Earlier this year one of my favourite actors, George Cole passed away. At the time of his death in August I was unable to write a tribute to him and would like to so so now as 2015 draws to a close.
George Cole was born in Tooting, south London on April 22nd 1925. At just 10 days old, he was given up for adoption and taken in by a couple named George and Florence who lived in a council flat in nearby Morden.
Whilst fighting in the Great War, George senior had suffered a gas-attack leaving him in very poor health and unable to maintain secure employment. Consequently, the young George Cole grew up in considerable poverty and left education as soon as possible in order to gain work and help his family. One of the jobs he took on was that of a newspaper delivery boy and, in 1939, it was in one of the papers he was tasked to deliver that he spotted an advert calling youngsters to audition for a West End production. George responded immediately and was successful, kickstarting an acting career in which he would remain for an incredible 75 years.
During one of his earliest productions- playing a then topical London evacuee– George Cole met the great Scottish actor, Alistair Sim who, along with his wife Naomi, took George in as an evacuee for real. This act of kindness blessed George with a second adoptive family and a loving relationship which would last a lifetime.
In 1943 George joined the RAF where he remained in service until the end of the war. Once the conflict was over he returned to acting, landing one of his first major roles in the classic 1951 film, ‘Scrooge’.
In this acclaimed adaptation of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, George Cole played the young Ebenezer (as seen during the Ghost of Christmas Past’s visit) whilst the older, grumpier incarnation of the famous miser was played by George’s beloved surrogate father, Alistair Sim. George’s portrayal is a moving one, providing the character with an emotional depth which reminds us Scrooge was once a decent, young man before life’s hardships made him hard and cynical.
A few years later, George played a far different character- ‘Flash Harry’, the cheeky, Cockney spiv in the 1954 comedy, ‘The Belles of St Trinian’s’.
In a way, Flash Harry was a prototype for George Cole’s most celebrated role- the shady, but loveable wheeler-dealer, Arthur Daley in the ITV series ‘Minder’ which ran for over 100 episodes between 1979 and 1994.
The end credits to ‘Minder’ famously featured images of Arthur Daley and his long-suffering bodyguard, Terry (played by Dennis Waterman) at various locations across London; a sequence which I enjoyed from a young age and which no doubt helped nurture my own love for the capital.
Rest in peace, George.