Three characters. One office. Twenty-Seven hours of the highest level of English comedy.
Yes, Minister is Anthony Jay’s and Jonathan Lynn’s matter of a fact reply to every single person who said politics is far too serious to be funny. Based within the Department of Administrative Affairs in England, YM tears apart the walls surrounding the English government to give the viewer an insider’s account into how frustratingly hopeless the bureaucracy can be in official matters.
“The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England. God is an optional extra.”
But this fails to answer the question- Why should you watch it?
You should watch it because it’s humour unlike anything you’ve seen or will see in your life. In the grand scheme of silver screen situational comedies, it bewilders me what went wrong? How is it that today’s generation fell prey to the crass sexual humour of American television. I’ve met people who swear by and justify the position of F.R.I.E.N.D.S as the best sitcom of all time. I beg to differ. They’re all the same, all their shows. Loose plots and well written one liners. Insert ‘Penis’ with a laughter track and the room goes haywire.
As Indians, we’re brought up in a general atmosphere of being told that anything sexual is taboo. It is almost like an act of rebellion that we’re drawn towards a brand of comedy that glorifies and makes a show out of sexual humour. Comedy, as it was originally meant to be was content that marked a change in the way things were usually done.
“The Foreign Office aren’t there to do things. They’re there to explain why things can’t be done.”
Yes, Minister does exactly that. Here we have four seasons of the finest material based on a subject no one would have dared to touch, thinking that it’s far too serious or boring to be put on the screen. What Jay and Lynn realised was, the more serious it sounds like, the more it can be made a mockery of.
Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorn and Derek Fowlds played three of the most iconic characters in television history. Eddington’s portrayal of the minister of Administrative affairs, Jim Hacker before he succumbed to cancer changed the way people looked at politics in the seventies. Hacker, who was a bumbling, easily manipulated man was always struck down by his permanent secretary, Humphrey Appleby – who remains my favourite character of all time, closely followed by Blackadder and Basil Fawlty. He personified the ethos of the civil service, a cool, cunning permanent fixture as opposed to the several ministers who come and go. Humphrey is truly a creation of creative genius, a man you want to hate but can’t help but swoon over.
“Government is about principles. And the principle is, never act on principle.”
The perpetual internal war between the ministers and civil servants is what gave Yes, Minister its charm. It turned the stuffy suits of white hall into heroes. You wanted the ministers to win at some point, but you knew the civil servants would rather eat a live parakeet than let it happen. Some of the episodes were loosely based on incidents that had happened with real English diplomats.
After running out of political scenarios to play with in the ministry of Administrative the writers cleverly promoted Hacker to Prime Minister as part of a Christmas Special, and Yes, Prime Minister continued for two more seasons. Hacker was now at the top of his game-at the head of the country, the show became synonymous with documentary truth. It was almost as if people were laughing at their real ministers.
The real daring bit of YM was the involvement of a studio audience. Actors were forced to improvise. Writers were forced to be on the top of their game. The result was that the show was as humorously satisfying as any of the other ones on air at the same time. It’s so surprise that the show was hungrily lapped up by the entire nation. It doesn’t treat you like an idiot! The show raised the bar, with its intelligent humour, sandwiched between patronising shows that looked down on the common man.
Yes Minister didn’t suck up to the establishment. Yet, it was dearly loved and endorsed by it. Margaret Thatcher loved the show, and even acted in a skit with the show. The recent launch of the ‘The Thick of It’ by the BBC, was a decent attempt at a political comedy revival, but its tone was nothing like the original.
“The Prime Minister doesn’t want the truth, he wants something he can tell Parliament.”
There are those times, when you finish a series, and you have that moment of contemplation where you know life won’t be the same again. You know you can rewatch the same episodes, but the feeling of anticipation you have about new content leaves you hanging. The problem with finishing Yes, Minister is like finishing the best bottle of wine you’ve had in your cellar for decades. You have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve been intoxicated by a drug of the finest quality, but then again, you’ll never be able to enjoy something like it again.