The Return of Minder


Shane Richie as Archie Daley on Channel Five

It’s been all over the UK press recently that Minder, the classic 70s and 80s TV series starring George Cole as Arthur Daley and Dennis Waterman as Terry, is making a comeback.

Only this time we have Shane Richie as Arthur’s nephew Archie and Lex Shrapnel as his minder, Jamie.

I wrote a while back that I grew up watching Minder, at least in its latter years, and I loved its brilliant mix of drama and humour set among the seedy backstreets of London.

Even in its final few years, when Terry went to Australia, to be replaced by Gary Webster as Arthur’s nephew Ray, I would tune in to see what scam was being perpetrated this week.

A few years back I picked up the first series on Australian DVD, complete with a couple of George Cole commentaries, and admired the grit of the series and the clever plots, as well as the interaction between the leads.

Sadly it all ended in 1994, Arthur hanging his hat up for good and perhaps spending a few more evenings with ‘er indoors as he grew old disgracefully.

I have mixed feelings about the new show, even though I’ve not seen it yet (it’s due to start in February I believe). A review on the Guardian website this week was pretty evenhanded about the first episode, though they couldn’t quite work out who the audience is going to be for the series: the fans will think it’s a bad idea while the kids won’t think its cool enough.

I’ve read that the Winchester Club will make an appearance and it would be great to see the return of Arthur for a one-off appearance, or even Mr Chisholm (Patrick Malahide).

The makers have said they’d love to get Waterman or Cole back for series two, but we’ll have to wait and see whether this can run for as many years as the original or if it’ll be a flash in the pan. I truly hope this can do some justice to the classic series and that they don’t spoil the memory.

I’ll add a review to the blog following the first episode, in the meantime here’s a short trailer for Channel Five with some Minder clips followed by the revamped theme tune from Glasgow band the Attic Lights – I really hope that Richie’s annoying tie straightening gimmick seen in the music video isn’t going to be his “trademark” in the series:

Photo copyright Channel Five

James Garner: Legend of the West

James Garner. That’s the answer I always give when asked who my favourite actor is. Recently I had to try and justify this to someone who seemed to have some pretty major Garner prejudice.

James Garner as Jim Rockford

James Garner as Jim Rockford

Although I like my films and telly, I do try to steer discussion onto other topics when meeting new people, at least for a while. On this occasion I mentioned James Garner, only to be told I was wrong.

While trying not to appear too bothered with this slur, I felt I had to defend his honour in his absence. I like to think I did alright, even after a few Jack Daniels and cokes, but it left me thinking more needs to be done to raise the profile of America’s finest.

So I’ve dug out an article I put together last year for a film course I took (written just after watching The Americanization of Emily) and, before that, here’s what I said about Jimbo back in this blog’s first post:

The blog is dedicated to Mr James Garner: Bret Maverick in Maverick, The Scrounger in The Great Escape and LAs finest, Jim Rockford PI in The Rockford Files.

His work and style epitomise everything I like in my entertainment. Heroes that aren’t black or white, but black and grey. Characters that would rather talk their way out of a situation than fight (who would have the guts to fight someone with a gun in real life? A Garner character would rather leg it). Humour that is understated rather than puerile or OTT. And a bit of realism in amongst the nonsense makes for good entertainment.

And now the article…

James Garner: Legend of the West

For the lowly television actor, the road to movie stardom is one littered with casualties. For every Bruce Willis there’s a David Caruso, for every George Clooney a Matt Le Blanc.

TV audiences will happily sit down each week to watch their favourite show/actor/actress, so why should they pay money to go to the cinema to see them in their latest artistic endeavour? For James Garner, the road has been something of a hazardous one.

In 1956, Hollywood screenwriter Roy Huggins was working on an episode of anthology series Conflict. Huggins was in the stages of planning a new TV series, a Western different to the then-current glut of cowboy series. But he lacked a leading man.

While casting for Conflict, Huggins saw a new young actor in action, one James Scott Bumgarner. As Huggins remembers, “I really had stumbled on something wonderful, the rarest thing there is in Hollywood: an actor with an unerring instinct for a funny line.” That actor would soon change his name to James Garner.

Birth of a Maverick

Born in Norman, Oklahoma on 7 April, 1928, Bumgarner had served in the Army in the Korean War. Injured and awarded the Purple Heart, he ended up in Los Angeles, taking supporting roles in a host of TV shows and commercials. At 6’1”, dark haired and with a knowing glint in his eye, he was prime leading-man material.

Support your Local SheriffCollaboration between Huggins and Garner led to the creation of the both the role and the character type that would define the actor’s career: Bret Maverick, reluctant hero and gentle grafter.

Maverick brought something new to the Western genre: humour. The series divided its episodes between Garner’s character and his brother Bart, played by Jack Kelly. It soon became clear that Garner’s episodes were the more popular with audiences, his easy-going charm and laconic delivery of lines making him a primetime star. Then the movie people came calling.

