George Cole, actor who played Arthur Daley, dies aged 90 | Television & radio | The Guardian
Former Minder co-star Dennis Waterman leads tributes to actor best known for playing small-time conman in the hit 1980s TV show

The actor George Cole, best known for playing the shifty “spiv” Arthur Daley in the long-running ITV series Minder, has died aged 90.

In a TV and film career spanning seven decades, he became a household name playing cockney wideboys from the loudly dressed Flash Harry in the early St Trinian’s films to the crooked car dealer Daley in Minder.

As the cigar-smoking small-time crook “Arfur”, with Dennis Waterman playing his bodyguard – or minder – Cole bequeathed to the nation’s lexicon the memorable catchphrases “’Er indoors”, and “a nice little earner” .

Waterman led the tributes to his former co-star: “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.”

Cole attributed his success to his mentor, the actor Alastair Sim, who guided his early career and was a lifelong influence. The two had met in theatre when Cole was a teenager, and Sim and his wife Naomi took him under their wing, even taking him in as an unofficial evacuee from Blitz-hit London to their Oxfordshire home.

He stayed with the Sims until he was 27, eventually building a home next door, and starred in a succession of stage shows and films with the Scottish actor, including as a young Scrooge in 1951’s A Christmas Carol, and two of the St Trinian’s films.

As the scheming Daley, who was always on the lookout for the next dodgy deal, he perfectly captured the ambitious, upwardly mobile spirit of the 1980s. Before landing the part, which ran from 1979-94, Cole was a familiar face on screen in many British comedies, including Too Many Crooks (1959). He played Flavius in the 1963 epic Cleopatra, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison.

Cole was adopted at 10 days old and grew up in a council flat in Morden, south London. He performed music hall routines on stage as a child with his parents, both amateur musicians. At 14, after leaving school, he got a job as an understudy in a musical on Blackpool.

He worked almost non-stop for decades, apart from a brief break from acting when he served with the Royal Air Force from 1944-47, and he was made an OBE in 1992.

Cole died in hospital with his family at his side, according to agent Derek Webster, who represents Waterman. “It is with deep regret that I have to announce the sad death of one of our most loved and respected actors,” Webster said. “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.”

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