The elegant sitcom-cum-farce-cum-sophisticated political satire Yes, Minister sets off Paul Eddington's Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs, against Nigel Hawthorne's discreetly obstructive civil servant Sir Humphrey. The pilot episode, "Open Government," is curious in that it contains opening and closing credits different from and distinctly inferior to the rest of the series. You also sense that Mrs. Hacker was originally intended to have a larger role, with comedy focusing on the clash between political and domestic commitments, until the writers wisely decided to focus on the stand-off between Jim and Sir Humphrey, with Derek Fowlds's mousy private secretary Bernard making occasional interjections. While Sir Humphrey is at times a little too sinister for sitcom consumption, all the series' classic features quickly show up: Hacker's occasional Churchillian bombast, followed by panicky double-takes when flummoxed, and Sir Humphrey's unflappable verbosity as he brings the dead weight of civil service bureaucracy to bear against Hacker's naively optimistic schemes for open government and slashing red tape in episodes like "The Economy Drive." It's ironic that when Yes, Minister was first screened in the '80s, it was during the rampages of early Thatcherism in which government had never been less like the ineffectual politicking satirized here.
Yes, Prime Minister
Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn's superb sitcom Yes, Prime Minister entered 10 Downing Street with Jim Hacker now Prime Minister of Britain, following a campaign to "Save the British Sausage." Whether tackling defense ("The Grand Design"), local government ("Power to the People"), or the National Education Service, all of Jim Hacker's bold plans for reform generally come to nothing, thanks to the machinations of Nigel Hawthorne's complacent Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey (Jeeves to Hacker's Wooster) who opposes any action of any sort on the part of the PM altogether. This is usually achieved by discreet horse-trading. In "One of Us," for instance, Hacker relents from implementing defense cuts when he is presented with the embarrassingly large bill he ran up in a vote-catching mission to rescue a stray dog on an army firing range. Only in "The Tangled Web," the final episode of series 2, does the PM at last turn the tables on Sir Humphrey. Paul Eddington is a joy as Hacker, whether in mock-Churchillian mode or visibly cowering whenever he is congratulated on a "courageous" idea. Jay and Lynn's script, meanwhile, is a dazzlingly Byzantine exercise in wordplay, wittily reflecting the verbiage-to-substance ratio of politics. Ironically, Yes, Prime Minister is an accurate depiction of practically all political eras except its own, the 1980s, when Thatcher successfully carried out a radical program regardless of harrumphing senior civil servants. --David Stubbs