Arthur is even better, even funnier, even shiftier.

    If you say to anyone 'he's an Arthur Daley' then they will know you are talking about somebody dodgy. Enough said.

    Isn't that far better testimony to an actor than any Bafta or Oscar?

    Essential Further Reading: George Cole: The World Was My Lobster (direct link to book @

    Born in Tooting, South London, in 1925, it was only later that he was told he was adopted. Cole never felt a need to find out who his real parents were: he accepted his adopted parents as his real parents.

    In George's own words when interviewed in 2008 for BBC Four by Mark Lawson:

    "I went to a secondary school and I got a scholarship to the local college. Apart from the fact that my parents couldn't afford the uniform, I didn't want to go...," he says.

    "There was no battle, though. I left school on the Friday, got a job on the Saturday [in nearby Malden] and was in the theatre and that was it. It was a big musical called White Horse Inn and we toured for 20 weeks then came to the London Coliseum.

    "People often say to me, what a marvellous mother and father you must've had. As I grew older I thought, what are you talking about, why didn't they come after me? Why didn't they go to the police? I was 14! A child of 14 wouldn't be allowed to do that today, no way.

    "I went up to Leicester Square on Saturday morning, auditioned and got the job in White Horse Inn and they said you've got to go to Blackpool today and I thought okay, fine. I had money from my newspaper round and bought two sticks of make-up, a small suitcase, a clean shirt and a toothbrush and toothpaste and that was it. I sent my parents a telegram saying 'Gone on the stage, will write'. Sending a telegram in those days was nine rows for sixpence."

    That was when George was a young, impressionable teenager and he hasn't looked back since, having starred in over 40 films, including the St Trinian's movies and Scrooge, alongside his mentor, Alastair Sim, and had myriad TV roles, in shows such as Blott On The Landscape and, of course, Minder, in which he played the original dodgy dealer, Arthur Daley, alongside Dennis Waterman's long-suffering Terry.

    "You can't do something for nine series, 107 episodes, unless you love it. I loved every minute of Minder, it really was wonderful; it wasn't like work at all," he says. Waterman and Cole, who didn't even know that they had actually worked on the same film in the 1970s, became great friends even sharing a trailer on Minder locations. In all the time they worked together the didn't have so much as a cross word.

    When he was starting out, George was shown the theatrical ropes by some of Britain's greatest actors.

    "When I got the part in Cottage To Let [George was a young evacuee in the play which was subsequently turned into a film in which George stole every scene he was in] we rehearsed in Oxford and I arrived very late at night. I had no chaperone and I tried to find digs but couldn't, so I ended up back at the theatre, practically in tears, and I spoke to the stage director. A very handsome young man came out and asked what the matter was, then said to the stage director, 'You find him some digs and I'll take him across to the Welsh Pony to get him something to eat'. This was during the War and he ordered two mixed grills and tipped them on to one plate and said, 'Get that inside you!'

    "We started rehearsing the next day and this handsome young man didn't appear. Apparently he'd been called up and I never saw him again until 20 or 30 years later when I was having lunch at the restaurant at MGM in Elstree. This handsome man came over and said, 'Are you the little boy I gave two mixed grills to?' and it was Stewart Granger. Extraordinary!"

    It's also well documented that Alastair Sim was George's great friend and mentor; the pair appeared in nine films together in which their comic timing was second to none.

    "I don't think you can teach timing, it must be intuitive. And I think when you admire someone as much as I admired Alastair Sim, you are watching and listening to everything he does and, without realising, you're assimilating quite a lot.

    "I met him in Cottage To Let, too, and we came in to London to play it as it was a big hit. Then the Blitz came and Alastair moved out of London and I was living with my mother at that time, in Tooting, and Alastair suggested that we move out of London, too. We found a place quite near them and, by then, all the theatres had closed down so we took the play round all the Army camps.

