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Yes Minister
Yes, Prime Minister
Yes Minister opening titles.gif
The title card of Yes Minister
Genre Political satire
Situation comedy
Created by Sir Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Starring Paul Eddington
Sir Nigel Hawthorne
Derek Fowlds
Theme music composer Ronnie Hazlehurst
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 5
No. of episodes 38[1][2] (List of episodes)
Producer(s) Stuart Allen
Sydney Lotterby
Peter Whitmore
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 30 minutes (with a one hour-long Christmas episode and several short specials)[1]
Original channel BBC Two
Picture format 576i (SDTV)
Original run 25 February 1980[1] – 28 January 1988[2]

Yes Minister is a satirical British sitcom written by Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn that was first transmitted by BBC television and BBC Radio between 1980 and 1984, split over three seven-episode series. The sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, ran from 1986 to 1988. In total there were 38 episodes—of which all but one lasted half an hour.

Set principally in the private office of a British government cabinet minister in the (fictional) Department for Administrative Affairs in Whitehall (the sequel was set in the Prime Minister's offices at 10 Downing Street), the series follows the senior ministerial career of The Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP, played by Paul Eddington. His various struggles to formulate and enact legislation or effect departmental changes are opposed by the will of the British Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Nigel Hawthorne. His Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds, is usually caught between the two. Almost every episode ends with the line "Yes, Minister" (or "Yes, Prime Minister"), uttered (usually) by Sir Humphrey as he relishes his victory over his "political master" or acknowledges defeat.

A huge critical and popular success, the series received a number of awards, including several BAFTAs and in 2004 came in sixth in the Britain's Best Sitcom poll. It was the favourite television programme of the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher.[3]



The series commences in the aftermath of a general election in which the incumbents have been defeated by the party to which Jim Hacker MP belongs--the party affiliation is never stated. The Prime Minister offers Hacker the position of Minister of Administrative Affairs, which he accepts. Hacker goes to his department and meets his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, and his Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley. While Appleby is outwardly obsequious towards the new minister, he is prepared to defend the status quo at all costs. Woolley is sympathetic towards Hacker but as Appleby reminds him, his civil servant superiors will have much to say about the course of his future career and the minister may be gone at any time. Many of the episodes revolve around proposals backed by Hacker but frustrated by Appleby or promoted by Appleby, who does whatever is necessary to persuade Hacker that the policy should go into force.

As the series revolves around the inner workings of central government, most of the scenes take place in private locations, such as offices and exclusive members' club lounges. Lynn says "there was not a single scene set in the House of Commons because government does not take place in the House of Commons. Some politics and much theatre takes place there. Government happens in private. As in all public performances, the real work is done in rehearsal, behind closed doors. Then the public and the House are shown what the government wishes them to see."[4]

The different ideals and self-interested motives of the characters are frequently contrasted. Whilst Hacker occasionally approaches an issue from a sense of idealism and a desire to be seen to improve things, he ultimately sees his re-election and elevation to higher office as the only measures of his success. Accordingly, he must appear to the voters to be effective and responsive to the public will. To his party (and, in the first incarnation, the Prime Minister) he must act as a loyal and effective party member. Sir Humphrey, on the other hand, genuinely believes that it is the Civil Service that knows what is best for the country (a belief shared by his bureaucratic colleagues) which is usually what is best for the Civil Service. Most of Sir Humphrey's actions are motivated by his wish to maintain the prestige, power, and influence he enjoys inside a large, bureaucratic organisation and also to preserve the numerous perks of his position: automatic honours, a substantial income, a fixed retirement age, a large pension, and the practical impossibility of being made redundant or being sacked. In fact, a good deal of the tension in their relationship comes from Hacker's awareness that it is the politicians who are liable to lose their jobs if civil service ineptitude comes to public attention.

In private industry if you screw things up you get the boot; in the civil service if you screw things up I get the boot[5]

Hacker sees his task as the initiation of departmental reforms and economies, a reduction of the level of bureaucracy and staff numbers in the Civil Service, and governing the country according to his party's policies. To do so, or to at least look as if he has, would be a vote-winner. Conversely, Sir Humphrey sees his role as ensuring that politics is kept out of government as much as possible and that the status quo is upheld as a matter of principle. He will block any move that seeks either to prevent the further expansion of the civil service or to reduce the complexity of its bureaucracy.

Much of the show's humour thus derives from the antagonism between Cabinet ministers (who believe they are in charge) and the members of the British Civil Service who really run the country. A typical episode centres on Jim Hacker's suggesting and pursuing a reform and Sir Humphrey's ingenious blocking of all Hacker's lines of approach. More often than not Sir Humphrey prevents him from achieving his goal while mollifying Hacker with some positive publicity or at least a means to cover up his failure. Occasionally, however, Hacker does get his way. Sir Humphrey occasionally resorts to tactics such as calling a policy "courageous". He and Hacker both know that, in Sir Humphrey's view, a controversial policy will lose votes, whilse a courageous one will lose the election.

Initially, Woolley naively sees his job as the disinterested implementation of the Minister's policies but gradually finds that this conflicts with his institutional duty to the department and sometimes (since Sir Humphrey is responsible for formally assessing Woolley's performance) his own potential career development.[1] Consequently, another recurring scenario is one where Bernard must "walk the tightrope"–-that is, arbitrate between his two conflicting duties by resorting to elaborate verbosity (much like Sir Humphrey) to avoid choosing one over the other.

The first series featured Frank Weisel, Hacker's political adviser, played by Neil Fitzwiliam. While his name is pronounced W-"eye"-sel, Sir Humphrey and Bernard persistently call him "Weasel". Weisel does not appear after the first series, following his convenient acceptance of a position on a quango (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisation) tasked, appropriately, with investigating the appointment of other quangos and the government's honours system and 'jobs for the boys'.[1] After the third series, following Sir Humphrey's promotion to Cabinet Secretary, Hacker becomes Prime Minister and requests that Bernard Woolley continue as his Principal Private Secretary. The first series of Yes, Prime Minister introduced Dorothy Wainwright (played by Deborah Norton) as a highly able special political adviser to the Prime Minister. Her experience and insight into many civil service tricks ensures a lasting mutual distrust between her and Sir Humphrey and an invaluable second opinion for Hacker.[6]

Hacker's home life is shown occasionally throughout the series. His wife, Annie (Diana Hoddinott), is clearly frustrated by the disruptions caused by her husband's political career and is at times somewhat cynical about her husband's politics. Meanwhile, his sociology student daughter, Lucy (Gerry Cowper), becomes an environmental activist in one episode, campaigning against the Department's intention to remove protected status from a wooded area believed to be inhabited by badgers. Sir Humphrey falsely assures her there have not been badgers in the woods for some years, a deceit winked at by Hacker.

Sir Humphrey's personal characteristics include his complicated sentences, his ineffable snobbery, his cynical views on government, and his superciliousness. Hacker's attributes include occasional indecisiveness, and a tendency to launch into ludicrous Churchillian speeches. Bernard is apt to linguistic pedantry. Sir Humphrey often discusses matters with other Permanent Secretaries, who appear similarly sardonic and jaded, and the Cabinet Secretary (whom he will eventually succeed in Yes, Prime Minister), Sir Arnold Robinson (John Nettleton), an archetype of cynicism, haughtiness and conspiratorial expertise. This fairly counter-intuitive view of government administration is not only Sir Humphrey's: it is completely taken for granted by the civil service.

The Yes, Prime Minister episode "The Bishop's Gambit" parodied Liberal Christianity and politics in the Church of England. Hacker thought that the church is a Christian institution but Sir Humphrey gleefully informed him that most of the bishops do not believe in God and that a theologian's job is partly to explain why an agnostic or atheist can be a church leader.

