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Yes minister! (or the Whitehall farce)
This for me is still one of the best written comedies that the BBC has produced. Although it is rather dated, as any political comedy would be, it is still funny as it has the modicum of truth in it about the way government is run. The writes admit that at times the writing was done fairly late on as to include bit that were going on at the time. It is a constant battle between the government 'will' and the administrative 'won't'.
The casting is what really made the series work. Although it may have been just as good with any actors in the lead roles of the Minister and Bernard Woolley I highly doubt anyone could carry off the part of Sir Humphrey Appleby anywhere near as well as Nigel Hawthorne did. This is a part for which Nigel Hawthorne won four BAFTAs. Whilst the series it's self won the best comedy BAFTA three years in succession. This was apparently one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite TV programmes.
Most of the supporting cast are also excellent, whether this is John Savident in the role of Sir Frederick 'Jumbo' Stewart (series one only) or Diana Hoddinott as Hacker's wife Annie they both have some excellent cutting one liners. The only supporting cast member I didn't like was that of the political adviser Frank Weisel played by Neil Fitzwiliam. For me this character just didn't work and was just not needed. The only reason to have him seamed to be for Sir Humphrey to constantly mispronounce his name as 'weasel'. Thankfully Weisel was written out at the end of the first series.
Some of the situations in the programme, believe it or not, actually did happen. The writers did get ideas from people inside government. The best known one is where whilst on a visit to the fictional Islamic state of Qumran the Minister and Sir Humphrey secretly consume whisky. (episode 'The Moral Dimension from series 2)
In this first series we see the fictional minister entering the 'Department of Administrative Affairs' with the idea that he is going to do something, to change things to make government work better. The only problem is that he has come up against Sir Humphrey Appleby, the permanent secretary in the department who firmly believes that on no account should the Minister be allowed to change things.
Some of the main characters
James Hacker MP: James has been given the job of Minister for Administrative affairs in the new government after his party won the election. He is a bit hapless and not the most intelligent person. Like most MPs he is obsessed with one thing, being popular. His main political idea is to slim down the civil service. The only problem is that he never learns that it is the civil service who put the policy into action.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: The permanent secretary of the department of Administrative affairs. He is firmly of the opinion that it is he, not the Minister, who is in charge. Humphrey always manages to stop the minister in his tracks over any policy, telling him the policy is 'courageous' usually does the trick. The main thing about Sir Humphrey is a master of the English language and he can make the simplest thing sound totally impossible. The one thing Humphrey must do is get rid of the Ministers political adviser. It takes the entire first series but he finally proves that everyone has their price.
Bernard Woolley: The Ministers principal private secretary in the department. Well you have to feel sorry for him as he is sort of the 'piggy in the middle'. He has divided loyalties to the minister but knows that Sir Humphrey could move him to what the civil service regard as the 'graveyard job' at the DVLA. However, hypothetical question to Sir Humphrey always goes down well. Bernard is a bit nit picky about what people say and he is always quick to point out the physical impossibilities of Sir Humphrey's or Hacker's mixed metaphors. Once when asked in the case of a dispute which side is the civil service really on, Bernard calmly replies 'the winning side, Minister'.
Brief summary of the plots of series 1:
1) Open Government:
James Hacker has been given the job as minister of administrative affairs and he is full of the ideal to change things. He hasn't quite banked of Sir Humphrey being as sly as he is. Hacker wants open government, Sir Humphrey believes it is best that the public are kept ignorant. Hacker has to be stopped and that political adviser has to go.....
2) The Official Visit
The President of Buranda is due to make a state visit but after a coup the new president is unknown, to all except Hacker that is. Humphrey is insistent the visit must be cancelled, but with two by-elections coming up can Hacker be persuaded and just what does the new president want....
3) The Economy Drive
Hacker decides that the department needs to save money, as does the rest of the government. Humphrey can't have this. Perhaps convincing the Minister
should be the one to set the example to the rest of his cabinet colleagues will work.
4) Big Brother
A new data base with everyone's details on it is being set up. This is proving to be unpopular and the minister must get Humphrey to get safeguards set up. Humphrey does not agree and starts his delaying tactics. After a Freudian slip by Bernard the Minister may just have achieved the impossible and got game set and match over Humphrey.
5) The Writing on the Wall
Panic ensures as there are plans to abolish the department. Humphrey can not have this. He realises that he and the Minister must unite to keep their jobs. The department are about to be made very unpopular as the EEC has decided to introduce the 'European Identity Card' to be carried by all EEC citizens. Could this be the ammunition they need to twist the arm of the PM?
6) The Right to Know
The minister is annoyed that he is not being told things and so insists on knowing everything. Major mistake as now Sir Humphrey just fills his ministerial boxes with totally unimportant things. The next major headache is that Jim's daughter is about to embarrass him over the plans for a new development close to a badger colony. Humphrey uses this to prove that at times ignorance is the best policy.
