on June 12, 2003
I love Fawlty Towers, but for my money Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister is the funniest sitcom I have ever seen. While most of the humor is political in nature, you don't have to be a C-Span junkie to get all the jokes. You also don't need a background it the British political system (though it helps) as political corruption is universal. Indeed, this show was a worldwide hit and is being aired somewhere right now!
The U.S. video tapes for this series only included the first seven episodes of this series, so many of us will be seeing 14 "new" episodes! If you have those video tapes or have seen this show on public television, what are you waiting for? The video is of high quality and there are no gotchas; it's a wonderful set I'll keep mine for the rest of my life. If you are an anglophile who enjoys the likes of "To the Manor Born" or the Ian Richardson "House of Cards" trilogy (soon to be released on DVD as well), you will more than likely enjoy this set too. For the rest of you who have never seen this show, just know that it is an incredibly witty (though never silly) look into a well-meaning minister's (Paul Eddington) attempts to reform the civil service and an incredibly clever director of the civil service's (Sir Nigel Hawthorne) attempts to prevent any reforms. Don't let the subject matter fool you, it is never dull and will have you laughing throughout.
While there is a lengthy segment on Sir Nigel Hawthorne including an interview conducted shortly before his fatal condition was diagnosed, I wish there had been commentary on at least one of the episodes from the writers or producers (or even Derek Fowlds, who sadly is the only major surviving member of the cast) just to get a insider feel for the show. No matter; the quality of the video a great and the content is, of course, first rate.
I've checked with the BBC and the "missing" one hour "Party Games" episode, which came as a Christmas special the year after the final Yes Minister was aired, will be included on "Yes Prime Minister - The Complete Collection" scheduled for late August 2003. As this is the episode where Hacker ascends to Prime Minister and as it has never been released in the U.S., this is great news.
on November 19, 2003
It is high time this outstanding britcom (plus its sequel, Yes Prime Minister) was released in its entirety on DVD, but it was well worth the wait for the BBC has done an outstanding job. It contains all twenty-one 30-minute episodes (which ran from 1980 through 1982) in a beautifully packaged four-disc set. The quality of the picture is very crisp and clear for a 20-year-old production (I know I'VE never seen it look so good!), and the DVD extras are a real treat.
This is an intelligent, extremely well-written series--a satire of the inner workings of government. Sources within the government provided the writers with all the fodder they needed, and it is highly accurate in its depiction of the corruption, politics, red tape, and manipulation that forms an integral part of the administration of government (ANY government, mind you--which is what gives this series such universal appeal). Indeed, Margaret Thatcher, herself a fan of the series, referred to it as being a "closely observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power."
The series opens with Jim Hacker (played by the late Paul Eddington (Good Neighbours), who sadly died of skin cancer in 1995 at age 68), who has just won the parliamentary seat for his riding (his party has won the election), being appointed as the new Minister of Administrative Affairs. Now that he's in a position of power (or so he thinks!), Hacker has high hopes for making some positive changes--things like instituting an open government policy, linking honours to economies for civil servants, and so on. But he's thwarted at every corner by he who wields the real power--the cunning, quick-witted, hilariously verbose and extremely manipulative civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby--the DAA's Permanent Secretary (the late Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George, Mapp & Lucia)). Lastly is Hacker's Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds (Heartbeat)). Bernard is a likeable, pun-loving, unassuming character with conflicting loyalties. He is himself a civil servant, and though there are times when he'd like to assist Hacker in achieving his goals, he must exercise extreme caution in doing so lest Sir Humphrey find out!
DVD EXTRAS include a splendid 42-minute profile of the late Nigel Hawthorne who, having battled cancer of the pancreas for eighteen months, sadly died on Boxing Day 2001. He was 72. The profile was filmed over four months in 1999, during the period when Hawthorne was preparing to play King Lear for the RSC. The series provides a brief bio with photos and snippets of other productions in which he's been involved. Derek Fowlds, Helen Mirren (his co-star in The Madness of King George), Jimmy Perry & David Croft (writers of Dad's Army), and Trevor Bentham (Hawthorne's partner of 22 years) all provide contributions, but the vast majority are from Hawthorne himself. He touches on many of the themes which are elaborated on in his splendid autobiography entitled "Straight Face"--things like his uneasy relationship with his father and his homosexuality. The final features are "A Short History of Yes Minister" (1999) which features Fowlds, Hawthorne, and series' co-writer Jonathan Lynn (it's only 5 minutes but very informative); and a brief 3 1/2 minute interview with Jonathan Lynn from 1981. Lastly are text-based bios of the main and many supporting actors.