Almost all the episodes end with one of the characters (usually Sir Humphrey) saying "Yes, Minister" or "Yes, Prime Minister" accordingly. Each episode of the former was more or less self-contained, but the first series of Yes, Prime Minister had a loose story arc relating to Hacker's attempts to reform the United Kingdom's armed forces while the second was mostly devoted to concluding storylines and character arcs that had been seen over the course of the show.


Lynn joined the Cambridge Union in his first year at the University of Cambridge because he thought that he might like to enter politics. "All of the main debaters there, aged twenty, were the most pompous, self-satisfied, self-important bunch of clowns that I've ever clapped eyes on. They were all behaving as if they were on the government front bench, and twenty years later they all were: Michael Howard; John Selwyn Gummer; Kenneth Clarke. I thought at that point that the only way that I could ever contribute to politics is making fun of the politicians."[6]

The series, then, intended to satirise politics and government in general, rather than any specific party. The writers placed Hacker at the centre of the political spectrum, and were careful to identify his party headquarters as "Central House" (a combination of Conservative Central Office and Labour's Transport House). The terms "Labour" and "Conservative" are scrupulously avoided throughout the series, favouring terms such as "the party" or "the Government" and "the opposition."[1] In the first scene of the first episode, "Open Government", Hacker is shown at the declaration of his constituency result wearing a white rosette, with other candidates sporting the red and blue rosettes associated with the two leading British parties. The one exception to this neutrality occurs very briefly in "The National Education Service", when Sir Humphrey explains to Bernard how the policy of comprehensive education is retained through successive governments, using different arguments according to which party is in power. Even there, Humphrey does not reveal which party Jim Hacker represents. Despite this, the overall thrust was toward government reduction rather than expansion. The episode "Jobs for the Boys", for example, rejected corporatism. Through the first and second series of Yes Minister there were slight hints towards the centre-right newspapers, namely the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, changing people's opinions and how popular they found the government. The hints suggested the presence of a centre-right government particularly associated with the Conservative Party, in which Sir Antony Jay was a long-standing member. Throughout the period of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister the incumbent government of the United Kingdom was Conservative with the government led by Thatcher.

In a 2004 documentary, Armando Iannucci compared Yes Minister to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in how it has influenced the public's view of the state. Although Lynn comments that the word "spin" has "probably entered the political vocabulary since the series,"[4] Iannucci suggests that the show "taught us how to unpick the verbal tricks that politicians think they can get away with in front of the cameras."[6] The series depicted the media-consciousness of politicians, reflecting the public relations training they undergo to help them deal with interviews and reading from autocue effectively. This is particularly evident in the episode "The Ministerial Broadcast," in which Hacker is advised on the effects of his clothes and surroundings. The episode "A Conflict of Interest" humorously lampoons the various political stances of Britain's newspapers through their readers.

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.

Adam Curtis, in his three-part TV documentary The Trap, criticised the series as "ideological propaganda for a political movement",[7] and claimed that Yes Minister is indicative of a larger movement of criticism of government and bureaucracy, centred upon public choice economics. This view has been supported by Jay himself:

The fallacy that public choice economics took on was the fallacy that government is working entirely for the benefit of the citizen; and this was reflected by showing that in any [episode] in the programme, in Yes Minister, we showed that almost everything that the government has to decide is a conflict between two lots of private interest – that of the politicians and that of the civil servants trying to advance their own careers and improve their own lives. And that's why public choice economics, which explains why all this was going on, was at the root of almost every episode of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.[8]


The writers were inspired by a variety of sources, including sources inside government, published material and contemporary news stories. The writers also met several leading senior civil servants under the auspices of the Royal Institute of Public Administration, a think-tank for the public service sector, which led to the development of some plot lines. Some situations were conceived as fiction, but were later revealed to have real-life counterparts. The episode "The Compassionate Society" depicts a hospital with five hundred administrative staff but no doctors, nurses or patients. Lynn recalls that "after inventing this absurdity, we discovered there were six such hospitals (or very large empty wings of hospitals) exactly as we had described them in our episode."[4]

In a programme screened by the BBC in early 2004, paying tribute to the series, 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 Donoughue.[6] The published diaries of Richard Crossman also provided inspiration.[4][9]

The episode entitled "The Moral Dimension", in which Hacker and his staff engage in the scheme of secretly consuming alcohol on a trade mission to the fictional Islamic state of Qumran, was based on a real incident that took place in Pakistan, involving Callaghan and Donoughue, the latter of whom informed Jay and Lynn about the incident.[10] Jay says that "I can't tell you where, I can't tell you when and I can't tell you who was involved; all I can tell you is that we knew that it had actually happened. That's why it was so funny. We couldn't think up things as funny as the real things that had happened."[11] Media historian Andrew Crisell suggests that the show was "enriched by the viewers' suspicion that what they were watching was unhealthily close to real life."[12]

Fusing inspiration and invention, Lynn and Jay worked on the story "for anything from three days to two weeks," and only took "four mornings to write all the dialogue. After we wrote the episode, we would show it to some secret sources, always including somebody who was an expert on the subject in question. They would usually give us extra information which, because it was true, was usually funnier than anything we might have thought up."[4] Designers Valerie Warrender and Gloria Clayton were given access to the Cabinet Rooms and the State Drawing Rooms. For security purposes, the arrangements of the rooms were altered, and the views from the windows were never shown, in order to conceal the layout of the buildings.[13]

Main characters

James "Jim" Hacker

The three main characters in the Minister's Office of the Department of Administrative Affairs: from left, Sir Humphrey Appleby, Bernard Woolley and Jim Hacker.

The Rt Hon. Jim Hacker, Lord Hacker of Islington KG PC BSc (Paul Eddington) was the editor of a newspaper, Reform, before entering government. He apparently spent a good deal of time in Parliament on the Opposition benches before his party won the general election. In Yes Minister he is the Minister for Administrative Affairs (a fictitious ministry of the British government) and a Cabinet Minister, and in Yes, Prime Minister he becomes the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Hacker received his degree from the London School of Economics (graduating with a Third), for which he is often derided by the Oxford-educated Sir Humphrey (who attended the fictitious Baillie College graduating with a First in Classics). His early character is that of a gung-ho, but naïve, politician, bringing sweeping changes to his department. Before long, Hacker begins to notice that Civil Service tactics are preventing his planned changes being put into practice. As he learns he becomes more sly and cynical, and uses some of the Civil Service ruses himself. While Sir Humphrey initially held all the aces, Hacker now and again plays a trump card of his own.

Throughout Yes Minister Hacker is regularly portrayed as a publicity-mad bungler who is incapable of making a firm decision, prone to make potentially embarrassing blunders, and a frequent target of criticism from the press and stern lectures from the Chief Whip. However, in Yes, Prime Minister Hacker becomes more statesmanlike. He practises more grandiose speeches, dreams up his "grand design" and hones his diplomatic skills. Nearly all of these efforts land him in trouble. In a Radio Times interview to promote Yes, Prime Minister, Paul Eddington stated, "He's beginning to find his feet as a man of power, and he's begun to confound those who thought they'd be able to manipulate him out of hand."[14]

Sir Humphrey Appleby

Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) (Sir Nigel Hawthorne) serves throughout the series as Permanent Secretary under his Minister, Jim Hacker at the Department of Administrative Affairs. He is appointed Cabinet Secretary just as Hacker's party enters a leadership crisis, and is instrumental in Hacker's elevation to Prime Minister. He is committed to maintaining the status quo for the country in general and for the Civil Service in particular.[6] Sir Humphrey is a master of obfuscation and manipulation, baffling his opponents with technical jargon and circumlocutions, strategically appointing allies to supposedly impartial boards, and setting up interdepartmental committees to smother his Minister's proposals in red tape.

Problems listening to this file? See media help.

