Yes Minister and the follow up Yes Prime Minister are the focus of this week’s Throwback Thursday with the combined 38 episodes available on Hulu Plus. Comedy is a rather subjective matter and what tickles the old funny bone varies from person to person, but for me this is the series with more consistent laughs than any other showcasing the talents of Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds. Certainly a case could be made for Porridge, Blackadder, Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers, The Good Life, known as Good Neighbors here in the US, or Only Fools and Horses although I’m in the minority with the latter in that I’m not a massive fan.
As the series starts Eddington’s Jim Hacker has retained his position as a Member of Parliament for his local district, known as a constituency, and is expected to become a cabinet member in the new government. Unlike the US system, members of the cabinet in the UK continue to retain their local representative role rather than having to resign as a Senator or House Representative would do so over here. There are positives and negatives to each system, but it does mean that local politics are always on the mind of senior members of the government as well as national and international issues.
Hacker is duly awarded the Ministry of Administrative Affairs, a fictitious department invented by the writers of the show, but one that somewhat brilliantly has to be involved with all the others. Here the newly minted Minister has his first interactions with the government bureaucracy, known as the Civil Service, led in Administrative Affairs by Hawthorne’s Sir Humphrey Appleby while Fowlds plays Hacker’s departmental assistant Bernard Woolley.
Eddington had very much been the fourth banana on The Good Life behind Richard Briers, who was a close personal friend, Felicity Kendal and Penelope Keith, but the role of Hacker, an average politician who ultimately rises to Prime Minister, was a star making vehicle that elevated the actor to one of the biggest names in British television. Hawthorne and Fowlds are equally impressive, particularly the former whose performance as the verbose and scheming Sir Humphrey garnered the actor numerous awards.
As the series moves over the three seasons of Yes Minister and two seasons of Yes Prime Minister, Hacker grows in ability and stature and while usually still under the thumb of the Civil Service, is able to get his way on a number of occasions by matching the machinations of the bureaucratic machine with his own. If that sounds dry and boring then perish the thought. Eddington, Hawthorne and Fowlds are superb but they are also surrounded by a brilliant supporting cast that delivers repeatedly whenever called upon. John Nettleton is pitch perfect as Sir Arnold Robinson, the Cabinet Secretary who is even more adept at scheming than Sir Humphrey while Peter Cellier is Sir Frank Gordon the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.
Yes Minister consists of three seasons of seven episodes each while Yes Prime Minister was two seasons of eight. The bridging episode, entitled Party Games, when Hacker becomes the Prime Minister was in fact an hour-long Christmas special – a tradition in British television – and here is labeled Season Three Episode Eight. Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister are yet another example of the value that Hulu Plus provides and come with my highest personal recommendation.
– Wallace Poulter