This lovely collection set is truly a must-have for fans of the series. It is a unique, extraordinary britcom (a personal favourite of mine!)--one that is sure to appeal to anyone who enjoys the best in British comedy. I would also, however, recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone simply looking for an intelligent, brilliantly written, and impeccably acted series--British or otherwise. Highly, HIGHLY recommended!
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.
This is British political satire at its best. Some of the episodes include:
In this episode, prior to the usual opening credits we get a shot of Jim Hacker being re-elected to his seat in Parliament. Nervously awaiting the call, he finally gets contacted by the PM to become Minister for Administrative Affairs, a bit of a political graveyard, we are informed. There is his introduced to Bernard Wooley, his Principal Private Secretary, and Sir Humphrey Appleby, the mandarin of the department. They spar, with Sir Humphrey easily manipulating the inexperienced Hacker through near political-suicide in pursuit of his name in the paper. It ends with the words, 'Yes, Minister' -- which is one of the hallmarks of the series.
--The Official Visit--
In this episode, Hacker engineers an unknown African leader's visit to Britain to help the struggling party's by-elections in Scotland, much to the dismay of Sir Humphrey, who would much rather have the visit take place in London (much greater chance to wear medals at a state function). In the end, the African leader turns out to be Hacker's friend from the LSE, who was sharp as a tack then, and turns out to be still a formidible adversary. In the end, Hacker and Sir Humphrey agree to an interest-free loan of 50 million pounds, to keep egg (or, at least imperialist yolk) off their faces.
--The Economy Drive--
Frustrated at every turn with trying to cut expenses, Hacker is persuaded by the manipulative Sir Humphrey that 'economy begins at home' -- so he gives up his fancy office, staff car, and all the perks to get his name highlighted in the paper. When his own car breaks down and he is found face-down in the gutter after a champagne reception at the French embassy, he thinks better of it all, acquiesing to Sir Humphrey's juggling the figures to make it seem as if all is being cut after all.
Hacker, as the minister responsible for wiretaps, has been dubbed 'Britain's chief bugger' by the press. Anxious at first to limit the scope of government to eavesdrop, Sir Humphrey informs Hacker that his name is on a death list, and this was discovered by the methods Hacker wants to prevent. After several agonising days of police escorts and protective custody, his security is removed when the terrorists had rearranged their priorities, or, in Sir Humphrey's analysis, 'they don't think you're important enough to kill.' Hacker then welcomes the petition to limit government involvement in wiretaps, saying that, after all, 'ministers are expendable, but liberty is indivisible.'
--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.
on August 28, 2003
"It was three elderly men sitting around a table talking about government. No action, no women, no sex . . . I don't know how it worked." -Jonathan Lynn. Well it did work and anyone who is familiar with this series already knows how brilliant it was and still is. The new minister of Administrative Affairs (Jim Hacker) arrives believing he can make the system more accountable and cost effective--thus assuring his popularity with his constituency--only to find that the stubborn traditions of the civil service (brilliantly portrayed in the controlling character of permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby) are impossible to budge or too convenient in saving his own neck. Hacker often appears intellectually challenged; however, he sometimes manages to win a victory or two at the expense of the Sir Humphrey with personal secretary Bernard Woolley always willing to add a pedantic comment. In addition to the 21 episodes, extras include a brief (very brief) history of the show (which left me wanting more), a period interview with writing Jonathan Lynn (why not a recent reflection on the show?), and a lengthy, and very touching biography of Nigel Hawthorne (Sir Humphrey) who passed away in 2001. The witty political observations in this series are timeless whether one considers British govt., American govt., etc. Minor complaints about the DVD itself is that the volume is rather low and the discs are a little tricky to remove from the case (but worth the struggle, of course). I am looking forward to seeing the Yes, Prime Minister set.