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James Hacker is the British Minister for Administrative Affairs. He tries to do something and cut government waste, but he is continually held back by the smart and wily Permanent Secretary of the Department, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Private secretary Bernard Woolley is caught in the middle, between his political master, and his civil service boss. Written by
Tony Lammens <email@example.com>
The Ministerial Will and the Administrative Won't!
I first discovered "Yes Minister" by accident, while flipping channels. I came across A&E (this was the mid 80's) and there were several British comedies, much like my local PBS station. Two of these shows stood out; "Blackadder" and "Yes Minister"
"Yes Minister" is the supremely witty and genuinely funny portrayal of the battle of the Ministerial Will and the Administrative Won't. The characters were highly developed and hilariously funny. Paul Eddington was a master of timing (illustrated beautifully in a sketch on "A Bit of Fry and Laurie") and Nigel Hawthorne was an expert with verbal humor. Derek Fowlds was the junior civil servant, caught in the middle. As such, he often got some of the best lines, while showing his befuddlement. The writing was a triumph; extremely intelligent and delightfully witty.
The supporting characters were always well rounded and memorable. The situations rang true, because they were true. The creators have stated that they did their research by taking various important people to lunch. They were able to glean the most amazing stories from those lunches. For example, in the episode, "The Moral Dimension," the British set up a situation room at a reception in an Arab country. Since Islam forbids alcohol, they use the situation room to smuggle in alcohol. Throughout the night, the British receive messages from Mr. Haige, John Walker, and the Russian official Smirnoff. According to Jonathan Lynn, this actually occurred.
The series rings true for the US, as well. All you have to do is substitute a President, cabinet secretaries, and Congress; and then use the same situations. Bureaucracy is pretty much the same in any government.
Thankfully, the complete series is now available, in the US, on DVD. It should be required viewing for every civics and political science class.
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