Saturday, 2 April 2011

The look of Minder

It's worth taking a look at Minder's design at the very beginning of production, to explore who exactly made the choices and see what this tells us about the characters.

Things developed over the years of course.  For instance, I'm intrigued by the fact that Arthur's trilby doesn't appear to be part of the original conception - it doesn't feature in the opening or closing credits, and is worn only occasionally in those first 11 episodes.  I personally think the trilby adds to Arthur's comic persona, and its absence at the beginning is indicative of creator Leon Griffiths' more realistic concept of the series.

Anyway, Arthur and Terry begin with Griffiths, and here's how he describes the former's dress in his original 1979 novel: "When he came down he was wearing his new grey worsted three-piece, blue sea-island cotton shirt and dark blue tie".  This certainly is suggestive of a man who, like Ian Fleming's James Bond who also favoured sea-island cotton shirts, is fastidious about his dress.  And in the original series format Griffiths also says "he's vain...and he dresses well".

Arthur's own comment on where he gets his whistles is "Little Cypriot feller off the Whitechapel Road...makes all the suits for Savile Row".

But it seems the budget-conscious producers weren't so concerned about Arthur's appearance.  According to George Cole, it was the director of the first two episodes who we can credit: "We were organising with wardrobe how we should dress as the characters.  Our director Peter Sasdy, decided Arthur should be smart, not grotty, but elegant and sharp.  I was dispatched to Savile Row to buy two suits.  The producers were not best pleased.  It was not their idea of Arthur, and the bill was not within their budget.  The suits cost £400 each!"

That the producers didn't see Arthur as smartly dressed is interesting.  Did they picture him as seedier, something of a loser and unaware?  I prefer the way Sasdy, Griffiths and George Cole went - it's a more positive image, has more longevity I think and is just as funny.

Arthur's suits also inadvertently led to another important aspect of his character.  Cole, presumably referring to the fight in the hotel room at the end of episode 3 'The Smaller They Are', talked director Roy Ward Baker out of including Arthur: "If we get as much as a mark on [this suit], the producers are going to kill us.  Tell you what, at the least whiff of a scrap, I'll duck out, whisk away round the corner and leave Terry to handle it!".

So that's Arthur, definitely a man on the make.  What about Terry?  Not so much.  Griffiths doesn't really talk a lot about his dress in either the novel or his pitch document, save a brief reference to denim - any time he wears a suit, it's because a client has asked him to.

In the first few episodes, Dennis Waterman wears a variety of short jackets: cream, navy, corduroy, brown leather; shirts, v-neck sweaters, sweatshirts; and cream or dark trousers.  An ex-boxer just out of stir, he's not that interested in fashion, only in keeping himself trim.  Sgt George Carter cared a lot more about his appearance.  But then, that's the hero figure: what you see is what you get.  He's not interested in self-promotion, unlike Arthur.

Waterman on the set of "The Bounty Hunter" in May 1979 with (l to r) director Peter Sasdy, guest artiste June Ritchie, lighting cameraman Roy Pointer and hairdresser Chirs Taylor
One amusing anecdote about Terry's original look concerns director Sasdy getting it wrong this time, at least according to Waterman: "he talked me into having a perm.  I initially agreed with the theory that it would get me away from the old Sweeney image, but it ended up looking really dopey" 

The "perm" isn't much noticable after the first 2 episodes in production - also the only two for which hairdresser Chris Taylor is credited!

An interesting point to note about all this is that until Minder on the Orient-Express in 1985, the series didn't have a costume designer as such, but a "Wardrobe Supervisor" - namely Philippe (Phil) Pickford for the first 3 series.  My guess is it didn't require an actual designer, with a series set so firmly in the present day London streets, the majority of the clothes being off the peg.

As for production design, for those first 11 episodes the task fell to Jim Weatherup, who I suspect found the post a great deal less demanding that his similar work on the previous year's wartime Euston production  Danger UXB.  We never see Arthur's home, for with that would come his family life, and Terry's flat is very spartan - some boxing memorabilia on the walls and shelves is about all.

With the entire six month shoot being on location - even the Winchester Club, which only became a set later on - would there really have been that much for him to do?  Well, more than you'd think I'll wager, but one of the magic qualities about film in my view is that irrespective of its actual quality, it is a perfect record of its time and place.  And by changing things as little as possible, this is as true for Euston Films as for few others.

Watch those first episodes of Minder and you really are transported back to the summer of 1979.  Just make sure you haven't any pound coins in your pocket.