Cult Faction is sad to report that George Cole has died at the age of 90.
Cole’s career spanned 70 years, and he will be best remembered for his portrayal of “Flash” Harry in the St Trinians movies and as small-time wheeler dealer and crook Arthur Daley in the TV show Minder, alongside his likeable bodyguard Terry McCann, played by Dennis Waterman. The show, which ran from 1979 to 1994, brought the criminal underworld of west London to millions of homes up and down the country.
Cole was given up for adoption at the age of ten days and adopted by the Cole family. He left school to be a butcher’s boy but landed a part in a touring musical, and chose acting as a career. He appeared in a film with British stage and film actor Alastair Sim, and Sim and his family took in Cole and his adoptive mother when he was 15. They helped him lose his Cockney accent and he stayed with the Sim family until he was 27.
Cole began appearing in films in the early 1940s, debuting in the 1941 film Cottage to Let. He attributes the success of his career to Alastair Sim, who became his mentor. Cole appeared in a total of 11 films with Sim, starting with Cottage to Let, and ending with the somewhat obscure 1961 independent film The Anatomist.
He also acted opposite Laurence Olivier in The Demi-Paradise (1943) and Olivier’s film version of Henry V (1944). He is the last surviving member of the large cast of Henry V. His career was interrupted by his service in the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1947.
He was well known for his lead role in the 1953-1969 radio comedy A Life of Bliss where from the eighth episode (David Tomlinson played Bliss in the first seven episodes), he played an amiable but bumbling bachelor, David Alexander Bliss, with his dog Psyche, voiced by Percy Edwards. It lasted for six series and just 34 of the 118 episodes made of the radio series now survive. This became a TV series in 1960.
He became familiar to audiences in British comedy films in the 1950s. Cole appeared with Sim in Scrooge (as the young Scrooge) in 1951, but his best known film role was as “Flash Harry” in the St Trinian’s films (two of which also star Sim), and in the comedy Too Many Crooks (1959). He also starred in the 1973 film Take Me High alongside Cliff Richard and Deborah Watling.
His most memorable television role was as crooked used-car dealer Arthur Daley in the Thames Television series Minder which he played from 1979 to the show’s conclusion in 1994. Prior to this, he had played a struggling writer in the BBC sitcom ‘Don’t Forget To Write!’ (1977-79). Another memorable role was that of Sir Giles Lynchwood in the BBC’s 1985 adaptation of the Tom Sharpe novel Blott on the Landscape, which also starred Geraldine James. David Suchet, Julia McKenzie and Simon Cadell.
George has recently been cast in a new crime-horror film called Road Rage, in the role of Cyril, which will be released in cinemas in 2015.
Cole died in hospital with his family at his side, according to agent Derek Webster, who represents Waterman.
Mr Webster said: “It is with deep regret that I have to announce the sad death of one of our most loved and respected actors.
“George Cole passed away yesterday at the Royal Berkshire Hospital after a short illness. His wife Penny and his son Toby were with him at his bedside.”