Never before in the history of television had the inherent comedic possibilities of politics been mined with quite as much unerring insight as under the razor-sharp, knowingly observed scripts of co-writers Jonathan Lynn and Peter Jay's 1980-1982 series Yes Minister, said to be the favourite series of then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
The series chronicled the adventures of newly appointed Minister for Administrative Affairs, the Rt. Honourable James Hacker, MP (played with affable confusion by Paul Eddington). At the beginning of his term in office the well meaning Hacker found his ideas for genuinely innovative new measures constantly thwarted by the very embodiment of the self-serving, status-quo preserving faceless mandarins of the Civil Service; Sir Humphrey Appleby. (A wonderfully devious character of monstrously Machiavellian proportions, brilliantly portrayed by the late Nigel Hawthorne). But as the series unfolded Hacker's self-confidence and increasing mastery of the tricks of governmental in-fighting saw him slowly but surely turn the tables on Hawthorne's 'Old Boy Network', and master the art of political manipulation to often hilarious effect.
Yes Minister ended its run with both viewer popularity and creative quality intact. But if television audiences thought at the time that they had seen the last of the politically mis-matched Whitehall odd-couple they were to be very pleasantly mistaken. Hacker and Appleby returned to the screens of the nation between 1986-1989 to battle anew in the same creative team's equally successful and quality drenched sequel: Yes Prime Minister, which saw Hacker seated at the very fountainhead of British political power.
Paul Eddington had previously enjoyed huge success in another BBC sitcom classic, 1975 to 1978's The Good Life, while the actor who played Hacker's personal assistant, Derek Fowlds, was already familiar to millions as possibly the best known and most fondly remembered human foil to the glove puppeted Saturday evening comedy of Basil Brush, and would later progress to yet another ratings winner, the cosy nostalgic drama series Heartbeat. Nigel Hawthorne, already an established and highly respected Shakespearean actor, would go on to win world-wide critical acclaim and a coveted Academy Award nomination in 1994 for his starring role in the movie adaptation of Alan Bennett's brilliantly written West End and Broadway stage play The Madness of King George.
But it will be the darkly comical political sparring-waged unceasingly between Jim Hacker and the smooth-talking, back-stabbing, Sir Humphrey Appleby, which keen observers of situation comedy will continue to cherish long after the real politicians of the day have faded from most people's memory.
Published on February 13th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus & SRH "We've become rather fond of each other - like a terrorist and his hostage" (1999) for Television Heaven.