In Britain's Best Sitcom, Stephen Fry comments that "we love the idea of the coherence and articulacy of Sir Humphrey... it's one of the things you look forward to in an episode of Yes Minister... when's the big speech going to happen? And can I see if he's reading it from an idiot board... he's really learned it, and it's superb."[6] Derek Fowlds posited to a concerned Eddington that these speeches were the reason why Hawthorne won a BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance four times in a row, while Eddington, though nominated, didn't win at all.[6]

Loquacious and verbose, he frequently uses both his mastery of the English language and even his superb grasp of Latin and Greek grammar both to perplex his political master and to obscure the relevant issues. In a Radio Times interview to promote the second series of Yes, Prime Minister, producer Sydney Lotterby stated that he always tried to give Eddington and Hawthorne extra time to rehearse as their scenes invariably featured lengthy dialogue exchanges.[15]

Bernard Woolley

Sir Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds) is Jim Hacker's Principal Private Secretary. His loyalties are therefore split between his Minister and his Civil Service boss, Sir Humphrey: while he is theoretically responsible to Hacker personally, it is Sir Humphrey who writes his performance reviews and influences Bernard's Civil Service career. This leads to difficult situations for the young civil servant. He usually handles these situations well, and maintains his reputation in the Civil Service as a "high flier" (as opposed to a "low flier supported by occasional gusts of wind").[16]

Woolley is always quick to point out the physical impossibilities of Sir Humphrey's or Hacker's mixed metaphors, with almost obsessive pedantry. He can occasionally appear rather childlike, by making animal noises and gestures or by acting out how such an analogy cannot work, which sometimes annoys his Minister.

Woolley tends to side with Hacker when new policies are announced, because they seem radical or democratic, only for Sir Humphrey to point out the disadvantages to the status quo and the civil service in particular. To sway Bernard, Sir Humphrey uses phrases such as "barbarism" and "the beginning of the end".[17] At times when Sir Humphrey fails to get his way, Woolley can be seen smiling smugly at him over his defeat.[18]

In a 2004 retrospective, Armando Iannucci commented that Fowlds had a difficult task because he had to "spend most of his time saying nothing but looking interested in everyone else's total and utter guff" but "his one line frequently had to be the funniest of the lot." Iannucci suggests that Bernard is essential to the structure of the show because both Hacker and Appleby confide in him, "which means we get to find out what they're plotting next."[6]

Other characters

The series featured a cast of recurring characters. Frank Weisel (often deprecatingly called weasel), played by Neil Fitzwiliam, was Hacker's political adviser in the first series. It was not until Yes, Prime Minister that another such character appeared regularly: Dorothy Wainwright, special adviser to the Prime Minister, who was played by Deborah Norton. Hacker also had a Press Secretary, Bill Pritchard, played by Antony Carrick. Meanwhile, Sir Humphrey's civil service colleagues were regularly featured. They included Sir Arnold Robinson (played by John Nettleton), Cabinet Secretary in Yes Minister and later President of the Campaign for Freedom of Information; Sir Frederick Stewart (played by John Savident), Permanent Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, known as "Jumbo" to his friends; Sir Ian Whitchurch (played by John Barron), Permanent Secretary to the Department of Health and Social Security and Sir Frank Gordon, who appeared in both series of Yes, Prime Minister as Permanent Secretary to the Treasury (played by Peter Cellier). Sir Humphrey also had an old acquaintance: Sir Desmond Glazebrook (played by Richard Vernon), who was Board member, then Chairman, of Bartlett's Bank. He became Governor of the Bank of England in the Yes, Prime Minister episode "A Conflict of Interest". (This was to avoid, as one possibility, Britain's expulsion from the Commonwealth.)

Hacker's family comprised his wife, Annie Hacker (played by Diana Hoddinott), who appeared in several episodes, and his daughter, Lucy (played by Gerry Cowper), who only appeared on-screen in one episode ("The Right to Know") but who is mentioned intermittently throughout. At one point (in "Party Games") it is suggested that the Hackers have more than one child, but as this occurs when stating a well-rehearsed rebuttal, this could be seen as one more instance where the Minister has become "house trained" to conform to departmental convenience (even though the Minister is in the running for the leadership).

Hacker's chauffeur, George (Arthur Cox), appeared in five episodes. He is a character who is always more in touch with current events than the Minister—anything from empty NHS hospitals to Cabinet reshuffles. This often irritates Hacker who, when he asks George where the information came from, is usually told that it is common knowledge among the Whitehall drivers. Well-known broadcasters who played themselves included Robert McKenzie, Ludovic Kennedy and Sue Lawley. Robert Dougall regularly played a newsreader, which was his own real life profession. Another newscaster, Nicholas Witchell, can be heard reporting on Hacker's visit to a school in "The National Education Service".

Tom Sargent (Robert Urquhart), Hacker's predecessor as Minister for Administrative Affairs in the previous government, appeared in the episode "Big Brother". Basil Corbett is a rival politician who, though he is not seen, is central to the plot of "The Devil You Know".


A total of thirty-eight episodes were made, and all but one are of 30 minutes' duration. They were videotaped in front of a studio audience, which was standard BBC practice for situation comedies at the time. The actors did not enjoy filming as they felt that the studio audience added additional pressure. Lynn, however, says that the studio audience on the soundtrack was necessary because laughter is a "communal affair." The laughter also acted as a kind of insurance: Jay observes that politicians would be unable to put pressure on the BBC not to "run this kind of nonsense" if "200–250 people were falling about with laughter."[6] There were occasionally film inserts of location sequences, and some shots of Hacker travelling in his car were achieved by means of chroma key. Each programme usually comprised around six scenes.

The pilot was produced in 1979 but not transmitted until 1980 in fear that it could influence the results of the 1979 UK General Election.[6] Yes Minister ran for three series, each of seven episodes, between 1980 and 1982. These were followed by two Christmas specials: one 10-minute sketch as part of an anthology presented by Frank Muir,[19] and then the hour-long "Party Games", in 1984. The latter's events led to Hacker's elevation to Prime Minister, dovetailing into the sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. This ran for two series, each of eight episodes, from 1986 to 1988.

Opening titles and music

Gerald Scarfe's caricature of Paul Eddington as Hacker

The opening titles were drawn by artist Gerald Scarfe, who provided distinctive caricatures of Eddington, Hawthorne and Fowlds in their respective roles to represent distortion.[6] He animated them as 'self-drawing' by positioning the camera above his paper, adding parts of lines, and then photographing two frames at a time. The sequence ended with the title of the episode superimposed on a facsimile of an edition of the House of Commons Weekly Information Bulletin. Curiously, the legend Compiled in the Public Information Office of the House of Commons Library was left in the sequence. Scarfe created a second set of graphics for Yes, Prime Minister, including a different title card for each episode. Derek Fowlds wanted to buy an original drawing but was unable to afford it.[6] The series' performance credits typically only featured those of the actors who appeared in the particular episode, not the names of characters.

The theme music was composed by Ronnie Hazlehurst and is largely based on the Westminster Quarters: the chimes of Big Ben. When asked in an interview about its Westminster influence, Hazlehurst replied, "That's all it is. It's the easiest thing I've ever done."[20] Scarfe's and Hazlehurst's work was not used for the first episode, "Open Government". The final version of the titles and music had yet to be agreed, and both differ substantially from those used for subsequent instalments. The opening and closing title caption cards feature drawings of most of the cast, but are less exaggerated than those of Scarfe, while the unaccredited music is a more up-tempo piece for brass band. The Scarfe and Hazlehurst credits were used for some repeat broadcasts of the first episode, but the original pilot credits were retained for the DVD release.


