When 'Yes Minister' first aired in 1980, it was already anachronistic. Its vision of democratically elected government strangled by the Machiavellian machinations of the Civil Service was one that was being brusquely dismantled by Margaret Thatcher, for whom a Sir Humphrey would have been a mere fly to be swatted. 'yes Prime Minister' - as satire - was even less likely: the idea of a bumbling prime minister diverted from radical reforms by appeals to his petty vanities and fears while The Miners' Strike had been ruthlessly suppressed seems like a rather culpable shirking of issues on the part of the writers.
Nevertheless, 'Prime' is tremendously enlightening about the actual running of government, the conflict between the transitory Cabinet (what one secretary calls ' a loose confederation of warring tribes) and the lifers in the civil service. Features include the vested interests of major businesses; the need to capitulate to the Americans; the cynical playing off of morality against pragmatism and self-interest. The scripts of 'Prime', with reams of statistics and explanations that would have been dry as dust to read are transformed as fascinating by the comic context.
The continued success of these programmes show that their main interest was never really satirical - TV satire has a tendency to date horribly. It is the pleasure of watching three outstanding, experienced, canny comedians hitting their strides in three very funny parts - Paul Eddington as Jim Hacker, combining the remnants of his youthful idealism with unjustified egotism (he is liable to reveries of Churchillian glory) and breathtaking spinelessness; the godlike Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey Appleby, not so much a Machiavellian as the kind of cool head who had kept Britain unchanging but stable for centuries before Thatcher came along; Derek Fowlds as Bernard, Hacker's private secretary and Sir Humphrey's understudy, caught somewhere between the two. In fact, you could almost say that the series is his pilgrim's progress, as he moves from being someone who sympathises with Hacker's suppressed idealism to being initiated into Sir Humphrey's arcane reform-stifling.
these three episodes, dealing with the first weeks of Hacker's prime-ministerial reign, are as funny as the first series, focusing on his hatstand idealistic project - to cancel the nuclear missile programme and reintroduce conscription - and Sir Humphrey's increasingly desperate efforts to sabotage it. 'The Ministerial Broadcast' is the funniest, with vain, pompous Hacker practicing poses for his first TV appearance. 'The Smoke Screen' marks a crucial changing point in the balance of power that will develop throughout - Hacker's increasing ability to outwit Sir Humphrey, unthinkable in the first series.
you may have difficulty in believing this; there are other minor problems too - the resort to caricature (the smoking Sports Minister seems to have strayed from a Victorian cartoon); the congealing of prized elements of 'Yes Minister', such as Sir Humphrey's deliberately verbose obfuscations, into show-stopping, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-like set-pieces; the minimising of the domestic focus. Still, the plotting is tighter, and everything smoother and more confident. Stupendous.