A bedrock programme in the UK comedy structure, Yes Minister embodied the early 1980s attitude to authority and politics as a gently hypocritical world filled with doubletalk.
Three series were made between 1980 and 1984, before Jim Hacker achieved real power in Yes Prime Minister.
The series follows Right Honorable James Hacker MP, Minister for Administrative Affairs, and his attempts to make officialdom and administration make sense. He does this whilst pushing his own self-serving agenda, and keeping his head above any nasty political waters. Throughout his career, he's up against Whitehall’s Sir Humphrey Appleby, unflappable symbol of a machine that has no gears, only brakes.
Jim's policies, whether cutting costs or trying to streamline red tape, are sabotaged by Appleby's Machiavellian skills, often accompanied by brain-wrenching sentences designed to confuse Hacker - and often succeeding. Absolutely snobbish and elitist, yet blind to anything that does not serve the Whitehall way, Sir Humphrey is the avatar of the British State.
Hacker's politics appear to be completely pragmatic and blown by the winds of chance, and are never dogmatic enough to be clearly labelled Labour or Conservative. By removing the trappings of a particular 'party' and allowing both sides to appear at their worst - venal and inconstant Hacker forever opposing the pompous and manipulative Appleby - Yes, Minister maintained a timeless quality that means it has endured beyond the Thatcherite politics it satirised.
Issues were raised that are still timely now - identity papers and computer databases of the population, university funding, arms sales, oil politics being just a few.
Motifs of the series included the wonderful music of Ronnie Hazelhurst playing against Gerald Scarfe's hilarious caricatures of the three leads; Hacker's use of catastrophically mixed metaphors, his Private Secretary Bernard's fondness for awful puns and maddening pedantry, and Sir Humphrey's laconic wit, almost shocking contempt for anyone who isn't a senior Civil Servant, and his catchphrase, usually after totally defeating Hacker, of muttering 'Yes Minster' to close the show.
Whilst the iconic figure of Sir Humphrey, as portrayed by Nigel Hawthorne, is the series' enduring legacy, the true star of the show is Hacker, as played by Paul Eddington. Though most of the verbal quips are Humphrey's, the comedy is Hacker's, mainly because Paul Eddington was probably the best comedy actor of his generation and his timing is miraculous.
Always buffeted by fate, wanting to do good but too scared of losing votes and status to do anything, Hacker is the symbol of all of us, wanting to be better, and not quite making it.
A true original, Yes Minister remains one of the most influential sitcoms of its time, as witness its huge success, many awards (including BAFTAs for the show and for Hawthorne).
Famously accurate in the spirit of the relationship between civil servant and politician, it was Mrs Thatcher's favourite show... make of that whatever you want. Yes Minister was proof that comedy could take on serious subjects and make real points with them.
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