During summer filming breaks, Garner started to make his mark as a leading man. Roles in Up Periscope (1959) and Cash McCall (1960) were diverse enough to show Garner’s action-hero and romantic lead credentials, while the 1960s saw Garner’s film career take off.

He was soon being offered scripts for a series of high profile pictures, including The Children’s Hour (1961), a complete tonal shift from most of his other work, The Thrill of it All (1963), second-billing to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963), The Americanization of Emily (1964) and Support your Local Sheriff (1969).

At home on the Range

Most of these films allowed Garner to hone the characterisation of the relaxed, combat-shy Everyman, who’s idea of living an easy life is interrupted by events around him. While Robert De Niro may eschew the virtues of method acting, the ability to sustain a note perfect, reliable and audience-friendly character through each of his movies meant that Garner was seen as a safe pair of hands.

If the 1960s were a golden period in Garner’s film career, the 1970s brought new demands. Ironically, it was one of Garner’s friends and TV contemporaries, Clint Eastwood, who would help define the era in such films as A Fistful of Dollars (1954) and Dirty Harry (1971). Garner tried gamely to respond to this with A Man Called Sledge in 1970, a spaghetti western in which he played against type.

His own production company helped him develop more personal films, such as Skin Game (1971). It was as a cowboy that Garner had made his mark, and a cowboy it seemed he would remain. He returned to TV briefly in semi-western Nicholls (1971-1972), which bombed with viewers and critics, before making some little-remembered movies that didn’t appear to tax him.

Saviour came in 1974 from an old collaborator, in the shape of Maverick’s Roy Huggins who, had decided to do for the detective series what Maverick had done for Westerns. The Rockford Files brought something new to the genre of private eyes, and was to all intents an updating of Garner’s previous persona for a new generation. This return to the small screen would revive his career once again.

Moving on

Maverick (1994)Garner was once quoted as saying, “When I left Rockford in 1980 I decided I want to do films that have interesting characters, people with human emotions and feelings and I’ve been very fortunate to do that.” This seems to sum up much of his film career post-Rockford.

Cinema beckoned again with films such as Victor Victoria (1982) and Murphy’s Romance (1985), for which he was Oscar-nominated. He would go on to produce some of his most interesting performances in a number of acclaimed TV movies for which he was Emmy nominated, such as My Name is Bill W (1989) and Barbarians at the Gate (1993).

An appearance in the movie version of Maverick (1993) could be seen as something of a closure for the Maverick character, a dovetailing of his TV and film careers.

While it’s fair to say that Garner never had the cinematic draw of Clint Eastwood, his failure to break into the Hollywood A-list often attributed to his ‘safe’ persona that lacked the edge offered by contemporaries such as Steve McQueen, his presence has always been a sign of quality.

More recent appearances in films such as Space Cowboys (2001), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002) and The Notebook (2004) have cemented his position as a respectable, dependable actor from old-Hollywood. His return to primetime television in family comedy Eight Simple Rules in 2004 showed that the small screen wouldn’t let him go and that perhaps that’s just the way he likes it.

To finish off, here’s a decent little interview with Jim on the Charlie Rose show from 2002:

The Street: Series Two, Episode Two

Timothy Spall, copyright BBCClaiming that British drama is is currently in the doldrums is something I’ve been guilty of recently.

It’s often difficult to compare favourably the high quality American series that come back year-after-year (after year) for runs of six months at a time with the fare offered up by British broadcasters. Ongoing drama tends to mean the soaps, propping up the schedules that are otherwise chock full of “Reality” series.

So it’s refreshing to see BBC One have brought back Jimmy McGovern’s The Street for a second series. Last week’s episode was a cracking start to the series, as David Thewlis (co-star of one of my favourite series, A Bit of a Do, with David Jason in 1989) played identical twin brothers, both living in the titular street.

Tonight’s episode starred another icon of 80s television, Timothy Spall (Brummie Barry in Auf Wiedersehen, Pet) as Eddie. A chain of events are set in motion within the first 10 minutes that would be funny if they weren’t so tragic.

Alongside Spall was Ger Ryan as wife Margie who finds a lump while in the shower. The dawning realisation that her life could soon be filled with chemotherapy and pity from her peers is portrayed with both deep emotion and stunning direction: a dream sequence on the bus, as other passengers told their stories of living with cancer, was captivating.

And as the characters in this episode go through their story they briefly mingle with characters from other episodes who will take centre stage in future weeks.

I hope the ratings are as high as they deserve to be and that season three is commissioned soon. Either that or Tim Spall gets his own show…it’s been a while since Frank Stubbs Promotes.

Happy Birthday Channel Four!

In the week of celebrations for Channel Four I’ll add my congrats here.

As the first real UK TV channel to launch in my lifetime (Channel Five and a million digital channels appeared much later) I can hardly remember a time it wasn’t out of my personal viewing schedule or the papers.

