Yes, Minister

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Yes, (Prime) Minister: Sir Humphrey Appleby, James "Jim" Hacker, Bernard Woolley

Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister were British sitcoms transmitted by the BBC between 1980 and 1988. The setting was, at first, the private office of a government minister and, in the sequel, 10 Downing Street. All 38 episodes were written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn and all but one are 30 minutes in length.

Contents

Plot

The running theme of most episodes of the programmes is the struggle between (Dr) James "Jim" Hacker (played by Paul Eddington), the newly-appointed Minister in the (fictional) Department of Administrative Affairs and his civil servants and ministerial colleagues. Nigel Hawthorne plays Sir Humphrey Appleby, KCB, MVO, MA (Oxon), a senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Administrative Affairs, with Derek Fowlds in a crucial supporting role as Hacker's Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley. Woolley typically finds himself as the 'man in the middle', torn by his personal loyalty to Hacker and his institutional alliance with Sir Humphrey who is his boss.

The first series also featured another character called Frank Weisel, played by Neil Fitzwilliam (Sir Humphrey persistently called him "Mr. Weasel") who was Hacker's political adviser. After his appointment to a commision of enquiry into Quangos (Quasi-Automomous Non-Governmental Organisations), Weisel leaves the series. When, after 1984, Hacker became Prime Minister, Sir Humphrey had also just been promoted as Cabinet Secretary and Hacker appointed Bernard Woolley as his Principal Private Secretary in his new post. The two series of Yes, Prime Minister also introduced Dorothy Wainwright (played by Deborah Norton) as the Special Adviser to the Prime Minister; she was portrayed as being highly able and knowing all of Sir Humphrey's tricks, which ensured a lasting distrust between them. Hacker's home life is also shown occasionally; his wife, Annie (Diana Hoddinott) is clearly not happy with the disruptions of political life and somewhat cynical about her husband's politics, and his sociology student daughter Lucy (Gerry Cowper) becomes an environmental activist campaigning against her father's policies (she appears on screen in only one episode though is referred to in others).

Much of the humour of the show derives from the conflict between the British Cabinet ministers (who believe they are in charge) and the members of the British Civil Service who are really running the country. A typical episode will deal with Jim Hacker wanting to move on a pressing political issue only to find Sir Humphrey blocking and stalling his efforts in order to maintain the status quo. Most episodes end with Sir Humphrey having prevented Hacker from doing anything, but letting him think that he has scored a political victory. In occasional episodes, however, Hacker gains the upper hand. Other characteristics include Sir Humphrey's complicated sentences, his cynical views on government and general toffiness, Hacker's bumbling and tendency to go into ludicrous Churchillian speeches when politically inspired, and Bernard's linguistic pedantry. Sir Humphrey often discusses matters with other Permanent Secretaries, who appear at least equally cynical and jaded, and the Cabinet Secretary (whom he will eventually succeed in Yes, Prime Minister) Sir Arnold Robinson — played by John Nettleton — who is the archetype of cynicism, haughtiness and conspiratorial expertise.

The episode The Bishop's Gambit cleverly parodied the liberal theology and politics in the Anglican church. Hacker naturally thought that the church was a Christian institution, but Sir Humphreys gleefully informed him that most of the bishops don't believe in God, and this is why they have theologians, to explain why an atheist can be a church leader.

Except for the third, fourth and sixth episode, every episode ends with one of the characters (usually Humphrey) saying, either "Yes, Minister" or "Yes, Prime Minister", depending on the series.

Critical reception

Yes, Minister came sixth in a 2004 BBC poll to find 'Britain's Best Sitcom'. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were jointly placed 9th.

Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister have been cited by political scientists for their accurate and sophisticated portrayal of these relationships. The shows were very popular in governmental circles and it was the favourite programme of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, leading to her staging a four-minute sketch with the show's two principal actors. Another ten-minute sketch was performed as part of a Christmas Special in 1982. Interestingly, she read the show as an indictment of the civil service while others believe it is an indictment of the British parliamentary system. Most people agree that it is a combination of both.

Background

The writers placed Hacker at the centre of the political spectrum, and were careful to identify his party headquarters as Central House (a portmanteau of Conservative Central Office and Labour's Transport House). Despite this, the thrust of the early episodes was in a generally neo-liberal direction. The episode Jobs for the Boys was clear in its rejection of the tripartite form of corporatism that Mrs Thatcher's government was determined to roll back. Antony Jay was personally sympathetic to the economically liberal elements of Thatcherism and served as a part time speech writer to Nigel Lawson. Jonathan Lynn was, even initially, less sympathetic to Mrs Thatcher and as the decade progressed and Mrs Thatcher's personality came to eclipse the policy agenda, the partnership produced episodes such as Man Overboard which satirised the Westland affair.

In Trollopian style, certain of the minor characters in the series were apparently drawn from identifiable real world originals. The acerbic nationalised industry chairman, Sir Wally MacFarlane, was an affectionate caricature of Sir Monty Finniston (of British Steel); the Prime Ministerial special advisor on efficiency, Sir Mark Spencer, was a reference to Derek Rayner who joined the first Thatcher Government from the chain store group Marks and Spencer; and the journalists John Pilgrim and Alex Andrews were evident references to John Pilger and Andrew Alexander. By contrast, Hacker's Prime Ministerial special advisor, Dorothy Wainwright, predated the arrival of Sarah Hogg (who bore her some resemblance) as John Major's advisor some years later.

Inspirations

In a tribute program to the series, screened by the BBC in early 2004, it was revealed that Jay and Lynn had drawn on information provided by two insiders from the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, namely Marcia Williams and Bernard Donohue. The name of Hacker's ministry was partly derived from the Department for Economic Affairs, created and then abolished by Wilson. The fundamental plot of a minister being frustrated by the Civil Service was inspired by the published diaries of Richard Crossman after 1964, which are dominated by Crossman's constant struggle with 'Dame Evelyn' (Evelyn Sharp, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government). The title was probably suggested by Crossman's entry for October 22, 1964, less than a week after he had been appointed:

.. already I realize the tremendous effort it requires not to be taken over by the Civil Service. My Minister's room is like a padded cell, and in certain ways I am like a person who is suddenly certified a lunatic and put safely into this great, vast room, cut off from real life and surrounded by male and female trained nurses and attendants. When I am in a good mood they occasionally allow an ordinary human being to come and visit me; but they make sure that I behave right, and that the other person behaves right; and they know how to handle me. Of course, they don't behave quite like nurses because the Civil Service is profoundly deferential – 'Yes, Minister! No, Minister! If you wish it, Minister!'

Some of the material for the episodes is clearly derived from, or based upon, material in Anthony Sampson's book, Anatomy of Britain (Hodder and Stoughton, 1962).

The episode, entitled The Moral Dimension, in which Hacker and his staff engaged in the scheme of secretly consuming alcohol on a trade mission to an Islamic state, was also revealed to have been based on a real incident that took place in Pakistan.

Episode list

Thirty-eight episodes were made in total, running from 1980 to 1988. The dates listed are when a particular episode first aired on the BBC.

Yes, Minister

Series One

Series Two

Series Three

Special

A one-hour Christmas Special, dealing with Hacker's transition to PM

Yes, Prime Minister

Series One

Series Two

Remakes

See also

External links

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