The Complete Yes Minister And Yes Prime Minister

The Complete Yes Minister And Yes Prime Minister

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It is a truth universally acknowledged that one of the most effective ways to keep a minister of the crown from undertaking his political duties in such a way as to intentionally or, indeed, inadvertently, undermine the otherwise smooth and appropriately traditional running of the country, as managed for hundreds of years and without significant interruption by the upper echelons of those devoted subjects of Her Majesty known in the common parlance by the term 'the civil service', is to keep that minister healthily and reassuringly preoccupied with the notable and productive - albeit not always efficacious - business of working his way through a substantial and densely packed box containing a significant quantity of absorbing material which, whilst not necessarily as complex as it might initially appear, is indisputably very well written. With that in mind, The Complete Yes Minister And Yes Prime Minister is one box which any civil servant would be well advised to recommend strongly to the politicians he assists, as, indeed, I must recommend it, dear reader, to you.

The tale of scheming civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) and his efforts to keep too much power from disrupting the busy life of earnest politician Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), this remains one of the BBC's finest achievements. It's essentially a sitcom, and some of the stories are a bit slight, but the dialogue is so beautifully composed that few viewers will notice.

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Most of the episodes are based around real life incidents narrated in Westminster. A few of these stories (such as the smuggling of alcohol into a party in the Middle East) make for uncomfortable viewing today, yet their inclusion makes sense in context. Although viewers today will be used to a different style of political banter, the stories themselves haven't aged at all, and it's telling how easily the debates involved can be applied to politics today.

This isn't The Thick Of It, and at first glance it may seem far gentler, but Sir Humphrey doesn't swear because he doesn't need to. His biting wit is every bit as vicious when the occasion calls for it, and his powers of obfuscation are second to none. Hawthorne is brilliant; all the more so because he doesn't simply go for dry laughs, but creates a character who also has endearing vulnerabilities and petty obsessions of his own, so that the viewer is often drawn to take his side. Indeed, many of the things he stands for (despite his insistences that he's not political) will appeal to parts of the audience, and it's impossible not to feel for him during his occasional moments of panic.

Eddington, meanwhile, does a fine job as Hacker, creating a man who is indisputably fatuous and self-serving, vain and (initially, at least) naive, yet extremely likeable and quite believable as somebody who could get himself elected. Completing the office trio is personal secretary Bernard (Derek Fowlds), a mild mannered man with a fondness for puns and a troublesome conscience.

Yes, Prime Minister... follows the two essential rules of a successful sitcom: it employs an overarching plot structure to keep events in motion, and it doesn't outstay its welcome. If only the same could be said of real politicians. Though each episode tends to focus on a single issue, there are coherent threads running throughout, allowing us to watch these people as their relationships evolve and incidents which take place in early episodes come back to haunt them later on. For this reason it works extremely well when viewed over the course of just a few weeks, and if you've any taste for politics at all, it's certain to leave you wanting more.

Reviewed on: 06 Sep 2009
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The Complete Yes Minister And Yes Prime Minister packshot
A government minister, who subsequently becomes prime minister, struggles to get the better of the civil service.
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Director: Peter Whitmore

Starring: Nigel Hawthorne, Paul Eddington, Derek Fowlds, Diana Hoddinott

Year: 1986

Runtime: 1074 minutes

Country: UK

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