I can remember watching Brookside with my mum and that it was a world away from the cosier Coronation Street on the other side. Max Headroom was plain weird and The Crystal Maze was a revelation compared to the likes of the Krypton Factor or Mastermind.

Then, just as Nintendo and Sega were taking over the world, GamesMaster appeared with Dominik Diamond and Patrick Moore. This was cult viewing in my school, certainly amongst the geekier elements.

Vic Reeves Big Night Out was also required viewing in the early 90s, though I don’t remember being a huge fan – it was more a case of being uncool if you missed it. The Word was very risky, needing to be watched in your room on the portable telly.

And mornings weren’t complete without The Big Breakfast. Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and TFI Friday were the natural progression.

There are loads more series that stick in my mind: Nightingales, the TV Heaven season, Sean’s Show, Whose Line is it Anyway?, Chance in a Million, Brass Eye…

But the one that probably remains with me most depicts the misadventures of three priests off the coast of Ireland. A true classic (a word I’ve been told I use too much, but this time I think a few million others agree) and the death of Dermot Morgan at the end of series three was truly a tragedy. In memory of Ted Crilly, here’s just one clip out of too many I could have chosen from Father Ted. You’ll enjoy it…ah you will, you will, you will…

The Summer Of British Film

Summer of British FilmGood old BBC2. Just when Summer telly is looking dire, with endless episodes of B*g B*****r (I can’t bear to say, let alone write about a certain ‘reality’ TV show), along comes The Summer of British Film to restore the faith.

Following an interview with BBC2 Controller Roly Keating on the latest Observer Film Weekly podcast, where he was very enthusiastic about the season, I’m really looking forward to this.

Every week, starting on Saturday 28 July, there’ll be a new documentary in the British Film Forever series covering 100 years of British film. Episodes are split into genres:

  • Thriller
  • Romance
  • Social Realism
  • Costume Drama
  • Horror
  • War
  • Comedy

Best of all, to accompany the documentaries, BBC2 will also be screening around 60 films from the last 100 years.

I’m now off to finally invest in a DVD Recorder to make the most out the season.

Rona Munro talk

Rona MunroToday I made my way along to the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh to hear a talk by Rona Munro. She’s a prize-winning Scottish writer who has written for radio, television (she wrote the last Classic Doctor Who story, Survival, back in 1989) and films, most notably Ladybird, Ladybird.

In her role as Senior Playwriting Fellow at the Trav, she held a masterclass in Surviving Film and Television. While I did want to hear what she had to say about her experience in the world of fim and telly, I also had an ulterior motive for attending…more of which later…

The event took place deep in the bowels of the theatre with a chair, table and glass of water waiting for Ms Munro. There were only about 20 of us in the audience, and it started pretty much on time.

She explained that she had information prepared but that she’d probably divert from this substantially. She then ran through her own background in the business (reminding that it is just that – a business) with a few milestones such as Doctor Who and the process of having her film script bought and made given a bit more detail.

A few points that stood out for me were:

  • love what you write – don’t write without passion
  • give your work status – set aside a time and place to write
  • get something out there, be it a radio play, theatre script, short story

There was more, but a lot of it was common sense. She had some strong words about the way that writers are treated by producers and hates (make that HATES) the trend for treatments being needed for anything to get commissioned.

All in all a fascinating hour-and-a-half in the company of a highly respected, funny and self deprecating woman.

And my ulterior motive for going along? Well, I remember watching that Doctor Who story in my bedroom when it first aired back in 1989. It was winter, it was dark outside, it was scary. So I asked Rona to sign my Survival DVD cover, thinking I’d be thrown out by security.

But she kindly agreed and had good memories of the show and her time working on it. Then I had to leave…somewhere my tea was getting cold…

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.If you’re looking for a Western/sci-fi/comedy/action cult TV series, you could do a lot worse than The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

Set in the Wild West of the 1890s, Bruce Campbell stars as the titular Brisco, a Harvard educated lawyer turned bounty hunter following the murder of his father by the John Bly gang.

Running for only one season in 1993, Brisco merged elements of Indiana Jones (the series was co-created by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade screenwriter Jeffrey Boam), 1930s Saturday Matinee serials, the 1960s TV series The Wild Wild West and The X Files, to create a bizarre world of its own.

Most of the 27 episodes follow Brisco, his “partner” Lord Bowler (Julius Clary) and sidekick Socrates Poole (Christian Clemenson) as they try to round up the Bly gang. They occasionally sidestep this hunt to take on other adventures, giving a nice bit of variety as the series goes on.

Watching so many episodes in a row on DVD makes you appreciate how much effort went into making the show – it’s packed full of stunts, jokes and one-liners that keep the stories ploughing ahead full steam (or rocket if Professor Wickwire (John Astin) is involved) while the sc-fi elements are never too OTT to divert from the Western themes.

Bruce Campbell is a fantastic lead and it’s a real shame it was never commissioned for a second series. So get on the trail for a copy of this set, get those six-shooters ready and saddle up…or at least stick it in the DVD player and enjoy a few hours of great telly.