When the actor George Cole died in early August 2015, the world lost one of it real comic characters. He was of course more than that to me because as a young man growing up he beamed into my living room every week for 15 years and 107 episodes of Minder. Arthur Daley the roguish car dealer and "entrepreneur" became famous for great catchphrases and quiet often Malapropisms (I always remember my buddy Conor Jordan telling me to keep my eye to the ground if I heard anything). But Arthur was for many of us both a comic character but in an era of Fax machines and 5 TVs channels he was also our first glimpse of what an entrepreneur might be like. We knew it was staged but the core of the character was a man trying to "duck and dive" as Delboy would say or come up with a "nice little earner" which was Arthur's most famous catchphrase. I lapped him up and like many young kids I wanted to be like him (not the coat and hat or cigar). Some of my early memories are dandering over the town (as we used to say) to Foyle Street market which stood where Foyleside is now build and watching men standing on boxes selling everything from perfumes to train sets and car radios. Every now and again you would get a "character" whose eloquence and delivery would stand out and the gathered audience never stood a chance. Then out of the crowd some woman would shout "you’re worse than Arthur Daley" and the crowd would laugh and buy more things they didn't need. Arthur was seen as a rogue but people liked him and the term was nearly a compliment. I was called both Arthur Daley and Delboy in some of my earlier sales jobs and funnily enough you saw it as a compliment.
Minder was for many an insight in to how a trader/entrepreneur operated. Nowadays we have the Dragons Den and other "serious" TV shows which extol the virtues of self-employment. They do this very well but Minder made us laugh and imagine the life of a wheeler-dealer car salesman who had a garage full of garden gnomes and 3 legged tables.
They was however quite often a business lesson behind a lot of the comedy. The core of the character was spotting an opportunity and exploiting it just like any good business does. Any business that does this makes a fortune. Arthur of course put his own spin on this by informing his sidekick and quiet often fall guy Terry that in business "You make contact with your customer. Understand their needs. And then flog them something they could well do without". When I walk through IKEA or one of the many Pound shops that we have and stare down at a full basket or trolley I often think that maybe Arthur Daley was on to something. Do I really need 48 scented candles and 12 Caramacs?
Arthur had many other abiding codes throughout his 15 years playing a TV entrepreneur. He hated cheques for example and always demanded cash on delivery in an era when online payments just didn't exist. He also like many businesses loved a good slogan. Many businesses are keen to develop a brand, strap line or Unique Selling Proposition (USP). A catchy strap line can really be difference between success and failure. Arthur was a master at this. I remember he once had a car sale using the slogan "Everyone’s a go-er ". There were many slogans and strap lines. I remember him once giving Terry a life lesson by saying "You only get out of life what you put in and a bit more if you find a couple of mugs"
It would be unfair of me to say that Arthur or Delboy inspired me to become an entrepreneur and businessman. They were however my first insight into what a self-employed person done. It just seemed to be a life of risk but with great rewards. I just remember being enamoured with the whole idea of being in business for myself.
Arthur was always very dapper and it was clear that with every setback he would just dust himself off and set off again on the next get rich scheme. Nothing seemed to dent his desire to be successful. How many of us are really like this? Perhaps very few but most entrepreneurs are wired like this and ever
y small loss is cast aside in the search for a win.
Sadly, we will never see another Arthur Daley or for that matter a Hollywood "reboot". In this digital world his business model wouldn't exist. Amazon and online retail have put an end to lock-ups filled with cheap imported products. Poor Arthur would struggle with a smartphone and the need for a website or Facebook page. Terry would be replaced by an App!
He may be gone but definitely not forgotten. I have two favourite lines from the show. The first is when he told Terry "A friend in need.....is a pest". My second and favourite is when he asks Terry "What's French for en-suite facilities?" And in case I forget what a theme tune which all of us sing along to when we hear it.
George Cole 1925-2015