TELEVISION / Arthur goes stale, and 'er indoors goes out

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The Independent Culture
'WHY me?' wailed Arthur from the back of a police van, in the last ever Minder (ITV), ' 'ave I not always conducted my life with honesty and decency?' Well, milud, the prosecution begs to differ. For some 15 years now (in 107 episodes) Arthur has pursued his career as a self-styled 'man of vision' by one principle alone - look after number one. Indeed so successfully did he embody the Eighties spirit of canny, amoral self-interest that he ended up advertising financial services, a combination which undoubtedly left the Leeds smiling but which was, when you come to think of it, as bizarre a piece of celebrity endorsement as asking Ronnie Biggs to put the case for Red Star parcels. These days, though, the appeal of Arthur's lifestyle is beginning to wear thin - with so many spivs and chancers in public office the breed is less amusing. He even shows signs of succumbing to political correctness; 'Women can be very sensitive about copping blows in public,' he explained to an enraged husband last night.

It might have been nice if the writers had decided to go for broke with the final episode - Arthur would surely have settled perfectly into a world inhabited solely by cons even if the exchange of the camel hair coat for blue fatigues would have been a blow. Instead they opted for a business- as-usual departure. Arthur's scheme to set up a little Italian restaurant called the Cosa Noshtra (specialities Sam Giancana Sandwich and Sleep with the Fishes - king prawns in garlic butter) runs into trouble when Crankie Frankie escapes from prison in a fit of jealous rage. Arthur's sleeping partner is sleeping with Frankie's, which complicates matters.

Next week you can see the very first episode and judge for yourself whether the years have taken their toll on the programme's freshness. On the basis of last night's story, though, it doesn't seem cruel to let nature take its course. The cockney banter which graced the early programmes like a fetching swathe of ivy now threatens to choke the structure entirely. I suspect the writer, Tony Hoare, was having some fun here. We know from The Underworld that 'agg' is for real (as in 'he's getting a bit of agg from the wife') but 'shovel' (as in 'I thought he was still in the shovel') and 'Gregory' (as in 'he's a right pain in the Gregory') all sounded a bit Sir Francis to me.

The acting wasn't exactly Duncan either (Duncan Stopnotch, that is, the inventor of tea-bag tongs). The actor who played the cook had decided that his name (Luigi) might leave the question of his origins unclear so helped out with some subtle clues in performance - 'Mama Mia - if Carla find out she killa me dead' he yelled while his hands took the Berlin Phil through the final bars of the Gotterdammerung. George Cole was as fly as ever but (perhaps this is just because you know it's the end) there seemed to be something a little mechanical about the way he delivers Arthur's characteristic malapropisms ('paranoidal allusions' and 'this septic isle', for any collectors who missed it). It was good while it lasted but it's time for an amicable separation.

The Great Outdoors (C 4) started with a whole series of questions. What is the great outdoors, they asked. Is it this (blah blah adventure blah)? Is it this (blah blah tranquil beauty blah)? Or this (blah blah picnic blah)? I doubt if anyone fell off their sofa when they revealed that it's 'all these things and more. Something for everyone.' I doubt it myself - there are a lot of people out there who would have to be sponsored before they'd get up to change channels on the television. They will have hit their zappers early in the first sequence - in which four Kirkby women Shirley Valentined their way up a Welsh mountain ('Nuttin' wrong with the sheep's bowels round here,' one noted half-way up). The rest of us stayed for an amiable magazine programme which explored the iniquities of the sale of Forestry Commission land and took you through the experience of free-fall parachuting. Should keep all those outdoor types at home for the next few Thursday nights.