The series gained high audience figures, and 90+ on the audience Appreciation Index.[13] Critics, such as Andrew Davies in the Times Educational Supplement and Armando Iannucci, have noted that the show demanded high expectations from its audience.[13] Lynn posits that the public are more intelligent than most situation comedies, often patronising, give them credit for. Jay believes that the viewers were just as intelligent as the writers, but that there were some things that they needed to know but didn't.[6]

Yes Minister won the BAFTA award for Best Comedy Series for 1980, 1981 and 1982, and the "Party Games" special was nominated in the Best Light Entertainment Programme category for 1984. Yes, Prime Minister was short-listed for Best Comedy Series for both 1986 and 1987. Nigel Hawthorne's portrayal of Sir Humphrey Appleby won the BAFTA Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance four times (in 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1987). Eddington was also nominated on all four occasions.[21] Yes Minister came sixth in a 2004 BBC poll to find 'Britain's Best Sitcom'.[22] In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted by industry professionals, Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister were jointly placed ninth. They were also placed 14th in Channel 4's The Ultimate Sitcom, a poll conducted by people who work in sitcoms.[23]

The series have been cited by political scientists for their accurate and sophisticated portrayal of the relationships between civil servants and politicians,[24] and are quoted in some textbooks on British politics.[4] The series was highly rated by critics and politicians. The shows were very popular in government circles. The Guinness Television Encyclopedia suggests that "real politicians ... enjoyed the show's cynical dismissal of Whitehall intrigue and its insights into the machinations of government."[25] They were the favourite programme of then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She told The Daily Telegraph that "its clearly-observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power has given me hours of pure joy."[13] Gerald Kaufman described it as "The Rt Hon. Faust MP, constantly beset by the wiles of Sir Mephistopheles."[13] As a supporter of Thatcher, Jay embraced her appreciation, although the more leftist Lynn was concerned.[6]

Hawthorne and Eddington performing the sketch with Thatcher in January 1984.

Thatcher performed a short sketch with Eddington and Hawthorne on 20 January 1984 at a ceremony where the writers were presented with an award from Mary Whitehouse's NVLA,[26] an event commemorated on the cover of the satirical magazine Private Eye.[27] Authorship of the sketch is unclear. In Britain's Best Sitcom, Bernard Ingham says that he wrote it; other sources give Thatcher sole credit, while Michael Cockerell says that she wrote it with Ingham's help.[3] Another source gives renegade credit to Charles Powell.[13] The actors, who were both starring in separate West End plays at the time, were not enthusiastic at the idea and asked Lynn to "get them out" of it. The writer, however, was not in a position to help. Hawthorne says he and Eddington resented Thatcher's attempts to "make capital" from their popularity.[11] Ingham says that it "went down a bomb", while Lynn brands it a "dreadful sketch" that was only funny because Thatcher was doing it.[6] Accepting the award from the NVLA, Lynn thanked Thatcher "for taking her rightful place in the field of situation comedy." Everyone, except the Prime Minister, laughed.[11]

When Paul Eddington visited Australia during the 1980s, he was treated as a visiting British PM by the then Australian leader, Bob Hawke, who was obviously a great fan of the show. At a rally, Hawke said "You don't want to be listening to me; you want to be listening to the real Prime Minister", forcing Eddington to improvise.[28] In an interview to promote the first series of Yes, Prime Minister, Derek Fowlds said that "both political sides believe that it satirises their opponents, and civil servants love it because it depicts them as being more powerful than either. And of course, they love it because it's all so authentic."[14] The series was well-received in the United States, running on the A&E Network and repeatedly on public television.[29]


The show has been remade several times. The first was the Canadian remake in 1987 Not My Department, which only lasted one season. Rosenbaddarna (from 1990) was the Swedish unofficial remake. The title of the Portuguese remake, Sim, Sr. Ministro (from 1996), is a direct translation of the original's title. Ji, Mantriji (2001) was the remake in Hindi (with the BBC's permission) by STAR Plus, Rupert Murdoch's Indian satellite TV channel. Both Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker are portrayed there by the same actors who dubbed them for the original. A computer game version of Yes Minister was released in 1987 for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum. The premise was to survive one week in office as Jim Hacker.[30] In 2009, Israeli sitcom Polishook, explicitly modeled on Yes Minister, aired for a single season on Channel 2's Keshet Broadcasting. Also in 2009, it was announced that a Dutch remake would be made by S&V Fiction for VPRO, lasting 11 episodes. In the planned Dutch version, Sir Humphrey will be a woman and Bernard will be a Moroccan called Mohammed.[31]

In 2005, BBC Four launched The Thick of It, described by director Armando Iannucci as "Yes Minister meets Larry Sanders",[32] and The Daily Telegraph called it "a Yes, Minister for the Labour years."[33] The style shows many identifiable hallmarks of Yes Minister, namely the blundering politician virtually entirely dependent on those whose presentational and political nous greatly eclipse his own limited abilities.


Sixteen episodes[34] of Yes Minister were adapted and re-recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 4, with the principal cast reprising their roles. Produced by Peter Atkin, they were broadcast across two seasons, each with eight episodes.[35] The first series aired 18 October to 7 December 1983, with the second originally transmitted 8 October to 27 November 1984.[1] The complete set was released on cassette in February 2000, and on compact disc in October 2002. The series was repeated on the digital radio station BBC 7 in early 2007.

In 1997, Derek Fowlds reprised the role of Bernard Woolley to read Antony Jay's How To Beat Sir Humphrey: Every Citizen's Guide To Fighting Officialdom. It was broadcast in three daily parts by Radio 4 from 29 September to 1 October 1997[1] and released by BBC Audiobooks on cassette in October 1997.


Video and DVD releases

The BBC issued some episodes of Yes Minister, and all of Yes Prime Minister on VHS.[36] They were re-released and repackaged at various points. The complete collection was released by the BBC through Warner Home Video on Region 1 DVD in October 2003. Warner appears to have added RCE region coding to the individual release of the second series of Yes Minister, but there are no similar reported problems on playing the complete collection.[36] The BBC, through 2 Entertain Video, also issued several Region 2 DVDs:

  • Yes Minister: Series One (BBCDVD1047), released 1 October 2001
  • Yes Minister: Series Two (BBCDVD1120), released 30 September 2002
  • Yes Minister: Series Three & "Party Games" (BBCDVD1188), released 29 September 2003
  • The Complete Yes Minister (BBCDVD1462), released 15 November 2004
  • Yes, Prime Minister: Series One (BBCDVD1365), released 4 October 2004
  • Yes, Prime Minister: Series Two (BBCDVD1729), released 9 May 2005
  • The Complete Yes Minister & Yes, Prime Minister, released 16 October 2006

Netflix streams both series to subscribers. Computer users must use the Netflix player and Windows Media Player 11.

Australian/New Zealand releases (Region 4)

  • Yes Minister: Series One, released 2 April 2002
  • Yes Minister: Series Two, released 11 February 2002
  • Yes Minister: Series Three & "Party Games", released 5 May 2003
  • The Complete Yes Minister, released 10 July 2004
  • Yes Prime Minister: Series One, released 12 February 2004
  • Yes Prime Minister: Series Two, released 7 July 2005
  • Yes Prime Minister: Series One and Two (Box Set), released 11 March 2005
  • The Complete Yes Minister & Yes, Prime Minister, released 3 October 2007
  • Roadshow Entertainment Australia[37] / New Zealand[38] - Search DVD Index


Several books have been published surrounding the series. The scripts were edited and transformed into prose, and published by BBC Books in the form of diaries. Scenes that did not involve Hacker took the form of private memos between civil servants, or 'interviews' and written correspondence from other characters.

