TV Review: Yes Minister

YesMinisterThumbby Brad Nelson
I’ve seen behind the scenes in government from time to time. Anyone who thinks that government “cares” for you and is looking out for your best interests ought to watch one of the best “reality” shows ever.

Yes Minister is a BBC TV show that ran from 1980 to 1984. The later incarnation was Yes, Prime Minister which ran from 1986-1988 chronically Jim Hacker’s eventual rise from cabinet minister to the top spot.

James Hacker is played by one of my favorite British actors, Paul Eddington, who many Americans may also remember from the splendid Good Neighbors (or The Good Life) BBC TV series. In that, he played the henpecked husband to great  effect.

Minister Jim is the somewhat weak-willed and politically-naive British Minister for Administrative Affairs for the newly-elected government. His place in the cabinet is not at all secure and he fights to hold his place with the sometimes aid of his two civil service cohorts, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) and his Principle Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds).

Hacker’s private secretary is somewhat loyal and sympathetic to him. But Sir Humphrey is a civil servant sociopath intent on ignoring the politicians, who he views as an annoyance, so that he can forward his own agenda which is accumulating as much power, salary, and titles as he can.

The laughter ensues as Sir Humphrey, the master of saying much while saying little, attempts to divert Minister Hacker from any and all of his goals and policies. The double-talk is so good, you know that someone connected to this show has been in and around the halls of government.

I’m not particularly familiar with the inner workings of British government. But I have seen state government from the inside. And anyone who watched the BS surrounding the passing of Obamacare knows that the writers and producers of Yes Minister didn’t have to make anything up.

That this comical series so resembles actual government is cause for alarm. But in Yes Minister, it is at least cause for laughter. When you see the truly selfish, power-mad, and corrupt people who typically inhabit government, it’s hard to believe that anyone believes the BS coming out of either Obama’s mouth or Boehner’s. Many, of course, don’t.

But most do, which is itself cause for alarm and perhaps laughter. It’s much easier and safer to poke fun at the politicians, as this series does to wonderful effect. But one hopes that someday there will be a comedy of this sort that pokes fun at the idiotic voters who keep voting for these political charlatans.

Much of this absurdity is simply inherent to the nature of government, or to the nature of bureaucracy itself. It is said that the wonderful cartoon, Dilbert, is specifically based upon the real-world bureaucratic nonsense of Raytheon and other large companies. This nonsense is by no means exclusive to government. But because government depends so largely on perception, rather than reality, the absurdity is multiplied.

I had first watched this series back in the 80’s. I recently watched the first four episodes of season one to refresh my memory. As Mark Steyn (and I) have said, if you want to see where America is headed, look to Britain. It’s very interesting that the fourth episode of season one (“Big Brother”) is regarding privacy issues regarding the comprehensive data that the British government is accumulating on its citizens. They faced (and still face) the same issue we recently encountered with the NSA domestic spying. Many of the lines and issues right out of this 80’s TV show are as relevant as ever.

Short of a revolution and a few beheadings, there is probably no way to reduce the bureaucracy and the size and scope of government. It just keeps growing and growing and becoming more absurd and dishonest. But one can at least laugh at it. And Yes Minister, anchored by the superb performances of Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, allows us to do just that. But at times it’s a bit like whistling past the graveyard. It’s all too real.

This show is full of very thick political wisdom about the inherent corruption, waste, and self-interest of politicians and bureacracy. It is hard to imagine that a free people ever allowed this to grow like a cancer amongst us. But we have. I therefore recommend Yes Minister for not only a good laugh but as a crash-course in political reality. Everything these air-headed “Progressives” believe about the goodness of government is dangerously wrong. Just ask Sir Humphrey. • (1050 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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5 Responses to TV Review: Yes Minister

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I have collections of episodes (with additional material) for both shows, and also Fawlty Towers, although I’ve never seen an episode of any of the shows. I recall some nice scenes, such as one in Yes, Minister in which Hacker actually manages to get the better of Sir Humphrey (it may even have been the one dealing with privacy issues), as well as a pair of scenes from Yes, Prime Minister. In one Sir Humphrey gives an illustration of how dubious poll results can be on political issues, and in the other Hacker wonders whether the Foreign Ministry diplomats are actually on Britain’s side.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I just finished the first season of “Yes Minister” last night. Very good stuff. I think in subsequent seasons it even gets better. As we see blossoming, Hacker and Sir Humphrey are not always at odds. Often they team up to battle a common enemy.

      I didn’t realize that Paul Eddington died in 1995. For some reason, I imagine that he is still with is. Well, because you can sit down and watch shows such as this, he still is.

      One of my favorite parts of the show is when Sir Humphrey will retire to his club or lounge and have a chat about his minister to his other civil service chaps. The cynicism is hilarious.

      Perhaps, Timothy, one of us can do a review of the Ian Richardson version of “House of Cards.” It’s certainly not a laugh-a-moment series such as “Yes Minister,” but it does give you a fictional behind-the-scenes look at Parliamentary politics. There’s apparently an American version of this, but I wouldn’t even think of bothering with it. Go for the real thing, the one with Ian Richardson as the reptilian Francis Urguhart.

      This series has a very strong cast, from the coke-addled political advisor, Roger O’Neill, to Urguhart’s suitably Machiavellian wife who allows her husband all kinds of liberties in pursuit of power.

