“Is Shane Richie playing Arthur Daley?” “He ain't singin' the feem tune, is he?” (much laughter). “Er ... is it set in the 1980s, mate?”*
These are the questions I've been asked by just about every taxi driver I've met in the past year. Early on, it became clear to everyone working on the show that fans don't just like Minder, they love it. In attempting a new version, we had entered a den of loud and -always opinionated lions.
So how do you remake a classic knowing how fondly the original series is remembered? All we could hope to do is make a great, fun show that old fans would feel was familiar and new audiences would warm to. We identified the DNA of the show and developed our Minder from that - with great -respect for the original, but with the conviction that we were making a brand new show.
But was it right to actually -resurrect Arthur Daley, the iconic 1980s dodger? We decided to reintroduce the Daley world view in the guise of Arthur's nephew -Archie, who, in writer Tim Loane's brilliant dialogue is very much a chip off the old block.
When she was at Five, Jay Hunt immediately recognised the draw of the Minder brand. She also had the genius idea of casting Shane Richie as the archetypal likeable rogue. Shane was a great fan of the original series and got Tim's take on the show immediately.
And what about the title -character? Eventually we settled on a -little-known actor (Lex -Shrapnel) who we'd seen at the RSC buckling his swash as Harry Hotspur in the RSC's extraordinary history cycle. From day one he brought an amazing commitment to the role of Jamie Cartwright - bad lad turned good - and our new Minder.
Our director, David Innes Edwards, and Tim spent a week -rehearsing scenes with Shane and Lex before the shoot. It was an -extremely important time in -defining the characters, evolving the -relationship between them and -refining the dialogue. And with -Archie's malapropisms and the table-tennis patter between -Archie and Jamie, it was fantastic to have the writer on hand to make clear his intentions about the -characters.
It was a tough shoot. In the writing process we'd discovered that the format didn't really work -unless we had one or other of the central characters in every single scene. That's great to write but it's also a killer to schedule. Lex and Shane ended up doing tough six-day weeks for three months, with stunts, fights, cars, boats, opening bridges - and dozens of cats.
So, like the original, the new Minder is entertainment. There's great warmth at the heart of the show and I hope that it makes people feel good about themselves and others. In the dark days of winter 2009, that's not such a bad ambition, is it?
* The answers are a) no b) no and c) no.
Production company Talkback Thames for Five
Producer Sean O'Connor
Executive producers Johnathan Young, Susie Conklin
Writer Tim Loane
Directors David Innes Edwards, Karl Neilson
Broadcast Wednesday 4 February at 9pm on Five
Project summary Minder is the classic buddy series about ducker and diver Archie Daley and ex-con Jamie Cartwright.
Sean O'Connor: My tricks of the trade
A complete set of scripts with notes from the edit (there's always a query from somebody).
Antique Nokia mobile (easier to text the office in short bursts than long Blackberry emails).
Yesterday's Telegraph and/or Guardian crossword (never enough time to finish it).
Proper coffee (for the turns - think Brownie points).
A sense of humour
(things go wrong a lot).
Failing the above, cash for purchase of alcohol/proper coffee (see above).