Sunday, 07 August 2022

George Cole OBE - April 22, 1925 to August 5, 2015

GEORGE COLE, an actor who was best-known as the crooked car dealer Arthur Daley in the long-running TV series Minder,

GEORGE COLE, an actor who was best-known as the crooked car dealer Arthur Daley in the long-running TV series Minder, has died, aged 90.

Once described as looking like “an amiable pall bearer”, it is perhaps unsurprising that Cole played numerous untrustworthy characters during his 70-year career.

But he had little in common with the roguish “Arfur”, preferring instead “an afternoon pottering in the garden to almost anything”.

He played the role in 107 episodes over 11 series from 1974 to 1994 and spawned catchphrases such as “’er indoors” and “nice little earner”.

George Edward Cole was born on April 22, 1925 in Tooting and was adopted when he was 10 days old after being abandoned by his mother.

He won a scholarship to the Surrey County Council school in Morden but was unable to honour it when his father had to give up work because of illness.

Cole left school at 14 to help support his family. He worked as a newspaper delivery boy before gaining an apprenticeship with a local butcher.

But he loved performing at school and, despite being due to start at the butcher’s on the Monday, he answered an advertisement in The Star on Friday night for a young boy wanted for a musical show.

He auditioned on the Saturday and was offered a part and joined the touring company performing at The White Horse Inn and later at the Coliseum.

When the tour ended after six months, Cole moved back home and made his London debut as a Cockney evacuee in Cottage To Let in 1941.

Cole reprised his role in the film version two years later opposite Alastair Sim who, with his wife Naomi, unofficially adopted him at the age of 16.

He moved in with the couple who were responsible for all Cole’s theatrical training, including trying hard to remove his Cockney accent.

When Cole later married he built a house on a five-acre plot of land next to Sim’s home at Nettlebed and lived there with his own family.

Sim helped Cole appear in his second film Those Kids From Town in 1942 and in 1943 he appeared in The Demi-Paradise opposite Laurence Olivier and in Olivier’s film version of Henry V the following year.

He served in the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1947 and by the end of this he had been running an officers’ mess bar in occupied Germany.

Cole returned to acting and appeared in My Brother’s Keeper in 1948, The Spider and the Fly in 1949 and Gone to Earth in 1950 but they had minimal success.

He returned to form, again alongside Sim, in comedies Laughter in Paradise (1951) and as the young title character in Scrooge (1952).

Their partnership became hugely successful over the next decade as they appeared together in a string of films, the most successful being the St Trinian’s series in which Cole played the headmistress’s (Sim) crooked accomplice Flash Harry.

In the first film, The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954), Cole received third billing after Sim and Joyce Grenfell and was hugely successful. He appeared in five more films, which included the only film in the series without Sim, The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s, in 1961.

Between films, he played bumbling bachelor David Bliss, the lead role in radio comedy A Life of Bliss. The programme was broadcast on Sunday afternoons and lasted six series from 1953 to 1969.

Cole’s film career stalled in the mid-Sixties so he turned back to the stage to revive his fortunes and worked consistently throughout the Sixties and Seventies, including The Waiting Game (1966) in which he met his future wife Penny Morrell.

He appeared in productions including Banana Ridge, The Philanthropist and Too Good to Be True and musicals such as Front Page (1981) , The Pirates of Penzance (1982) and as Captain Hook in Peter Pan (1987), alongside singer Lulu. But Cole’s greatest success came with his move into television with ITV’s Minder, which made him a household name as an ever optimistic ambitious small-time crook who spent each episode dreaming up another get-rich-quick scheme while dodging the police.

His good friend Dennis Waterman played Daley’s “minder” Terry McCann.

The success of Minder was incredible with the series selling all over the world.

Cole’s character also helped to revive Cockney rhyming slang. His autobiography, which was published in 2013, is titled The World Was My Lobster.

His later television work included appearances in Agatha Christie’s Marple, Midsomer Murders and  Heartbeat.

In the Nineties he appeared in two sitcoms, as a lonely pensioner in My Good Friend and as a father in Dad.

He was made an OBE in 1992 for services to acting.

Cole was married twice, first to Eileen Moore and then to Penny Morrell, and had a son and daughter by both. He lived with Penny near Stoke Row.

He died at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, surrounded by his family, on August 5.

His funeral took place at Reading Crematorium in Caversham yesterday (Thursday).

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