IN THE far reaches of your satellite television’s hinterland, way out past Kerry Katona: The Next Chapter and Piers Morgan talking to someone you’ve never heard of about a movie you don’t want to see, it is possible to find a channel that’s showing Minder. I recommend it because it just might be the best television show of all time.
Today, when you watch it on CabSat Freeview 757, it’s like a history lesson. You cannot believe that there were ever that many parking spaces in London or that the traffic was ever that light. They’d go from Terry’s flat in Fulham to the Winchester in Notting Hill in about three minutes. But only after Terry had slept with some ladies and punched a foreigner in the middle of his fez. You could then. It was allowed.
I was such a big fan of Minder, I had my wedding reception at a place called the Winchester. I even hired “Dave” to be the barman. And then got very cross when guests called him Glynn and asked what it was like to have starred in Zulu. He’s not Corporal Allen. He’s Dave and it’s his job to get you a large VAT. We think of Dad’s Army as a classic, and it was, but Minder was tighter. Minder was written to an even higher standard. And the characters were just perfect. I saw Patrick Malahide the other day pretending to be a hotshot CIA spy and I just kept pointing at the screen and shouting: “It’s Detective Sergeant Chisholm.”
It’s the same story with Dennis Waterman. He’s still about, cropping up on TV from time to time trying to convince us he’s not an ex-boxer with a Ford Capri parked outside. But it’s all hopeless. In my mind, he’s Terry McCann. And he always will be. It wasn’t just the characters that became etched in our minds, either. It was the props. The hat. The coat. Terry’s bomber jacket. And, of course, the cars.
Because of Arthur Daley, I’ve never quite trusted anyone with a Jag. I like people with Jags. They are usually interesting but I wouldn’t leave them alone with my silver. In my mind, even today, and purely because of Minder, the Jag driver is always having a “spot of bother” with the taxman. He’s always asking if he can crash at yours because of a “misunderstanding” with the mortgage company. I like to think that most of the people in prison today for crimes such as art forgery have an XJS in a barn somewhere. Robbers have Vauxhalls. Rogues have brogues and a Jag.
That’s why the new XJ worries me, because when you step into that extraordinary cabin, you do not even catch a whiff of Arthur Daley’s ghost. There is blue lighting in the door pockets. The glove box is lined with purple velvet. And when you select Dynamic mode, the dials glow red. It’s like being in one of those bars in central London where visiting businessmen go to meet ladies. I like it. It’s a fantastic, futuristic place to sit. But there’s no man with pointy ears in the passenger seat and where you expect to see NCC-1701 on the steering wheel there’s a leaping cat instead. It feels strange. Like taking off a page 3 girl’s clothes and finding that underneath she’s Yootha Joyce.
The exterior is weird, too. Again, I think it is very bold and brave of Jaguar to make it look so different from anything that’s worn its badge before. I think it’s very striking. But it’s also a bit odd. And you obviously do, too, because since this car was launched six months ago, I have not seen a single one on the road. Last week, Bertone, the Italian styling house, showed off its designs for a new Jag and they were right. Its car was sleek. And the new XJ? It’s many things but sleek isn’t one of them.
Then there’s the question of interior space. Tricky one this. Because, in a Jag, you are supposed to sit low down, with your buttocks kissing the Catseyes. You’re supposed to feel cocooned, too, like you’re in an Elizabethan pub. But that won’t do these days. If Jaguar wants to capture market share from Mercedes, it must convince the chauffeurs who ferry Posh and Ant around London that their car is at least as spacious in the back as an S -class. So once again, Jaguar has ditched tradition, ditched the beams and the horse brasses and gone for space.
In the long-wheelbase version — £3,000 extra — there’s tons of it, to stretch out and watch the world slide by through the big glass roof panel while listening to the 1,200-watt stereo until your ears bleed. You even get climate control in this new car, rather than a wood-burning stove. But will you want to be in the back? The answer’s yes, if it’s a diesel. That’s built for economy and it does a fine job. But if you have the supercharged V8, the answer is a big emphatic “I’d rather get in the back of Brian Blessed”.
On paper, this engine doesn’t look like it will pass muster. You get just 503 horsepower and these days German cars use that much to operate the automatic parking brake. But you also need to look at how much the XJ weighs. Because, thanks to an all-aluminium construction, it is even lighter than Porsche’s Panamera 4.8 V8 Turbo. In a strong wind, you’d be advised to fit mooring ropes to stop it blowing away.
And you don’t just feel this lack of weight when you accelerate or when you stop or when you look at the petrol gauge. No. You feel it all the time, through the seat of your pants and more especially, the steering. This is not like a sports car to drive. It is a sports car. We don’t buy with our heads or our hearts. It’s just gut instinct. That looks nice. I can afford it, just. So I’ll have it. Sadly, to achieve this flickability, the suspension is a little harder than you might expect. It’s a problem that affects all Jags today. A hard ride is the only reason I don’t own an XKR.
But that said, at no point would you ever call the XJ uncomfortable. Or noisy. Or nasty in any way. It is absolutely bloody brilliant. Taken on face value, it is the only car that marries the raw driver appeal of a Maserati Quattroporte with the space and luxury of a Mercedes S-class. By rights, the centre of London should be chock-full of nothing else. But it isn’t… There’s a very good reason for this. We don’t buy cars by the numbers. Nobody ever test drives all the models that might seem suitable. We may pore over the options list of whatever model we’ve chosen, kidding ourselves that we really need parking sensors. But it’s all haphazard. We don’t buy with our heads or our hearts. It’s just gut instinct. That looks nice. I can afford it, just. So I’ll have it.
And that’s where the Jag falls down. It meets all the emotional challenges and the numbers stack up, too. However, the bounders and the cads want a Jag but not a Jag with a purple glove box. And the people who do want a purple glove box don’t want to be tarred with the Arthur Daley label. It is, then, a magnificent car. A brilliant car. But sadly, Minder means half the world won’t buy it because it’s a Jag. And the other half won’t buy it because it’s not a Jag.