After an absence of 25 years, Yes, Prime Minister returns to our screens next week (Gold, Tuesday 9pm) with an all-new cast. A satirical comedy which had more than a ring of truth to it – indeed, many of the stories were based on real-life situations – the original series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister have enjoyed frequent re-runs on Gold and, while the clothing and furnishing fashions of the time clearly date the shows, the issues tackled and the political machinations of both politicians and civil servants remain just as relevant now.
It was one of the most highly regarded comedies of my teenage years. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an avowed fan of the series, and the two shows placed joint-ninth in the British Film Institute’s 2000 list of 100 Greatest British TV Programmes.
Yes, Minister (21 episodes plus one special, 1980-84) and Yes, Prime Minister (16 episodes, 1986-88).
A satirical look into goings-on in the corridors of power of the British government. The series follows the struggles of Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), as he attempts to implement policy and deal with crises, from his early days as a fledgling minster at the Department for Administrative Affairs to his eventual rise to Prime Minister. In both roles he is helped (i.e. hindered) and supported (but only when convenient) by his Civil Service aides Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) and Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds), whose superior intelligence and wordplay frequently run rings around a befuddled 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.
The opening titles feature a series of ‘self-drawing’ sketches by the artist Gerald Scarfe, starting with a close-up of the clock face of Big Ben before pulling out into a wider shot of the clock tower and the Palace of Westminster. This then segues into caricatures of Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard before finishing with the episode title superimposed on the House of Commons’ Weekly Information Bulletin.
The intro is set to a tune based around the chimes of Big Ben and composed by the BBC’s Ronnie Hazlehurst, the man behind the themes for such classic shows as The Two Ronnies, Are You Being Served?, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, Last of the Summer Wine, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, To the Manor Born, Blankety Blank and The Generation Game.
Throughout the series, it is never revealed which political party Hacker belongs to. Writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn deliberately avoided all such references. (For instance, in the opening scene of the first episode Hacker is seen wearing a white rosette rather than the traditional Conservative blue or Labour red.) Lynn later admitted they had always imagined Hacker as a centre-minded Conservative. Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) was the prime minister in office throughout the lifetime of the show.
Many of the episodes are based on real-life events. Jay and Lynn drew on information provided by two insiders from the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, Marcia Williams and Bernard Donoughue.
Only three episodes of Yes, Minister – The Economy Drive (1.3), Big Brother (1.4) and The Right to Know (1.6) – did not end with the phrase “Yes, Minister.”
An updated stage play was launched in 2010, with David Haig as Jim Hacker, Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey and Jonathan Slinger as Bernard Woolley. Haig and Goodman are reprising their roles for the new TV series.