British Situation Comedy

Yes, Minister, a classic situation comedy exposing the machinations of senior politicians and civil servants in Great Britain, was first broadcast by the BBC in 1980. Such was the standard of scripts and performance and the accuracy of the satire that the programme became required viewing for politicians, journalists, and the general public alike, and both the initial three-season series and the two-season sequels that were made in the 1980s under the title Yes, Prime Minister were consistently among the top-rating shows.

The idea for the series was developed by writer Antony Jay and former Doctor in the House star Jonathan Lynn while both were on the payroll of the video production company set up by John Cleese in the mid-1970s. The BBC bought the rights to the pilot episode and work on a full series finally got under way in 1979.

The humour of each episode revolved around the maneuverings of the Right Honourable James Hacker, MP, the idealistic and newly installed Minister for Administrative Affairs (and ultimately Prime Minister), and his cynical and wily permanent under-secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, who was committed to seeing that his ministerial charge never meddled too much in the business of the department and that the real power remained securely in the hands of the civil service. Every time Hacker conceived some notion aimed at reform of the ministry Sir Humphrey Appleby and Private Secretary Bernard Woolley were there to thwart him by various ingenious means. If Hacker inquired too closely into the reasons why he was not going to get his way about something, Sir Humphrey Appleby was more than able to throw up a smokescreen of obfuscation and technical jargon, which as often as not discouraged further questioning and persuaded the civil servant that his charge was now nearly "house-trained". This was not to say that Sir Humphrey always got his way, however: sometimes a last-minute development would deliver him into the minister's hands, leaving the civil servant speechless with rage and indignation.

The script of Yes, Minister was both perceptive and hugely funny, and the casting of the main roles was perfect. Paul Eddington was completely convincing as the gullible and idealistic Hacker, while Nigel Hawthorne was masterly as the machiavellian Sir Humphrey, assisted by Derek Fowlds as the genial Bernard Woolley. The show was an immediate success and was showered with awards. Among its devotees were such distinguished figures as Margaret Thatcher, who named it as her favourite programme and saw to it that writer Antony Jay received a knighthood (Eddington and Hawthorne both got CBEs in the 1986 New Year's Honours list). Also connected with the programme, providing invaluable insights into the operations of Whitehall behind the scenes, was Harold Wilson's one-time secretary, Lady Marcia Falkender.

-David Pickering


Yes, Minister
Photo courtesy of the British Film Institute


Rt. Hon. James Hacker.......................... Paul Eddington
Sir Humphrey Appleby
...........................Nigel Hawthorne
Bernard Wooley
........................................Derek Fowlds

PRODUCERS    Stuart Allen, Sydney Latterby, Peter Whitmore

PROGRAMMING HISTORY   37 Half-hour episodes 1 Special

February 1980-April 1980                               7 Episodes
February 1981-April 1981                               7 Episodes
November 1982-December 1982                     7 Episodes
17 December 1984                              Christmas Special
January 1986-February 1986                          8 Episodes
December 1987-January 1988                        8 Episodes


See also British Programming