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Yes Minister

Updated on May 28, 2010

Yes Minister

"Yes Minister" was a British sitcom that ran from 1980 to 1982. Despite the fact I am not British, and the series ran long before I was born, I found myself enraptured by it once I stumbled upon it at my local library.

The plot revolves around Jim Hacker (played by Paul Eddington), a Member of Parliament whose party has, at the beginning of the series, just won a majority in Parliament. Because of this, Hacker gains a cabinet position and becomes the Minister for the Department of Administrative Affairs, the department entrusted with monitoring the bureaucracy of the government, and therefore the most bureaucratic department in a system stuffed with red tape. Hacker enters the DAA at the beginning of the series vowing to cut down on all of the waste and extravagance of the Civil Service, but finds a formidable opponent in his second in command, the Permanent Secretary for the DAA, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne), who does his very best to frustrate Hacker's reform attempts in order to preserve the privileges and perks of his fellow civil servants. Caught between the two is Hacker's personal secretary, Bernard Wooley (Derek Fowlds), who is a member of the Civil Service but is less wedded to the inefficient system as Sir Humphrey.

All three of the principal actors are wondrous. Nigel Hawthorne steals the show from the other two, delivering long-winded speeches of impenetrable jargon in order to frustrate Eddington's Hacker from doing his job. His patronizing little smirks as he explains to either Bernard or Hacker why whatever bureaucratic nonsense he's insisting on is essential (why a hospital with plenty of ancillary staff but no doctors or patients is necessary, to cite one example) are something to be seen.

Eddington, on the other hand, gives his all showing Hacker's frustration and exasperation. He makes totally believable his character, a man who wants to be a great man but who is too easily tempted by avoiding personal embarrassment or attaining prestige. I especially liked how, over the series, he subtly becomes more cynical and less idealistic, more easily corrupted and less likely to challenge the system he's supposed to reform. His tendency to launch into ridiculous Winston Churchill-like speeches at the drop of a hat, often to only have Sir Humphrey to say something to subvert whatever heroic sentiment he manages to conjure up, is also hilarious.

As for Fowlds, his deadpan correcting of other people's mixed metaphors and ability to spout off jargon whose impenetrableness rivals Sir Humphrey's. Bernard often has to play the straight man for the other two, and Fowlds does this beautifully, by his very calmness making the other two seem more ridiculous.

The show is also one of the best satires on government corruption I have ever seen. A typical plot will revolve around Hacker vowing to fix some ridiculous piece of government waste, only for Humphrey to attempt to persuade him that the aforementioned waste is actually necessary or beneficial to the British people, or that it is impossible to reform. Hacker ignores him, and attempts are made to fix the issue, only for it to turn out that by doing so it will actually hurt Hacker/cost him some sort of honor/cause some bigger governmental or societal problem/etc. This formula is prevented from getting stale, however, by occasionally turning it on its head, and allowing Hacker to triumph over Sir Humphrey, leaving him to splutter uselessly as the minister bypasses him to do his job.  Whatever the plot, it is always uproariously funny, full of hilariously absurd situations (the hospital with no patients mentioned above being an example).

All in all, I quite liked 'Yes Minister." I may not have gotten all of the culture references (not knowing what a QUANGO or the National Integrated Database are, for example), but that's not really necessary: ridiculous government incompetence and corruption are universal, and, as this series shows, universally funny.    


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    • Kiera G profile image

      Kiera G 5 years ago from Australia

      Amazing show