Yes Prime Minister
I have delved recently back into some books from the 1980s, into the wonderful dry wit that is the series of of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister.
In Yes Minister, we are introduced to the Right Hon. James Hacker, member of Parliament for Britain. He is Minister for the Department of Administrative Affairs and as such is responsible for the Civil Service and the man he must work with closely is the Permanent Secretary of the Civil Service, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Appleby is a civil servant through and through, believing that parliamentarians only get in the way of the Civil Service actually running the country and therefore his job is to obfuscate and confuse Hacker so that he can continue to manage Britain the way it always has been done. Hacker’s own secretary is Bernard Woolley, a man of great wit and dry humour, never to let the opportunity for a pun to go by.
In Yes Prime Minister, by a remarkable turn of events, Hacker has managed to secure the plum job of Prime Minister. As Sir Humphrey is now the Cabinet Secretary and Bernard remains Hacker’s secretary at 10 Downing Street, the cast remains the same.
You will quite possibly have seen old re-runs of this on TV over the years. It is a very clever British TV show which manages to poke fun at British government, other nations, the bureaucracy of the civil service and most things it talks about. The books match the TV episodes.
It is great fun. I do enjoy intelligent fiction, some humour, wit, the ability to laugh at the ridiculous around us and Yes Prime Minister does it all in spades. What is surprising is that they haven’t really aged over the years. Government deals with the same perennial issues – education, budgets, international relations and defence, and so these episodes/books are almost as applicable today as they were then.
We have both re-read the books in the last few months, because last night we headed out to Her Majesty’s Theatre to see the new play. It was very good. Written by the same authors/playwrights and dated for 2011, it was very well done. The characters were the same as ever, yet the issues were more 21st century. It was an insightful look at relativism and morality in modern times.
A note: I suspect this series will be understood and appreciated most by those who have English as their first language. Following the logic, wit and roundabout sentences is tricky enough as it is and it would also help to have a general understanding of the British-type system of government.