The three series of Yes Minister were published as paperbacks in 1981, 1982 and 1983 respectively before being combined into a revised hardback omnibus edition, The Complete Yes Minister: The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, in 1984. Two volumes of Yes, Prime Minister: The Diaries of the Right Hon. James Hacker were published in 1986 and 1987, before being made available as an omnibus edition in 1988. Both series were published as omnibus paperback editions in 1989:

  • The Complete Yes Minister ISBN 0-563-20665-9
  • The Complete Yes, Prime Minister ISBN 0-563-20773-6

Antony Jay's How to Beat Sir Humphrey: Every Citizen's Guide to Fighting Officialdom (ISBN 0-952-82851-0) was published in April 1997. It was illustrated by Gerald Scarfe and Shaun Williams. It was read by Derek Fowlds on Radio 4 later that year.

The "Yes Minister" Miscellany was released in October 2009.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lewisohn, Mark. "Yes Minister". BBC Comedy Guide. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-08-18.  
  2. ^ a b Lewisohn, Mark. "Yes, Prime Minister". BBC Comedy Guide. Archived from the original on 2007-03-17. Retrieved 2007-08-18.  
  3. ^ a b Cockerell, Michael (1988). Live From Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television. London: Faber and Faber. p. 288. ISBN 0-571-14757-7.  
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Yes Minister Questions & Answers". Jonathan Lynn Official Website. Retrieved 2007-09-06.  
  5. ^ "Doing the Honours"; Yes Minister, Series 2, Episode 2
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Yes Minister". Written by Armando Iannucci; prod. Verity Newman. Britain's Best Sitcom. BBC. BBC Two. 2004-01-17.
  7. ^ Adam Curtis. The Trap: What Happened To Our Dreams of Freedom, Part 1 - F. You Buddy [Television Production]. BBC. Quoted text at 0:35:34
  8. ^ Adam Curtis. The Trap: What Happened To Our Dreams of Freedom, Part 1 - "F&#k You Buddy" [Television Production]. BBC. Quoted text at 0:36:07
  9. ^ Crossman, Richard (1979). Diaries of a Cabinet Minister: Selections, 1964–70. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. ISBN 0-241-10142-5.  
  10. ^ "Yes Minister". Comedy Connections. 2008-07-25.
  11. ^ a b c "Part 3: Modern Times". Prod. Paul Tilzey; Dir. Gabrielle Osrin. Omnibus: Laughter in the House. BBC. 1999-04-09.
  12. ^ Crisell, Andrew (2002). An Introductory History of British Broadcasting (2nd ed ed.). London: Routledge. p. 201. ISBN 0-415-24792-6.  
  13. ^ a b c d e f Cornell, Paul.; Martin Day, Keith Topping (1993). The Guinness Book of Classic British TV. Guinness. pp. 113–6. ISBN 0-85112-543-3.  
  14. ^ a b Radio Times: 4–10 January 1986
  15. ^ Radio Times 28 November–4 December 1987
  16. ^ "The Whisky Priest". Writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Producer Peter Whitmore. Yes Minister. BBC. BBC Two. 1982-12-16.
  17. ^ "Power to the People". Writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Producer Sydney Lotterby. Yes, Prime Minister. BBC. BBC Two. 1988-01-07.
  18. ^ "Man Overboard". Writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, Producer Sydney Lotterby. Yes, Prime Minister. BBC. BBC Two. 1987-12-03.
  19. ^ "Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister". The British Comedy and Drama Website. Retrieved 2006-09-20.  
  20. ^ "BBC New Talent: Advice for new TV composers". Retrieved 2006-09-02.  
  21. ^ "Awards for "Yes Minister"". Retrieved 2006-09-01.  
  22. ^ "Britain's Best Sitcom: The Final Top 10 Sitcoms". Retrieved 2006-08-30.  
  23. ^ "Frasier is The Ultimate Sitcom". 2006-01-03. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-02-27.  
  24. ^ "Fiftieth Anniversary Award Winners" (PDF). The Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 2006-09-25. Retrieved 2006-08-30.  
  25. ^ Evans, Jeff (1995). The Guinness Television Encyclopedia. Middlesex: Guinness. p. 586. ISBN 0-85112-744-4.  
  26. ^ Stringer, Robin (1984-01-21). "Thatcher stars in "Yes Minister"" (Reprint on website). Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2006-08-30.  
  27. ^ "Maggie Stars in Whitehall Farce". 1984-01-27. Retrieved 2007-09-26.  
  28. ^ "Hacker in Australia: footage of Paul Eddington visiting Australia". Retrieved 2006-09-02.  
  29. ^ "BBC sitcom proves politics has its laughs". The New York Times. 1987-06-14. Retrieved 2009-02-02.  
  30. ^ Scott, Steve (1987). "Yes, Prime Minister". Retrieved 2006-08-30.  
  31. ^ "Ja, Bewindsman". 2009-03-23. Retrieved 2009-03-23.  
  32. ^ "The Thick of It: Interview: Armando Iannucci, Chris Langham & Peter Capaldi". BBC Four website. 2005-04-19. Retrieved 2006-09-07.  
  33. ^ Sylvester, Rachel (30 April 2005). "New TV satire puts Labour in the thick of it" (Reprint on Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2006-09-07.  
  34. ^ Episodes included "Open Government", "Big Brother", "The Economy Drive", "The Writing on the Wall", "The Smoke Screen", "The Ministerial Broadcast", "Official Secrets" and "A Conflict of Interest", "The Quality of Life", (vol.3) "The Compassionate Society", "The Greasy Pole", "The Skeleton in the Cupboard", "A Question of Loyalty" (vol.4) "The Whisky Priest", "The Death List" and "The Moral Dimension"
  35. ^ Taylor, Rod (1994). The Guinness Book of Sitcoms. Middlesex: Guinness. p. 278. ISBN 0-85112-638-3.  
  36. ^ a b "video/DVD". The Yes (Prime) Minister Files. Retrieved 2006-08-31.  
  37. ^ "New DVD titles for rent and retail from Roadshow Entertainment". Roadshow Entertainment.. Retrieved 4 February 2009.  
  38. ^

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Yes, Minister article)

From Wikiquote

Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister are British television shows that were broadcast between 1980 and 1988. All episodes were written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. The principal cast is as follows:


Yes, Minister

Series One (1980)

Episode One: Open Government

Jim Hacker: I'd like a new chair. I hate swivel chairs.
Bernard Woolley: It used to be said there were two kinds of chairs to go with two kinds of Minister: one sort folds up instantly; the other sort goes round and round in circles.

Bernard: But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity.

Episode Two: The Official Visit

[There are two official replies to the Minister's correspondence.]
Jim Hacker: What's the difference?
Bernard: Well, "under consideration" means "we've lost the file"; "under active consideration" means "we're trying to find it".

[The President of Buranda plans a speech urging the Scots and Irish to fight against "English colonialism".]
Jim Hacker: Humphrey, do you think it is a good idea to issue a statement?
Sir Humphrey: Well, Minister, in practical terms we have the usual six options:
  • One: do nothing.
  • Two: issue a statement deploring the speech.
  • Three: lodge an official protest.
  • Four: cut off aid.
  • Five: break off diplomatic relations.
  • And six: declare war.
Hacker: Which should be it?
Sir Humphrey: Well:
  • If we do nothing, that means we implicitly agree with the speech.
  • If we issue a statement, we'll just look foolish.
  • If we lodge a protest, it'll be ignored.
  • We can't cut off aid, because we don't give them any.
  • If we break off diplomatic relations, then we can't negotiate the oil rig contracts.
  • And if we declare war, it might just look as though we were over-reacting!

Episode Three: The Economy Drive

[Frank Weisel is quoting an article in the Express about the fact that Inland Revenue has more employees than the Royal Navy.]
Frank Weisel: "Perhaps the government thinks that a tax is the best form of defence."

[There is a government building with a reinforced concrete basement in case of a nuclear war.]
Sir Humphrey: There has to be somewhere to carry on government, even if everything else stops.
Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: Well, government doesn't stop just because the whole country's been destroyed! I mean, annihilation’s bad enough without anarchy to make things even worse!
Hacker: You mean you'd have a lot of rebellious cinders.

