Saturday, 25 September 2021

George Cole: ‘the most liked man in our entire profession’

DENNIS WATERMAN paid an emotional tribute to his close friend and Minder co-star at the funeral

DENNIS WATERMAN paid an emotional tribute to his close friend and Minder co-star at the funeral of actor George Cole.

He was among almost 100 people who gathered at Reading Crematorium in Caversham on Thursday last week to say a final farewell to the man best known for playing small-time wheeler dealer Arthur Daley in the ITV series.

The mourners included Cole’s widow Penny and children Tara and Toby as well as actors Patrick Malahide, who also appeared in Minder, and Simon Williams with his wife Lucy Fleming, who live in Nettlebed.

Cole, who lived near Stoke Row, died on Wednesday last week at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading following a short illness. He was 90.

His wicker casket, adorned with a bouquet of flowers from his garden, entered to the theme tune to the series, which ran from 1979 to 1994.

Waterman, who played Daley’s bodyguard Terry McCann, gave the eulogy and described Cole as “the most liked man in our entire  profession”.

He said: “I knew him for just a little bit of his career but loved him hugely. The only slight help I get from doing this is that however I eulogise about George I’m absolutely guaranteed of nobody disagreeing with me.

“When I was told he would play Arthur Daley I thought he was too soft, too posh and too nice — how I underestimated that man.

“After two and a half days we realised how much we loved working together and that lasted forever.

“People always ask what the best anecdote was from working with George but working with him was an anecdote itself. We laughed all day long, every day.

“I can’t bear to think how the family feels because I know how we all feel.

“It’s a wonderful day but a terrible one. I’d rather be doing Hamlet with no rehearsal. He was an extremely lovable and charismatic man. I spent the Tuesday with him before he died and the last thing I said to him was, ‘you do exactly as you’re told’. He raised one of those eyebrows, started a crooked grin and said, ‘bollocks’. I thought ‘that’s my George’.” Waterman, who was accompanied by his wife Pam Flint, recalled a star-studded party thrown by Cole when Penny bought him a big bottle of whisky.

He said: “I had never seen George even the slightest bit tipsy — he couldn’t say the same for me — but this day the tipsier he got the wider his smile and this whole galaxy of stars were smiling with him — that’s the effect he had on people.”

Rev Nigel Bennett, who led the service, said: “There are national memories of George but also family memories.

“He was a family man who shunned the limelight in favour of being at home or in his garden.

“George lived 90 years, a fair innings which any Australian cricketer would be glad of now!”

Rev Bennett also spoke about Cole’s Minder catchphrase “’er indoors”, which he said he had used “at many a wedding”.

Mrs Cole, who the actor married in 1967, said: “I think he would be absolutely amazed by the outpouring of love, affection and respect. One of his favourite quotes was ‘part we must and meet again, where dead men meet, on lips of living men’.”

She read David Harkins’s poem He Is Gone, jokingly adding references to “all those television repeats”.

The casket was committed to the Ashokan FarewelAshokan Farewell and the mourners left the chapel to Goodbye From The White Horse Inn, Cole’s first theatre production.

Boards with photographs of Cole throughout his career were on display in the chapel and one was topped with his iconic trilby hat from Minder.

There was a collection box for the Injured Jockeys Fund alongside a copy of the Racing Post, which had three cigars laid on top.

Speaking after the service, Waterman said: “He was just the most popular person in showbiz and the nicest and the best.

“He was happiest when he was at home, when he was getting a few winners, and with his family and in his garden.”

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