    "I left my mother back in Oxfordshire and she couldn't stand the quiet so she moved back into London. To cut a long story short, the press had a thing about the Sims' adopting me and my contention is, no, I adopted them and they spent 50 years trying to get rid of me, which was rather difficult as I built my house next to theirs!"

    Having been taught by the best, George's advice is:

    "If I could say anything it would be learn to listen. There's a book by Alan Alda I was given for my last birthday, called Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, and it's got the most incredible chapter in it for actors and it's all about listening – not learning lines and delivering them, but learning to listen and then to answer. That's one of the things that Alastair Sim taught me: ‘to listen'."

    G E O R G E   C O L E

    The great but now forgotten British director, Anthony Asquith, directed Cole in his first film, Cottage to Let (1941). Cole was 15 when the film was made. Other early parts were: Those Kids from Town (1942) and the boy in Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944).

    He was in the RAF from 1943-47.

    He rounded off the 1940s with an episode of Quartet Morning Departure ,/b>(1950, and he is almost as good as in Cottage).

    Altogether he acted in 8 films with Sim, including 4 St Trinian's films and Scrooge (1951).

    Other film roles included: The Intruder (1953), A Prize of Gold (1955), Fright (1971, and his first performance with Waterman, though neither knew the other was in it - see the film to find out why), Cleopatra (1963) and The Blue Bird (1976).

    He has also had a very successsful radio career and has appeared in over 30 plays. But it is his TV work that stands out. Other than Minder, stand-out TV parts include: A Life of Bliss (1960-61), A Man of Our Times (1968), and Blott on the Landscape (1985).

    Now semi-retired he still pops up in guest roles on TV series such as Waterman's new vehicle New Tricks (2007) and Midsomer Murders (2008), or on shows talking about Minder.

    M O R E

    Sorry to keep banging on about the show but, well, I just like it. Alot. More than alot. I know Cole had a long and distinguished career and if you ever switch on, say London Live, on a Saturday afternoon and see an old British movie then Cole's distinctive features invariably appear. Yes, some great parts but it's Minder that defines him - well at least to a generation of us that grew up on this TV Thames classic.

    Ah, Minder. What an absolute joy of a show. If you thought you were hard you hadn't met Terry McCann. An ex-boxer, he'd have you. Any day of the week. No matter what the problem he'd sort it. And always within an hour. Remarkable. George Cole as Arthur is still an iconic figure. Even today, anyone doing anything a little bit dodgy could be referred to as Arthur Daley. What an actor. George Cole. One of the most watchable figures, watchable faces, I have ever seen, My favourite Arthur Daley moments (among many) include when he's got a load of oversized coats to sell and he's going around getting people to try them on and grasping a huge load of the coat behind their back saying: 'Fits you like a glove'. Or he's takes on a youngster as a Minder and tells him he's the hardest thing since sliced bread. A real hard b##tard. The kid believes him and goes to sort out some hardened geezers in a snooker club and the next shot you see is the youngster coming out black and blue. If you missed out on the sheer entertainment of Minder then catch it @

    There would have been more chance of hell freezing over than anyone other than Dennis Waterman doing the theme tune. Even if Frank Sinatra had expressed an interest there would have been no chance of Dennis Waterman letting him muscle in. 'I could be so good for you...' was Waterman's message to the world and his alone. Ever after no one has been allowed to express even an interest in doing the theme tune of any show he's starred in.

    Greedy boy.

    Minder was a double act. Arthur Daley & Terry McCann. Without either (well deinately without Daley) the show wouldn't have been the same. If you think about it, they are every bit as memorable as Laurel & Hardy or Morecambe & Wise. They just entertained for an hour of an evening. I say 'just' as that's the hardest thing on television to to do - to get millions to come back week after week to see you.

    It was never the same once Waterman left. Gary Webster was good as Waterman's replacement but any actor coming after would be Waterman-lite.

    Still, that era has gone. But it doesn't hurt from time to time to remember how we were once upon a time. That's nostalgia, I guess.

    And at the heart of it all is one George Cole.

    What are we going to get 'Er Indoors? Indeed.

    George Cole

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