Episode Four: Big Brother

The Minister is already double-booked when his wife reminds him of another prior engagement.]
Jim Hacker: [on the phone] Bernard? Yes, it's me. Look, I'm going to have to cancel tomorrow. Swansea and Newcastle. Well, you see, it's my wife's wedding anniversary tomorrow.
Annie: It's yours, too!
Hacker: And mine, too, actually. Yes, it is...What do you mean, "coincidence"? Don't be silly, Bernard!

[It is 2 a.m, and Hacker has just made a phone call to a sleepy Sir Humphrey.]
Hacker: [hangs up] Oh, damn! I meant to tell him to come and see me about it before Cabinet.
Annie: Don't ring him now!
Hacker: No, perhaps you're right. It is a bit late.
Annie: Give him another ten minutes.

Episode Five: The Writing on the Wall

Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now, when it's worked so well?
Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased; it's just like old times.
Hacker: But surely we're all committed to the European ideal?
Sir Humphrey: [chuckles] Really, Minister.
Hacker: If not, why are we pushing for an increase in the membership?
Sir Humphrey: Well, for the same reason. It's just like the United Nations, in fact; the more members it has, the more arguments it can stir up, the more futile and impotent it becomes.
Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey: Yes... We call it diplomacy, Minister.

[The Foreign Secretary explains the Napoleon prize.]
Bill: Yes, it's a NATO award given once every five years: gold medal, big ceremony in Brussels, £100 000. The PM's the front runner this time. It's for the statesman who's made the biggest contribution to European unity.
Sir Humphrey: Since Napoleon, that is, if you don't count Hitler.

Episode Six: The Right to Know

Hacker: Humphrey, do you see it as part of your job to help ministers make fools of themselves?
Sir Humphrey: Well, I never met one that needed any help.

[How to guide ministers to making the right decisions]
Sir Humphrey: If you want to be really sure that the Minister doesn't accept it, you must say the decision is "courageous".
Bernard: And that's worse than "controversial"?
Sir Humphrey: Oh, yes! "Controversial" only means "this will lose you votes"; "courageous" means "this will lose you the election".

Episode Seven: Jobs for the Boys

Sir Humphrey: Bernard, Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then they can't tell anyone. Like secret agents; they could be captured and tortured.
Bernard: [shocked] You mean by terrorists?
Sir Humphrey: By the BBC, Bernard.

[Sir Desmond Glazebrook is a Banker looking for a seat on a Quango (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization). He is lunching with Sir Humphrey Appleby. Each of Sir Humphrey's suggestions, except for the Industry Co-partnership Committee, are brought about by things that happen in the restaurant around them.]
Sir Humphrey: What about the Advisory Committee on Dental Establishments? Do you know anything about teeth?
Sir Desmond: I'm a banker.
Sir Humphrey: That rules out the Milk Marketing Board, too. How about the Dumpings at Sea Representations Panel? Where do you live? Near the sea?
Sir Desmond: Knightsbridge. Just behind Harrods.
Sir Humphrey: Not near enough. That more or less rules out the Clyde River Purification Board, too.
Waiter: The steak?
Sir Desmond: That's for me.
Sir Humphrey: Meat Marketing Board? Do you know anything about meat?
Sir Desmond: I eat it.
Sir Humphrey: Not enough. That rules out the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Waiter: [to Sir Humphrey] Dover sole.
Sir Humphrey: White Fish Authority?
Waiter: Potatoes?
Sir Humphrey: Potato Marketing Board? Governors of the National Vegetable Research Station? The National Biological Standards Board? [to waiter] Is that my salad?
Waiter: Yes, it is.
Sir Humphrey: The Arable Crops and Forage Board? The Food and Drink Training Board?
Sir Desmond: [to waiter] Could I have some French mustard?
Sir Humphrey: Oh! Excellent idea. What about the Food Additives and Contaminants Committee?
Sir Desmond: I'm afraid I know very little about any of those.
Sir Humphrey: Well, my dear chap, what do you know about?
Sir Desmond: Nothing. Nothing really. I'm a banker.
Sir Humphrey: This is not easy. [A flambé ignites up behind Sir Humphrey.] The Fire Services Examination Board? St John's Ambulance?
Waiter: Your French mustard, Sir. [begins to remove flowers from the table]
Sir Humphrey: What about the Plant Varieties and Seeds Tribunal?
Sir Desmond: Dammit, Humphrey. I'm a banker.
Sir Humphrey: Well there must be some minority group you can represent.
Sir Desmond: Bankers?
Sir Humphrey: You see the ideal Quango appointee is a black Welsh disabled woman trades unionist. We're all looking around for one of them. You don't happen to know any, do you?
Sir Desmond: No. So it all boils down to the Industry Co-partnership Committee. Still, I find that quite acceptable.
Sir Humphrey: Well, it is within the gift of my Minister, and you would only put in appearances once or twice a month.
Sir Desmond: Are there lots of papers?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but it wouldn't be awfully necessary to read them.
Sir Desmond: Then I wouldn't have anything to say at the monthly meetings.
Sir Humphrey: Splendid. I can see you're just the chap I'm looking for.

Series Two (1981)

Episode One: The Compassionate Society

Hacker: The National Health Service, Humphrey, is an advanced case of galloping bureaucracy!
Sir Humphrey: Oh, certainly not galloping. A gentle canter at the most.

[Sir Humphrey agrees with the union leader that industrial action at St Edward's Hospital would also benefit civil servants.]
Brian Baker: What about the Minister?
Sir Humphrey: The Minister doesn't know his Acas from his NALGO.

Episode Two: Doing the Honours

[Bernard explains to the Minister the honours available to senior Civil Servants.]
Hacker: Well, what has Sir Arnold to fear, anyway? He's got all the honours he could want, surely?
Bernard: Well, naturally he has his G.
Hacker: G?
Bernard: Yes; you get your G after your K.
Hacker: You speak in riddles, Bernard.
Bernard: Well, take the Foreign Office. First you get the CMG, then the KCMG, then the GCMG; the Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, Knight Commander of St Michael and St George, Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George. Of course, in the Service, CMG stands for "Call Me God," and KCMG for "Kindly Call Me God."
Hacker: [chuckles] What does GCMG stand for?
Bernard: "God Calls Me God."

[The Master of Bailey College learns why the honourary doctorate of law should not go to a judge.]
Hacker: If judges had to put up with some of my Cabinet colleagues, they'd bring capital punishment back tomorrow! Bloody good job, too!
Sir Humphrey: [tries to interrupt] Well, exactly, Minister...
Hacker: And I'll tell you another thing: I can't send him [points at Sir Humphrey] to prison. Can't send him to prison! Now, if I were a judge, I could whiz old Humpy off to The Scrubs in no time. Feet wouldn't touch. Clang, bang, see you in three years' time! One third remission for good conduct. But I can't do that! I have to listen to him! Oh, God! On and on and on! Some of his sentences are longer than Judge Jeffreys'!

Episode Three: The Death List

Hacker: Ask Walter Fowler of The Express to meet me in the House tonight for a drink. Annie's bar.
Bernard: What for, Minister?
Hacker: First law of political indiscretion: always have a drink before you leak.

[Bernard wheels in a petition from the archives against surveillance, containing 24 million signatures.]
Bernard: Shall I file it?
Hacker: Shall you file it? Shred it!
Bernard: Shred it?
Hacker: No one must ever be able to find it again!
Bernard: In that case, Minister, I think it's best I file it.

Episode Four: The Greasy Pole

[No one at the meeting seems to know anything about chemistry.]
Joan Littler: What does "inert" mean?
Sir Humphrey: Well it means it's not…ert.
Bernard: [to himself] Wouldn't ert a fly.

Sir Humphrey: Minister, a minister can do what he likes!
Hacker: It's the peoples' will. I am their leader; I must follow them.

