Dennis Waterman leads tributes to 'wonderful' Minder co-star George Cole
Actor Dennis Waterman said his Minder co-star George Cole was a "wonderful man" with whom he "laughed all day every day" following the television star's death yesterday at the age of 90.
Cole, whose showbusiness career spanned 70 years, is best remembered for his portrayal of small-time wheeler dealer and crook Arthur Daley in the TV show Minder, alongside his likeable bodyguard Terry McCann, played by Waterman.
He died yesterday in hospital with his family at his side after a short illness.
Waterman, 67, said: " I am so sad to hear of George's death. His family must be devastated, and I am absolutely certain that anybody who ever knew him, will feel the same.
"I'm so grateful to have been a friend of this wonderful man. We worked together for many years and my boast is that we laughed all day every day.
"He was an amazing man, a wonderful actor and besotted with his family. I had the privilege of spending Tuesday afternoon with him and Penny and although very frail his wit was as evident as ever. Farewell old friend."
Minder, which ran from 1979 to 1994, brought west London's criminal underworld into the living rooms of millions of homes up and down the country.
With "Arfur" Daley spending each episode munching on cigars as he hatched another scheme to get rich quick, his long-suffering bodyguard McCann watching over his every step to shield him from the police, and fans always wondering who 'Er Indoors really was, Minder was one of the most popular programmes of the 1980s, garnering around 17.5 million viewers at its peak.
Announcing Cole's death, agent Derek Webster, who represents Waterman, said: "It is with deep regret that I have to announce the sad death of one of our most loved and respected actors.
"George Cole passed away yesterday at the Royal Berkshire Hospital after a short illness. His wife Penny and his son Toby and daughter Tara were with him at his bedside."
As the forever-scheming cockney "Arfur", always on the lookout for the next dodgy deal, Cole perfectly captured the ambitious, upwardly-mobile spirit of the 1980s.
Minder eventually came to an end after 15 years and 107 episodes because Cole wanted to spend more time with his own 'Er Indoors - his wife Penny.
Waterman left the show in 1989, feeling his character had run its course.
Gary Webster took over from Waterman in 1991 as Cole's sidekick for the final two series, playing Arthur's nephew Ray Daley.
Webster remembered Cole as a "comic genius" and "a fantastic guy to work with, a real genuine gentleman".
He said: "He is one of those characters which you never think you are going to be without, both as an actor and as a character."
Webster told the BBC that Cole claimed he based his character of Daley on people he had known in London, and that it was a role he was "almost destined to play".
He said: "He made you realise that there is an Arthur Daley in every family, and I think that is why the character was so popular - that so many people could identify with him."
Such was the character's appeal that when the show was being filmed on the streets of the capital workers would down tools and stop to watch and say hello.
Webster said: "That was the strength of the power and the love that people had for Arthur, and also George.
"He was just a decent gentleman. Very rarely on set does everybody love the lead actor, which he undoubtedly was, but everybody did, and that goes from cast and crew to members of the public."
Born in 1925 Cole, who was adopted as a baby and grew up in Morden, south London, began his career in musical theatre when he left school before getting his break in films in the 1940s.
As a 14-year-old he was taken in by comedy star Alastair Sim and his wife Naomi, who became a second mother to him. Cole went on to star in a series of films and theatre shows with the Scottish star, and grew so close to the couple he eventually built a house next door to them.
Cole appeared in the 1943 film The Demi-Paradise opposite Laurence Olivier and in Olivier's film version of Henry V the following year, before serving with the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1947.
His role as the spiv Flash Harry in four of the St Trinian's films in the 1950s proved an early prototype for his Arthur Daley character, and he played the character Flavius in the 1963 epic Cleopatra, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison.
He continued working in later life, taking guest roles in shows such as Midsomer Murders, New Tricks - which also starred Waterman - and Heartbeat.
But Cole, who was awarded an OBE in 1992 - which he said "Arfur" thought might have stood for "Old British Entrepreneur" - will be best remembered for his portrayal of his camel-coated lovable villain Daley.