Thursday, 6 August 2015
The Late Great George Cole
George Cole was born in Tooting, London on April 22 1925. His biological mother abandoned him when he was only ten days old. He was adopted by George and Florence Cole, who were respectively a labourer and an office cleaner. They were also amateur musicians who performed in music halls and young George joined them when he was old enough. He attended the Surrey county council school at Morden, but had to leave school at 14 to support his family when his father fell ill. For a time he delivered newspapers before getting an apprenticeship with the local butcher. On the Friday night prior to the Monday that he was to start working at the butcher shop, young Mr. Cole saw an advert in the The Star for a boy in a West End show. The next day, Saturday, he auditioned and was ultimately given a part with the touring company performing The White Horse Inn.
George Cole made his film debut when he was only 15 years old in Cottage to Let (1941). He played opposite Alastair Sim in the film. During its filming George Cole spent his weekends at Alastair Sim and his wife Naomi's house. Mr. and Mrs. Sim helped with George Cole's training as an actor, including helping him lose his Cockney accent. Ultimately, except for his time in the Royal Air Force, George Cole would live with the Sims for the next twelve years. Over the next few years George Cole appeared in the films Those Kids from Town (1942), The Demi-Paradise (1943), Henry V (1944), and Journey Together (1945).
In 1944 George Cole enlisted in the RAF. He trained as a wireless operator at Cardington, Bedfordshire until it was discovered his eyesight was too poor. He was transferred to Coastal Command H.Q. in Northwood, Hertfordshire for a year before he was assigned to running a mess hall in occupied Germany. In the Forties following the war George Cole appeared in the films My Brother's Keeper (1948), Quartet (1948), The Spider and the Fly (1949), Morning Departure (1949), The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), and Gone to Earth (1950). He made his television debut in the 1948 production Dr. Angelus. He appeared on television in the productions The Anatomist and The Three Kisses.
It was in the Fifties that George Cole appeared in two of most famous roles. In the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol (AKA Scrooge), he played a young Ebenezer Scrooge (his friend and mentor Alastair Sim played the old Ebeneezer Scrooge). In 1954 in the The Belles of St. Trinian's he first appeared as con-man Flash Harry. He would play the role three more times in the "St. Trinian's" films. In the Fifties he appeared in such films as Flesh & Blood (1951), Laughter in Paradise (1951), Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), The Happy Family (1952), Who Goes There! (1952), Top Secret (1952), Will Any Gentleman...? (1953), Our Girl Friday (1953), Happy Ever After (1954), Quentin Durward (1955), It's a Wonderful World (1956), The Green Man (1956), Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957), Too Many Crooks (1959), Don't Panic Chaps (1959), and The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (1960). He starred in the TV programme A Life of Bliss. He guest starred on the shows Suspicion and ITV Television Playhouse.
In the Sixties George Cole appeared in the films Cleopatra (1963), One Way Pendulum (1965), The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery (1966), The Green Shoes (1968), and The Vampire Lovers (1970). He appeared frequently on British television throughout the decade. He starred in the show A Man of Our Times in 1968. He guest starred on such shows as Gideon C.I.D., A World of Comedy, The Wonderful World of Disney ("The Scarecrow of Romney March"), Comedy Playhouse, The Informer, Blackmail, Vendetta, ITV Play of the Week, Out of the Unknown, Jackanory, The Root of All Evil, and Armchair Theatre.
In the Seventies George Cole starred in the TV series Don't Forget to Write! and had a recurring role in the mini-series The Voyage of Charles Darwin. He guest starred on such shows as U.F.O., Madigan, Dial M for Murder, Affairs of the Heart, Quiller, The Sweeney, Good Neighbours, and Return of The Saint. He appeared in the films Fright (1971), Take Me High (1974), The Blue Bird (1976), and Double Nickels (1977).
It was in 1979 that George Cole took the role of Arthur Daley, a morally dubious used car salesman, on the TV series Minder. The show proved very popular, running throughout the Eighties and into the Nineties. He also starred on the TV programmes The Bounder, Blott on the Landscape, and Comrade Dad. He was a voice on the animated series Tube Mice. He appeared in the film Deadline Auto Theft (1983).
In the Nineties George Cole continued to appear on the TV show Minder. He starred in the TV shows Root into Europe, An Independent Man, and Dad. He appeared in the films Mary Reilly (1996) and The Ghost of Greville Lodge (2000). In the Naughts George Cole appeared in the mini-series Bodily Harm. He guest starred on the shows Family Business, Agatha Christie's Marple, Diamond Geezer, New Tricks, Midsomer Murders, and Heartbeat.
George Cole may well be best known for playing shifty characters, many of which he played over the years. In fact, his two best known roles could quite aptly be described as "shifty". In the "St. Trinian's" films, Flash Harry was the consummate con man, selling race cards and helping the girls of St. Trinian's School bottle and sell the gin they made. Arthur Daley on Minder was actually much more than an unscrupulous used car salesman, as he engaged in wholesale, imports and exports, and nearly anything to make money whether it was legal or not. Although George Cole was not the least bit dodgy in real life, he was good at playing very dodgy characters.
Of course, Mr. Cole played more than con men and ne'er-do-wells in his career. As young Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1951) he played a sad young man who felt abandoned by his overly strict father. In The Vampire Lovers he played a hapless landowner who falls afoul of a vampire. In the short lived sitcom Comrade Dad George Cole played a role about as far from the capitalists Flash Harry and Arthur Daley as one could get--a British working class father who is sympathetic to the Communists after the United Kingdom is taken over by the Soviet Union. George Cole was a remarkable actor and one of the best British characters to emerge in the late 20th Century. He may be best remembered as Flash Harry and Arthur Daley, but he played a wide variety of roles during a remarkably long career.