Episode Five: The Devil You Know

Hacker: Europe is a community of nations, dedicated towards one goal.
Sir Humphrey: Oh, ha ha ha.
Hacker: May we share the joke, Humphrey?
Sir Humphrey: Oh Minister, let's look at this objectively. It is a game played for national interests, and always was. Why do you suppose we went into it?
Hacker: To strengthen the brotherhood of free Western nations.
Sir Humphrey: Oh really. We went in to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans.
Hacker: So why did the French go into it, then?
Sir Humphrey: Well, to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition.
Hacker: That certainly doesn't apply to the Germans.
Sir Humphrey: No, no. They went in to cleanse themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.
Hacker: I never heard such appalling cynicism! At least the small nations didn't go into it for selfish reasons.
Sir Humphrey: Oh really? Luxembourg is in it for the perks; the capital of the EEC, all that foreign money pouring in.
Hacker: Very sensible central location.
Sir Humphrey: With the administration in Brussels and the Parliament in Strasbourg? Minister, it's like having the House of Commons in Swindon and the Civil Service in Kettering!

[Sir Humphrey claims he would be deeply sorry to see the Minister leave the DAA.]
Hacker: Yes, I suppose we have got rather fond of one another. In a way.
Sir Humphrey: [laughs] In a way, yes!
Hacker: [jokingly] Like a terrorist and his hostage!
Bernard: Which one of you is the terrorist?
Hacker & Sir Humphrey: [each points at the other] He is.

Episode Six: The Quality of Life

Sir Humphrey: Didn't you read the Financial Times this morning?
Sir Desmond Glazebrook: Never do.
Sir Humphrey: Well, you're a banker. Surely you read the Financial Times?
Sir Desmond: Can't understand it. Full of economic theory.
Sir Humphrey: Why do you buy it?
Sir Desmond: Oh, you know, it's part of the uniform.

Episode Seven: A Question of Loyalty

[Standard excuses when faced with serious allegations]
Sir Humphrey: There's the excuse we used for the Munich Agreement: it occurred before certain important facts were known and couldn't happen again.
Hacker: What important facts?
Sir Humphrey: Well, that Hitler wanted to conquer Europe.
Hacker: I thought everybody knew that.
Sir Humphrey: Not the Foreign Office.

[Why has the Minister been invited to Number 10?]
Sir Humphrey: Perhaps it is just for a drink, Minister.
Hacker: Don't be silly, Humphrey. They don't ask you to Number 10 for a drink just because they think you're thirsty!

Series Three (1982)

Episode One: Equal Opportunities

[How to deal with a nonsensical complaint]
Bernard: We can CGSM it.
Hacker: CGSM?
Bernard: Civil Service code, Minister. It stands for "Consignment of Geriatric Shoe Manufacturers".
Hacker: What?
Bernard: A load of old cobblers, Minister.
Hacker: I'm not a civil servant; I shall use my own code. I shall write: "Round objects".

Sir Humphrey: Now, Minister, if you are going to promote women just because they're the best person for the job, you will create a lot of resentment throughout the whole of the Civil Service!

Episode Two: The Challenge

Sir Arnold: Life is so much easier when ministers think they've achieved something; it stops them fretting, and their little temper tantrums.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but now he wants to introduce his next idea.
Sir Arnold: A minister with two ideas? I can't remember when we last had one of those.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [talking about nuclear fallout shelters] Well, you have the weapons; you must have the shelters.
James Hacker: I sometimes wonder why we need the weapons.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Minister! You're not a unilateralist?
James Hacker: I sometimes wonder, you know.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, then, you must resign from the government!
James Hacker: Ah, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I'm not that unilateralist! Anyway, the Americans will always protect us from the Russians, won't they?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Russians? Who's talking about the Russians?
James Hacker: Well, the independent deterrent.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: It's to protect us against the French!
James Hacker: The French?! but they're our allies!
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, they might be now; but they were our mortal enemies for centuries, and old leopards don't change their spots.

Episode Three: The Skeleton in the Cupboard

Sir Humphrey: If local authorities don't send us statistics, Government figures will be a nonsense.
Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: They'll be incomplete.
Hacker: Government figures are a nonsense, anyway.
Bernard: I think Sir Humphrey wants to ensure they're a complete nonsense.

Sir Humphrey: The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume; but not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
Hacker: I beg your pardon?
Sir Humphrey: It was... I.

Episode Four: The Moral Dimension

Hacker: Are you saying that winking at corruption is government policy?
Sir Humphrey: No, no, Minister! It could never be government policy. That is unthinkable! Only government practice.

Hacker: You're a cynic, Humphrey!
Sir Humphrey: A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

Episode Five: The Bed of Nails

[Hacker has been offered the job of Transport Supremo.]
Hacker: Sir Mark thinks there might be votes in it, and I do not intend to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Sir Humphrey: I put it to you, Minister, that you are looking a Trojan horse in the mouth.
Hacker: You mean if we look closely at this gift horse, we'll find it's full of Trojans?
Bernard: Um, if you had looked the Trojan Horse in the mouth, Minister, you would have found Greeks inside. Well, the point is that it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan horse to the Trojans, so technically it wasn't a Trojan horse at all; it was a Greek horse. Hence the tag "timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", which, you will recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as "beware of Greeks bearing gifts", or doubtless you would have recalled had you not attended the LSE.
Hacker: Yes, well, I'm sure Greek tags are all very well in their way; but can we stick to the point?
Bernard: Sorry, sorry: Greek tags?
Hacker: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." I suppose the EEC equivalent would be "Beware of Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus".
Sir Humphrey: Excellent, Minister.
Bernard: No, well, the point is, Minister, that just as the Trojan horse was in fact Greek, what you describe as a Greek tag is in fact Latin. It's obvious, really: the Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one can use such a participle (bewaring that is). And it's clearly Latin, not because timeo ends in "-o", because the Greek first person also ends in "-o" – although actually there is a Greek word timao, meaning 'I honour'. But the "-os" ending is a nominative singular termination of a second declension in Greek, and an accusative plural in Latin, of course, though actually Danaos is not only the Greek for 'Greek'; it's also the Latin for 'Greek'. It's very interesting, really.

Sir Humphrey: The ship of state, Bernard, is the only ship that leaks from the top.

Episode Six: The Whisky Priest

Hacker: Last night a confidential source disclosed to me that British arms are being sold to Italian red terrorist groups.
Sir Humphrey: I see. May I ask who this confidential source was?
Hacker: Humphrey, I just said it was confidential.
Sir Humphrey: Oh, I'm sorry. I naturally assumed that meant you were going to tell me.

Sir Humphrey: My job is to carry out government policy.
Hacker: Even if you think it's wrong?
Sir Humphrey: Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but…frightfully well carried out.

Episode Seven: The Middle-Class Rip-Off

Sir Humphrey: [calmly] Bernard, subsidy is for art, for culture. [almost furiously] It is not to be given to what the people want! It is for what the people don't want but ought to have!

Hacker: Nothing wrong with subsidising sport. Sport is educational.
Sir Humphrey: We have sex education too. Should we subsidise sex, perhaps?
Bernard: [earnestly] Oh, could we?

Christmas Special (1984): Party Games

Sir Humphrey: How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?
Sir Arnold: Sorry, I can't talk about that.

Sir Arnold: So, will our next Prime Minister be our eminent Chancellor or our distinguished Foreign Secretary?
Sir Humphrey: That's what I wanted to ask you, which do you think it should be?
Sir Arnold: Hmmm. Difficult, like asking which lunatic should run the asylum.

Sir Arnold: Have you had a chance to glance at their MI5 files yet?
Sir Humphrey: No.
Sir Arnold: You should always send for Cabinet Ministers' MI5 files, if you enjoy a good laugh.

