ACTOR Dennis Waterman led the tributes today to his Minder co-star George Cole, who has died aged 90.
Waterman, 67, said Cole was a “wonderful man” with whom he “laughed all day every day”.
He added: “I am so sad to hear of George’s death. His family must be devastated, and I am absolutely certain that anybody who ever knew him, will feel the same.
“I’m so grateful to have been a friend of this wonderful man. We worked together for many years and my boast is that we laughed all day every day.
“He was an amazing man, a wonderful actor and besotted with his family. I had the privilege of spending Tuesday afternoon with him and Penny and although very frail his wit was as evident as ever. Farewell old friend.”
Cole, whose showbusiness career spanned 70 years, is best remembered for his portrayal of 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 1974, brought the criminal underworld of west London to millions of homes up and down the country.
Cole died yesterday 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 and daughter Tara were with him at his bedside.”
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.
As a 14-year-old he was taken in by comedy star Alastair Sim and his wife Naomi, who became a second mother to him, and Cole went on to star in a series of films and theatre shows with the Scottish star.
Cole 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.
But Cole, who was awarded an OBE in 1992 - which at the time he said might have stood for an “Old British Entrepreneur” - will be best remembered for his portrayal of the camel-coated villain Arthur Daley.
As the forever scheming “Arfur” - always on the lookout for the next dodgy deal - he perfectly captured the ambitious, upwardly-mobile spirit of the 1980s.
Cole’s character, an ambitious but feckless small-time crook, spent each episode dreaming up another get-rich-quick scheme while avoiding the attentions of the police - in the form of Patrick Malahide’s Mr Chisolm - and the never seen but often mentioned ‘er indoors.
Waterman eventually left the show, which ran from 1979 to 1994, with Gary Webster stepping into the role for the last two series.
Cole’s first major role - Flash Harry - saw him share the screen with his mentor Alastair Sim who guided his early career and was a lifelong influence.
The pair met in theatre and Cole was taken under Sim’s wing while still a teenager - he plucked the young actor from Blitz-hit London and took him in as an unofficial evacuee in his Oxfordshire home.
Cole never left - he eventually built his own home next door to Sim and his wife - and proceeded to star in a succession of stage shows and films with the Scottish star, including the series based on the fictional girls’ school created by cartoonist Ronald Searle.
Cole, who was adopted as a baby and grew up in a council flat in Morden, south London, started performing music hall routines on stage as a child with his parents who were both amateur musicians.
He began acting when he left school aged 14 and got a job as an understudy in a musical in Blackpool, sharing his dressing room with the animal extras - two goats and six pigeons.
He went on to be a regular on stage, screen and radio and worked almost non-stop for more than 70 years.
Cole, who was made an OBE in 1992 and was married twice.