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Yes Minister (1980-84)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Yes Minister (1980-84)
3 series of 21x30 min episodes
plus two 60 min specials
WritersAntony Jay
 Jonathan Lynn
ProducersStuart Allen
 Sydney Lotterby
 Peter Whitmore

Cast: Paul Eddington (Jim Hacker MP); Nigel Hawthorne (Sir Humphrey Appleby); Derek Fowlds (Bernard Woolley); Diana Hoddinott (Annie Hacker); John Nettleton (Sir Arnold Robinson)

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Cabinet Minister James Hacker attempts to impose his authority on the Department of Administrative Affairs, but is constantly thwarted by his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby.

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A benchmark for quietly civilised yet scalpel-sharp political satire, Yes, Minister is deservedly regarded as one of British sitcom's finest achievements. Maintaining an enviable quality threshold over 22 episodes (1980-84) and 16 of Yes, Prime Minister (1986-88), its many fans included the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Like all classic sitcoms, it's based on a very simple observation: that for all its claims towards democracy, the British political system is largely run by unelected civil servants who run Machiavellian rings around their supposedly superior masters. As this is just as true today, Yes, Minister has hardly dated at all - indeed, subsequent reforms have made episodes like 'The Compassionate Society' (tx. 23/2/1981), with its hospital so overstaffed with administrators that there's no room for doctors or patients, look uncannily prescient.

Despite being a Cabinet Minister (for the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs) and, later, Prime Minister, Jim Hacker MP (Paul Eddington) is a likeable lightweight, obsessively focused on his precarious career, where one false move could bring demotion or, worse, electoral defeat. Although genuinely compassionate, he is also naïve, weak-willed and, like most politicians, rather too easily flattered.

His Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) has none of these concerns. Utterly ruthless in pursuing his department's interests (which rarely coincide with Hacker's), his comprehensive knowledge of the Whitehall machine, coupled with a virtuoso command of all the distortions to which the English language can be put in the name of political advantage, makes him a deadly sparring partner.

Hacker's Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds) is in the middle - a trainee Sir Humphrey, but also a man whose conscience hasn't yet deserted him, not least because he's the one implementing DAA schemes in practice. Unlike the others, he has a sense of humour, an all too vital qualification for the job.

If this trio's relationship was often stormy, that of co-writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn was made in heaven. Jay was the political insider, a speechwriter, documentary-maker and author (Sir Humphrey has clearly read his 1973 book Management and Machiavelli), while Lynn was a comedy actor and writer, whose credits included The Liver Birds (BBC, 1969-79), Doctor on the Go (LWT, 1975-77) and My Brother's Keeper (Granada, 1975-76). They first collaborated in the mid-1970s on training films for John Cleese's Video Arts company, which gave them invaluable experience of turning real-life management situations into comedy.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. T.P.L.A.C. (2:23)
2. Room for one more? (5:02)
3. Diplomatic discussion (2:10)
Complete episode - 'The Official Visit' (28:15)
Davies, John Howard (1939-2011)
Eddington, Paul (1927-1995)
Hawthorne, Sir Nigel (1929-2001)
TV Satire