      Given the bizarre domestic farce of Obama, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and others, we needn’t resort to made-for-TV political series for laughs, drama, and entertainment. And yet if anyone hasn’t seen the Ian Richardson version of “House of Cards,” they should do so. It is another quality BBC production.

      Yes, of course, the series is not making fun of libtards. If only these brave “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” Progressive types could show the hypocrisy and cynicism of their own type. But we can settle on Francis Urguhart easily enough as a stand-in for all political animals.

  2. Heather says:

    Hello Brad, this comment is 2 years late but still relevant. I couldn’t help feeling while watching the ‘Yes Minister’ episode “Doing The Honours” how little has changed in 30 + years. Two dons of Sir Humphry’s alma mater are wining & dining him to get extra funding so the school can attract more overseas students. “Home” students are left on their own.

    The same situation exists in the States now: higher-education schools here for some reason are given more money to hand out scholarships to overseas students while in effect leaving the parents of American students to pay for foreign students tuition in addition to their own. Often overseas students are required by schools to receive healthcare whereas no such proviso exists for American students attending the same college. We certainly don’t seem to be making the care & education of our own children a priority in this nation – and the priorities of school funding should be reserved for American students first & foremost.

    On a more cheerful note, if you like Paul Eddington, he is part of the stellar cast of the seminal ITV series ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ starring Richard Greene. This B&W action show holds up surprisingly well and is a joy to watch with your family. It is also amazingly cheap to own the entire collection of 143 episodes.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The series was obviously oriented toward the British system (such as the top bureaucrats pretty much determining policy regardless of the official cabinet ministers’ intentions, which is at least less true here). But a lot of the policy issues would be much the same, given how many follies (such as the toxic brew of political correctness combined with multiculturalism — NRO has an article on WHO calling for getting rid of such insensitive names for diseases as swine flu, monkey pox, Chagas disease, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome etc. even though the names are often very relevant) they have shared for decades.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Hi, Heather. Comments are better late than never. 🙂 Especially regarding old movies or series. I didn’t know that Paul Eddington (a favorite of mine) had appeared in a 1955 series, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” I’m going to see if I can track that one down. I did find some episodes on Amazon Instant Video, so I may give an episode or two a try at two bucks a pop.

      The glorification of the poor third-worlder is a result of the ethic of Cultural Marxism which is a reaction against the supposed oppressive order of imperialism. In essence, what used to be known as “The White Man’s Burden” has shifted from sharing our advanced and superior Christian ethics, Western knowledge, and Western economic infrastructure to make the world a better place, materially and ethically, to quite literally “sharing the wealth.” The new “White Man’s Burden” is completely materialist and devoid of any higher ethic. It does not build. It destroys.

      There’s nothing inherently wrong with going to some third-world country and helping. Mother Teresa, for example, was a splendid example of bringing Western/Christian superior ethics to a backward and somewhat uncouth people in India whose practices were, at best, degenerate. Although there are many instances of imperialism that were highly exploitive, the best and most widespread instance of colonialism was the British empire which transformed places (such as India, America, and Australia) from third-world, barbaric, backward dives to what we rightly call civilization.

      Cultural Marxism has glorified “the noble savage.” Cultural Marxism needs to because it is an attack on capitalism, industry, and material human advancement (and, frankly, an attack on white people and anything and everything associated with Classic Western Civilization). All that these freaks, fools, and ne’er-do-wells (such as Obama) know how to do is wag their fingers at the productive members of society and say “Shame on you.” This also explain their emphasis on “the environment,” for it is a way to punish first-world countries and make them do penance. This is completely at the heart of the CO2 scam (as well as increasing the power of Big Government, of course, but especially Big Government’s control over industry).

      The Cultural Marxist paradigm (an evil and deceitful one) is based on the idea that the poor in the third world are poor because of first-world exploitation, and not because of their own cultures, geography, morals, or whatever.

      Cultural Marxism is also an atheistic creed. But people (perhaps with feelings infused by a Creator) still have the need for compassion, redemption, and care. And so Cultural Marxism spawns a materialist religion (inside of Christianity and Judaism in particular, with the current Pope being more Marxist than Christian) whereby redemption is gained not from raising human ethics to match the Divine but by “sharing the wealth.” That is, redemption (much like one of the Indulgences of old) is purchased via other people’s money (of course) with the point being less to emulate Mother Teresa (who actually worked and sacrificed) and is more of a vibe of narcissism, of making of big show of “What a good boy am I.”

      There is no concern about whether their do-good-ism is destructive, which it often is (especially to the societies, often their own, they use as guinea pigs for their conspicuous compassion). The point is to use third-worlders as a redemptive source and mascot to show “What a good boy am I.” Makes you realize why it is written in the Bible,

      But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

      Immigration for the committed (that is, the leadership group) Cultural Marxist (Progressive, liberal, Leftist, whatever) is a way to punish the home countries for being wealthy and productive. For the fools, tools, ne’er-do-wells and useful idiots, it is a method of guilt reduction and conspicuous compassion. The first party wants destruction of the native peoples. The second party (the useful idiots) thinks they are being “nice.” But, as you mentioned, they don’t give a damn about the harm they do their own countries or the burden of the costs that these countries have to bear. In fact, to this sick and twisted point of view, the burden would be a form of redemption (using, of course once again, other people’s money).

      So that is what is going on. And it’s interesting to see the roots of it way back in the early 1980’s. And surely it reaches further back than that.

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