George Cole 'the nicest and best', 'minder' Dennis Waterman tells mourners
Actor Dennis Waterman has paid a tearful tribute to his Minder co-star George Cole at his funeral, where the coffin arrived to the show's famous theme tune.
Cole, who died on August 5 aged 90, is best remembered for his portrayal of small-time wheeler dealer and crook Arthur Daley in the TV series, alongside his likeable bodyguard Terry McCann, played by Waterman.
His coffin entered Reading Crematorium to the theme tune to the popular series, which ran from 1979 to 1994 and brought the criminal underworld of west London to millions of homes up and down the country.
The upbeat song I Could Be So Good for You was a hit for Waterman in 1980.
Delivering the eulogy at the service, Waterman, 67, said: "People are always asking me for anecdotes.
"Working with George was an anecdote. It was non-stop. We laughed all day long, every day.
"I can't understand or bear to think how the family feel because I know how we feel.
"It's a wonderful day I suppose but a horrible one. Personally I would rather be doing Hamlet with no rehearsals than this."
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."
Cole died in hospital with his family at his side after a short illness.
During his eulogy, Waterman called Cole the "most liked man in the entire profession" and said he last saw the actor the day before he died.
"I was lucky enough to spend the Tuesday with him before he died," he said. "His wit hadn't left him at all, most of his weight had but his wit was still there.
"At the end of the afternoon I said: 'Right, you, do exactly as you are told right.' And he raised one of those eyebrows, posed a crooked grin and said 'bollocks'. And I thought 'that's my George. Go on my son'."
Waterman added that he was "pleasantly surprised" when reading the final paragraph of Cole's IMDB profile which described his former co-star as "one of Britain's most enduring actors, one of only a handful of actors who can claim to have had a 75-year career" and who was "an extremely likeable, charismatic man".
"As you can understand, I loved this man and we are here to celebrate his passing so I'll leave the rest of it to you," Waterman said.
Cole's widow Penny, whom he married in 1967, read David Harkins's poem He Is Gone during the service.
She said: "You can open your eyes and see all that he has left", before jokingly adding in the line, "all those television repeats."
Following the service, Waterman and his wife Pam Flint posed for a photograph with Penny and Cole's children Toby and Tara.
Cole's catchphrases on Minder, such as "'er indoors" and "nice little earner", became part of popular British culture.
Born in 1925, Cole, who was adopted as a baby and grew up in Morden, south London, began his career in musical theatre when he left school before getting his break in films in the 1940s.
He appeared in the 1943 film The Demi-Paradise opposite Laurence Olivier and in Olivier's film version of Henry V the following year, before serving with the Royal Air Force from 1944 to 1947.
His role as the spiv Flash Harry in four of the St Trinian's films in the 1950s proved an early prototype for his Arthur Daley character, and he played the character Flavius in the 1963 epic Cleopatra, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison.
He continued working in later life, taking guest roles in shows such as Midsomer Murders, New Tricks - which also starred Waterman - and Heartbeat.
But Cole, who was awarded an OBE in 1992 - which he said "Arfur" thought might have stood for "Old British Entrepreneur" - will be best remembered for his portrayal of his camel-coated lovable villain Daley.