A Right Honourable Riot
I first happened upon the 'Yes, Minister' series while living in Britain and working in Parliament. How is that for timeliness! Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne (both knighted for their services to entertainment and the theatre, so the official story went -- Maggie loved the show so they both got awards, if you must know the truth) are perfectly matched as the new Cabinet Minister and experienced, somewhat jaded Permanent Secretary, poised to spar over virtually every detail of work together.
The series begins with Jim Hacker becoming a Cabinet Minister for the first time. It proceeds through his gradual process of gaining experience and then surprisingly being elevated to the position of Prime Minister; at the same time, Sir Humphrey Appleby is elevated to the position of Cabinet Secretary (the most senior of civil servants) and the 'Yes, Minister' series graduated to become 'Yes, Prime Minister', made all the more hilarious by virtue of the fact that Jim Hacker becomes PM largely due to a crisis about sausage (narrowly escaping being called an offal (pronounced awful) tube).
Political situations large and small are highlighted throughout the series. The humour shifts from being blatant to being very subtle; the common wisdom about the House of Commons with regard to the accuracy of the programme was that 'Reality is twice as true but half as funny'. The issues of promotions, wages, policies, inter-departmental struggles, down-in-the-dirt politics (British-style) all arise at various points. Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker win their share of victories over each other, shifting back and forth in their pericoretic movement that typifies politics, from as minor as who has which office, to recognising heads of state and setting election dates.
The duo of Hacker and Sir Humphrey are wonderfully served by Bernard, a faithful PPS (personal private secretary) whose subtle shifting loyalties provides grist for both mills. Those who will be so enamoured of the series that they seek out the printed form will be happy to learn that eventually Bernard becomes Sir Bernard, and is himself eventually Cabinet Secretary. The books of 'Yes, Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister' are done in the fashion of diaries, with the neat addition of verbatim letters, photographs, charts, etc., providing a wonderful companion to the series.
Alas, not all the episodes of these wonderful series are available on tape in the USA. There are some episodes of both, but occasionally American PBS stations carry the entire schedule of episodes. This is British political satire at its best.
In this particular tape, Yes, Minister: Volume 2, there are three episodes.
--The Writing on the Wall--
In this episode, the department is under attack, and not just in the usual political fashion. Sir Humphrey must engineer a way to save both Hacker and the department from becoming the easy budget cut the Prime Minister is in search of; playing on the fear of National Identity Cards inland and Euro-phobic identity abroad, Sir Humphrey and Hacker team up (a rare occasion) when the enemy without seems greater than the enemy within. It ends with the words, 'Yes, Minister' -- which is one of the hallmarks of the series.
--The Right to Know--
In this episode, Hacker has finally had enough of the double-speak and silences Sir Humphrey uses to keep the him in the dark. Ironically, Sir Humphrey floods Hacker with so much information, it is worse than ever. However, when Hacker's political career hangs in the balance over his daughter's protest over a badger colony (the operative phrase would be 'nude protest' at a badger colony), Hacker concedes, once Sir Humphrey defuses the issue, that perhaps there are some things better left unknown.
--Jobs for the Boys--
Sir Humphrey's cronies are looking for Government top-up consultancies; Hacker is looking for sainthood a la St. Francis. When the animal farm he used for a photo opportunity is about to become a carpark on his order, Sir Humphrey uses the opportunity to get his friend a Quango, Hacker's name on the new zoo, and Hacker's political advisor (and Humphrey's greatest pain) a well-deserved and well-removed Quango of his own, in Tahiti.
Sir Paul Eddington and Sir Nigel Hawthorne
Both stars of this incredible, lesser-known series have passed away, Sir Paul several years ago, and Sir Nigel just days prior to this writing. Both were ubiquitous in the London stage, screen, and television during the 80s and 90s. Both were very talented Shakespeareans who had no trouble with comedy subtle and gross. Sir Paul was honoured with a television tribute a very short time ago which gave insight into his true wit and character. Sir Nigel, best known in his later years with the success of 'The Madness of King George', was a modest and unassuming actor, capable of remarkable bits of genius.