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The complete Yes Minister; the diaries of a…
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The complete Yes Minister; the diaries of a Cabinet Minister by the Right… (edition 1984)

by Jonathan Lynn (Author), Anthony Jay (Author)

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113,689,591 (5)None
RobertDay's review
"Yes, Minister" was a BBC TV comedy series which ran for a number of years in the 1980s. It was co-written by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson's son-in-law, who at one time had been British Ambassador to the USA, so it was a view from the inside of the British Civil Service and the process of government in those days. It was frighteningly true-to-life, especially in its depiction of the senior civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby, expertly played in the tv show by Nigel Hawthorne. It remains not only an outstanding example of comedy writing, but also still a useful guide to how Government actually works in the UK, despite the sweeping changes instituted by successive Prime Ministers. In trying to move away from the Government shown in this series, paradoxically the pattern has persisted despite the attempts to reform and overthrow the old order and the introduction of corporatism by particularly the Blair administration from 1997 onwards.

The show followed the career of a rather hapless Minster, Jim Hacker, who is put in charge of the Department of Administrative Affairs - a sort of amalgam of the current-day Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and some of the functions of the Cabinet Office. He is constantly browbeaten - but ever so politely - by the Permanent Secretary (effectively the Department's Chief Executive), Sir Humphrey Appleby, and gets advice from the inside from his Personal Secretary, Bernard Woolley. The civil service is shown as having its own agenda for how the country ought to be run, which involves minimising the impact of "here today, gone tomorrow" Ministers, whose careers are dependent on the rise and fall of political fortunes, and Sir Humphrey's manoevreing in arranging outcomes that suit the Civil Service agenda and the Minister's own political needs and ambitions, which sometimes run counter to the Civil Service agenda, and sometimes don't.

The novelisations of the show go beyond mere narrative retelling. They are cast as political memoirs from 2019 (making them, in some strange sense, a form of science fiction!), and whilst they recapitulate the plots and dialogue of the shows, they also have a succession of made up "found documents", such as memos, appraisal reports asnd newspaper pages amongst other things.

The tv shows and books are actually considered to be valid guides in how to deal with Government! Certainly I know that these have been used as training manuals by large corporations trying to get a handle on how to deal with Government departments at high level. Despite the fact that they might be thought to have been superceded by shows like "The thick of it", many of the Civil Service ways and attitudes shown in the series persisted well into the 1990s and even 2000s. I, for one, worked for someone very much like Sir Humphrey Appleby. Although this is promoted as comedy and satire, there are some values in the "old" Civil Service, shown here, which in ten or twenty years' time, someone will try to bring back. Senior Civil Servants in the UK were generally incorruptible in those days, because their idea of status was totally different to anyone else's. The failure of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in the banking crisis of the late 2000s is a case in point. The FSA failed to bring the banks to heel because they recruited from the second echelon of banking management; and those people could be browbeaten by the senior management they were trying to regulate because the bankers saw these people as subordinates, whilst the regulators were still in awe of the bankers. An old-time civil servant, like Sir Humphrey Appleby (or my former boss!) could not have been browbeaten like that, or had the cultural cringe at facing high and mighty CEOs because their values and ideas of status did not rely on mere money, but on position, closeness to the political elite, and the liklihood of getting their "K" (knighthood) on retirement.

It also remains strange that many of the issues identified in "Yes, Minister" - waste in public expenditure, EU regulations, security concerns, pay and rations - are still public issues thirty years later. This book and its sequels remain relevant - and funny! - today. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Apr 19, 2012 |
All member reviews
"Yes, Minister" was a BBC TV comedy series which ran for a number of years in the 1980s. It was co-written by former Prime Minister Harold Wilson's son-in-law, who at one time had been British Ambassador to the USA, so it was a view from the inside of the British Civil Service and the process of government in those days. It was frighteningly true-to-life, especially in its depiction of the senior civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby, expertly played in the tv show by Nigel Hawthorne. It remains not only an outstanding example of comedy writing, but also still a useful guide to how Government actually works in the UK, despite the sweeping changes instituted by successive Prime Ministers. In trying to move away from the Government shown in this series, paradoxically the pattern has persisted despite the attempts to reform and overthrow the old order and the introduction of corporatism by particularly the Blair administration from 1997 onwards.

The show followed the career of a rather hapless Minster, Jim Hacker, who is put in charge of the Department of Administrative Affairs - a sort of amalgam of the current-day Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and some of the functions of the Cabinet Office. He is constantly browbeaten - but ever so politely - by the Permanent Secretary (effectively the Department's Chief Executive), Sir Humphrey Appleby, and gets advice from the inside from his Personal Secretary, Bernard Woolley. The civil service is shown as having its own agenda for how the country ought to be run, which involves minimising the impact of "here today, gone tomorrow" Ministers, whose careers are dependent on the rise and fall of political fortunes, and Sir Humphrey's manoevreing in arranging outcomes that suit the Civil Service agenda and the Minister's own political needs and ambitions, which sometimes run counter to the Civil Service agenda, and sometimes don't.

The novelisations of the show go beyond mere narrative retelling. They are cast as political memoirs from 2019 (making them, in some strange sense, a form of science fiction!), and whilst they recapitulate the plots and dialogue of the shows, they also have a succession of made up "found documents", such as memos, appraisal reports asnd newspaper pages amongst other things.

The tv shows and books are actually considered to be valid guides in how to deal with Government! Certainly I know that these have been used as training manuals by large corporations trying to get a handle on how to deal with Government departments at high level. Despite the fact that they might be thought to have been superceded by shows like "The thick of it", many of the Civil Service ways and attitudes shown in the series persisted well into the 1990s and even 2000s. I, for one, worked for someone very much like Sir Humphrey Appleby. Although this is promoted as comedy and satire, there are some values in the "old" Civil Service, shown here, which in ten or twenty years' time, someone will try to bring back. Senior Civil Servants in the UK were generally incorruptible in those days, because their idea of status was totally different to anyone else's. The failure of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in the banking crisis of the late 2000s is a case in point. The FSA failed to bring the banks to heel because they recruited from the second echelon of banking management; and those people could be browbeaten by the senior management they were trying to regulate because the bankers saw these people as subordinates, whilst the regulators were still in awe of the bankers. An old-time civil servant, like Sir Humphrey Appleby (or my former boss!) could not have been browbeaten like that, or had the cultural cringe at facing high and mighty CEOs because their values and ideas of status did not rely on mere money, but on position, closeness to the political elite, and the liklihood of getting their "K" (knighthood) on retirement.

It also remains strange that many of the issues identified in "Yes, Minister" - waste in public expenditure, EU regulations, security concerns, pay and rations - are still public issues thirty years later. This book and its sequels remain relevant - and funny! - today. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Apr 19, 2012 |

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