Sir Humphrey: Bernard, what would you say to your present master as the next Prime Minister?
Bernard: The Minister?
Sir Humphrey: Yes.
Bernard: Mr Hacker?
Sir Humphrey: Yes.
Bernard: As Prime Minister?
Sir Humphrey: Yes.
[Bernard checks his watch]
Sir Humphrey: Are you in a hurry?
Bernard: No; I'm just checking to see it wasn't April the First.

Yes, Prime Minister

Series One (1986)

Episode One: The Grand Design

Sir Humphrey: Open government, Prime Minister. Freedom of information. We should always tell the press freely and frankly anything that they could easily find out some other way.

Sir Humphrey: With Trident we could obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.
Jim Hacker: I don't want to obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.
Sir Humphrey: It's a deterrent.
Jim Hacker: It's a bluff. I probably wouldn't use it.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but they don't know that you probably wouldn't.
Jim Hacker: They probably do.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn't. But they can't certainly know.
Jim Hacker: They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn't.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn't, they don't certainly know that, although you probably wouldn't, there is no probability that you certainly would.

Episode Two: The Ministerial Broadcast

Sir Humphrey: Bernard, what is the purpose of our defence policy?
Bernard: To defend Britain.
Sir Humphrey: No, Bernard. It is to make people believe Britain is defended.
Bernard: The Russians?
Sir Humphrey: Not the Russians, the British! The Russians know it's not.

Godfrey: Will you be wearing those glasses?
Hacker: Oh, well, what do you think?
Godfrey: Well, it's up to you, obviously. With them on, you look authoritative and commanding; with them off, you look honest and open. Which do you want?
Hacker: Well, really, I want to look authoritative and honest.
Godfrey: It's one or the other, really.
Hacker: What about starting with them off, and then just putting them on when I talk?
Godfrey: That just looks indecisive.
Hacker: I see.
Bernard: What about a monocle?

Episode Three: The Smoke Screen

Minister: It would be different if the Government were a team, when in fact they're a loose confederation of warring tribes.

Hacker: The statistics are irrefutable...
Humphrey: You can prove almost anything with statistics?
Hacker: Even the truth.
Humphrey: Yes... No!

Episode Four: The Key

Sir Humphrey is not happy that Bernard has deprived him of his key to Number 10

Bernard: Well, I believe it's the Prime Minister's decision who comes into his house. After all, I don't give my mother-in-law the key to my house.
Sir Humphrey: [furiously] I am not the Prime Minister's mother-in-law, Bernard!

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, I must express in the strongest possible terms my profound opposition to the newly instituted practice which imposes severe and intolerable restrictions on the ingress and egress of senior members of the hierarchy and will, in all probability, should the current deplorable innovation be perpetuated, precipitate a progressive constriction of the channels of communication, culminating in a condition of organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis, which will render effectively impossible the coherent and co-ordinated discharge of the function of government within Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!
Hacker: You mean you've lost your key?

Episode Five: A Real Partnership

[Hacker has just had a stormy cabinet meeting over a sudden financial crisis.]
Hacker: Bernard, Humphrey should have seen this coming and warned me.
Bernard: I don't think Sir Humphrey understands economics, Prime Minister; he did read Classics, you know.
Hacker: What about Sir Frank? He's head of the Treasury!
Bernard: Well I'm afraid he's at an even greater disadvantage in understanding economics: he's an economist.

Sir Humphrey: Real reductions in the size of the Service?! It'd be the end of civilisation as we know it!

Episode Six: A Victory for Democracy

Hacker: I gather we're planning to vote against Israel in the UN tonight.
Foreign Secretary: Of course.
Hacker: Why?
Foreign Secretary: They bombed the PLO.
Hacker: But the PLO bombed Israel!
Foreign Secretary: Yes but the Israelis dropped more bombs than the PLO did!

Hacker: Who knows Foreign Office secrets, apart from the Foreign Office?
Bernard: Oh, that's easy: only the Kremlin.

Episode Seven: The Bishop's Gambit

Peter Harding: Soames has been waiting for a bishopric for years.
Sir Humphrey: Long time, no see.

Bernard: It's one of those irregular verbs, isn't it: I have an independent mind; you are an eccentric; he is round the twist.

Episode Eight: One of Us

[Sir Humphrey is suspected of having once been a Russian spy.]
Sir Humphrey: So what do you think I should do, Arnold?
Sir Arnold Robinson: [calmly pours his coffee] Hmm, difficult. Depends a bit on whether you actually were spying or not. [notices Sir Humphrey's horrified expression] One must keep an open mind.
Sir Humphrey: But I couldn't have been! I wasn't at Cambridge!

Sir Arnold: If once they accepted the principle that senior Civil Servants could be removed for incompetence, that would be the thin end of the wedge. We could lose dozens of our chaps. Hundreds, perhaps.
Sir Humphrey: Thousands.

Series Two (1987-88)

Episode One: Man Overboard

[Sir Humphrey wishes Bernard to relay a confidential discussion between the Prime Minister and Chief Whip.]
Sir Humphrey: Bernard, the matter at issue is the defence of the realm and the stability of the government.
Bernard: But you only need to know things on a need-to-know basis.
Sir Humphrey: I need to know everything! How else can I judge whether or not I need to know it?

Bernard: That's another of those irregular verbs, isn't it? I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he's being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.

Episode Two: Official Secrets

[Lunch with a newspaper editor]
Hacker: So I want you to retract that suppression story.
Derek Burnham: I don't see how I can.
Hacker: Well, of course you can! You're the editor, aren't you?
Burnham: Yes, but an editor isn't like a general commanding an army; he's just the ringmaster of a circus. I mean I can book the acts, but I can't tell the acrobats which way to jump!

Sir Humphrey: Gratitude is merely a lively expectation of favours to come.

Episode Three: A Diplomatic Incident

Hacker: Don't we ever get our own way with the French?
Sir Humphrey: Well, sometimes.
Hacker: When was the last time?
Sir Humphrey: Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Hacker: Oh, look, Humphrey, the Americans have an entire airborne division standing by in case we need reinforcements! Isn't that nice?
Sir Humphrey: Reinforcements of what, Prime Minister?
Hacker: Reinforcements of goodwill, Humphrey!

Episode Four: A Conflict of Interest

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers:
  • The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;
  • The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;
  • The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country;
  • The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;
  • The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;
  • The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;
  • And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.

Episode Five: Power to the People

Sir Humphrey: Bernard, if the right people don’t have power, do you know what happens? The wrong people get it: politicians, councillors, ordinary voters!
Bernard: But aren’t they supposed to, in a democracy?
Sir Humphrey: This is a British democracy, Bernard!

Episode Six: The Patron of the Arts

Episode Seven: The National Education Service

Episode Eight: The Tangled Web

[The Prime Minister believes that he gave a clear, simple, straightforward and honest answer.]
Sir Humphrey: Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple, and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifiably assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement, inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated and the facts, insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated, is such as to cause epistemological problems, of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear.
Hacker: Epistemological — what are you talking about?
Sir Humphrey: You told a lie.
Hacker: A lie?
Sir Humphrey: A lie.
Hacker: What do you mean, a lie?
Sir Humphrey: I mean you…lied. Yes, I know this is a difficult concept to get across to a politician. You…ah yes, you did not tell the truth.
Hacker: You mean we are bugging Hugh Halifax's telephones?
Sir Humphrey: We were.
Hacker: We were? When did we stop?
Sir Humphrey: [checks his watch] Seventeen minutes ago.

Bernard: The fact that you needed to know was not known at the time that the now known need to know was known, and therefore those that needed to advise and inform the Home Secretary perhaps felt that the information that he needed as to whether to inform the highest authority of the known information was not yet known, and therefore there was no authority for the authority to be informed because the need to know was not, at that time, known or needed.

See also

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