The all-new Minder: a passable knock-off
It’s a nice little earner for Shane Richie, but the remake of the Eighties favourite takes a few ‘diabolical liberties’.
Television remakes are generally regarded with a great deal of suspicion. Reworkings of Fawlty Towers, Steptoe and Son and Man About the House are usually cited as examples of why television shows should never be remade (even though the original Man About the House was pitifully unfunny). So it was no surprise that Five’s remake of the 1980s ITV comedy-drama Minder was met with premeditated hostility.
Five was brave indeed to commission the series. Minder is regarded in the same hallowed fashion as Only Fools and Horses, Open All Hours, Dad’s Army and The Two Ronnies. These shows are ‘national treasures’, never to be meddled with, but only perpetually to be re-run, with clips forever to appear on shows with titles like Television’s Hundred Funniest Comedy Sketches Featuring Commentary From The Usual Talking Heads. Probably Stuart Maconie, Claudia Winkleman, Jim Bowen, That Bloke From ‘Two Pints of Lager’, Token Black/Gay Person and Anyone Who Has Been On ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’, ‘Mock The Week or ‘QI’.
So no wonder reviewers all over the country were apoplectic about the remake of Minder. Even in the shires they were annoyed. ‘Oh dear. The famous 1980s drama Minder returned to our screens last night’, wrote Caroline Dutton in the Lancashire Telegraph. ‘Anybody who saw, and loved, the original won’t be impressed.’ Elsewhere, the Leicester Mercury concluded that, ‘Contrary to expectations, which were lower than a snake’s bum, the new-look Minder was not dismal. It’s not atrocious. It’s not calamitous. Neither, for that matter, is it especially good.’
Meanwhile, from Stoke-on-Trent, the reviewer for the Sentinel newspaper was of this opinion: ‘Minder always had parallels with Only Fools And Horses. No one would be foolish enough to do a remake of that with a new Del and Rodney. Some things – bees, banana sandwiches, Paris Hilton – are best left alone. Minder is one of them.’
So was the new Minder that bad? Or are we just determined to hate it? Well, Shane Richie as ‘Archie’ – nephew of Arthur Daley (played in the original by George Cole) – was passable, even if he was a bit too faux-Cockney. His ‘minder’, Jamie, was played by the inexplicably and distractingly named Lex Shrapnel. But all in all, the new Minder wasn’t bad (1). There was a car chase, a fight, the familiar theme tune, and Archie complaining about people taking ‘diabolical liberties’.
But this is why it had, literally, a rehashed feeling about it. There was a touch of Holby City-esque forced narrative. And just as Holby City overplays its West Country credentials, Minder did over-egg its sense of being set in London. Was Five thinking that Minder was going to be to London what Life on Mars was to Manchester? Why do so many drama programmes have to define themselves by their location? It felt like a Blur video, circa 1994. I was waiting for Phil Daniels to turn up and play the spoons. And where were Chas and Dave?
The makers of the new Minder missed a central point: the original programme was foremost a drama, and only secondly a comedy. This is why the first ‘minder’ (Dennis Waterman, who played Terry McCann) left the show in 1989: he adjudged it to have become too slapstick and silly – which it had. The early Minder episodes were very serious, more akin to The Sweeney and The Professionals than to Only Fools And Horses.
The new Minder treats the relationship between Archie and Jamie as similar to a comedy act. But the relationship between Terry and Arthur was initially serious and complicated, resembling that of a father and son caught in a fractious mutual contract from which neither can escape – they both annoy each other, but at the same time can’t live without each other. And Arthur was himself a figure of ambiguity: he was conniving, cowardly, lying and parsimonious, but he endeared himself to us all. We loved him for the same reason we loved Richard E Grant’s despicable but sympathetic title character in the 1986 film Withnail and I.
The greatest omission from the current Minder is the most famous omitted character from the original series: ‘Her Indoors.’ For those not in the know, this was the phrase that Arthur Daley would employ to describe his wife – who would never appear on the show. The absent wife is an old comic device. Maris, wife of Niles Craine in Frasier, is always referred to, but never seen; nor is Norm’s dreaded missus ‘Vera’ in Cheers or Mrs Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.
This conceit can be dated back further; Arthur Daley’s famous phrase may have strange antecedents. In the finale of Oedipus the King by Sophocles, when Oedipus has discovered that he was born in the house of King Laius, he asks a last question, already suspecting what the awful answer will be: ‘Was the baby a slave, or one of Laius’ family?’ The witness he is interrogating reluctantly replies: ‘Well, it was said to be his own son; but her indoors, your wife, could best tell you the truth about that.’ At that moment, Oedipus’s wife and/or mother, indoors, is either hanging herself, or has just done so.
I’m all for TV remakes. It shows courage, especially when you are taking on a ‘national treasure’. But you should at least keep to the spirit of the original. I wish Five all the best for their reinvention of Minder, but they should keep in mind that it was only a comedy by accident. It’s actually very serious.