7) Jobs for the Boys
It's QUANGOs galore as jobs are just given out to those who support the government. However, Sir Humphrey is trying to get one of his cronies a top job, the Minister does not agree. After a disastrous radio programme the minister was on Sir Humphrey sees his chance to get his way, and to finally get rid of that annoying political adviser.
There was a recent attempt at a sort of remake of this called 'in the thick of it' but for me this was just not as good. The writing just wasn't anywhere near as good. and the acting was no where near as strong.
(this is a very updated review of one I have on ciao under the same user name.)
One of my favourite comedies from the 1980's was Yes Minister with the equally brilliant follow up Yes Prime Minister.
Written by Antony Jay and Jonathon Lynn the show followed the fortunes of Right Honourable Jim Hacker played by Paul Eddington (of the Good Life) who was appointed to the job of Minister of Administrative Affairs. He was initially placed in this job to keep him out of trouble as he is more than a little idealistic and really believes that he can make a difference.
His Private Secretary is Bernard Woolley played by Derek Fowlds (now of Heartbeat fame). Bernard has the job of managing Jim Hacker's diary and generally looking after him but he is also at the mercy of Senior Civil Servant Sir Humphrey Appleby played brilliantly by Nigel Hawthorne.
Each episode sees Hacker trying to improve things by cutting costs, reducing red tape or making government more open. His attempts are always tempered by his desire to remain liked by his voters.
Sir Humphrey uses this 'weakness' to his own advantage and makes sure that things are (almost) always done his way. His ulterior motive is to keep things as they are with the Civil Service in control at all times. He is the ultimate snob and has an unshaking belief in the elitism of Whitehall.
When backed into a corner Sir Humphrey will confuse Hacker with an amazing monologue of long words and complicated sentences usually saying little or nothing of merit! I often wondered if these were filmed in one take.
Although Hacker was a Conservative the series was never particularly party based and so has a wide appeal and the issues raised in the 1980's are still relevant now openness of government, funding, sensitive information etc., so the humour remains as fresh now as it ever was. The timing of Sir Humphrey's monologues, Bernard's terrible puns and Hacker's mixed metaphors was impeccable, as you would expect from such great actors.
The seven episodes of Series One followed Hacker's appointment to his new post and his attempts to settle and make a difference.
Open Government sees an idealistic Hacker trying to make what happens at Whitehall transparent to the public - Sir Humphrey soon puts a stop to that!
The Official Visit sees Hacker welcoming the African president to Britain and finding that he is an old university pal.
The Economy Drive is the one where Hacker decides to slim down the Civil Service, but Sir Humphrey thwarts him by making sure that he feels the pinch too.
Big Brother offers everyone access to their own files in a new national database with hilarious consequences.
The Writing on the Wall sees the Department for Administrative Affairs under threat and Sir Humphrey and hacker have to work together to save their place in Whitehall.
The Right to Know is an episode where Sir Humphrey shows Hacker that there are some things that it is better he doesn't know. Sir Humphrey's explanations in this one are superb!
Jobs for the Boys is the one where Hacker turns to a banker to help him to rescue a doomed project and Sir Humphrey's reaction to an outsider in the camp!
Each episode ends with the words 'Yes Minister' spoken by Sir Humphrey in various tones of voice as he either gets his own way or sometimes has to accept that Hacker has actually managed to outwit him.
The DVD also has profiles of the actors which are quite interesting.
This series has a U certificate meaning that it is suitable viewing for all.
I have always worked in Local Government and so the humour of Yes Minister is something that I associate with, in fact I could see a lot of things in the series that were fairly true!
This has also been posted on Ciao
The first series of the elegant sitcom-cum-farce-cum-sophisticated political satire Yes Minister, setting off Paul Eddington's Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs, against Nigel Hawthorne's discreetly obstructive civil servant Sir Humphrey. Series One features the pilot episode, "Open Government", curious in that it contains different and distinctly inferior opening and closing credits to the rest of the series. You also sense that Mrs Hacker was originally intended to have a larger role, with comedy focussing on the clash between political and domestic commitments, until the writers wisely decided to focus on the stand-off between Jim and Sir Humphrey, with Derek Fowlds' mousy private secretary Bernard making occasional interjections. While the series doesn't quite come fully to light--Sir Humphrey is at times a little too sinister for sitcom consumption--all the classic features quickly show up. Hacker's occasional Churchillian bombast, followed by panicky blank double-takes when flummoxed, Sir Humphrey's unflappable verbosity as he brings the dead weight of civil service bureaucracy to bear against Hacker's naively optimistic schemes for open government, Quangos and slashing red tape in episodes like "The Economy Drive". Ironic, that when this was first screened in the 80s, it was during the rampages of early Thatcherism in which Government had never been less like the ineffectual politicking satirised here. On the DVD: Full screen, no special features except scene selection and straightforward text profiles of the principal actors here. --David Stubbs