Friday, December 19, 2008

Watch now, thank me later: Yes Minister

When I was a kid one of the most popular shows in our home was the 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes Prime Minister' series. My parents loved the show and I would watch along with them, only half following the plot. I must have been 10-12 years old and so I didn't fully understand the sophisticated humor but even then I could appreciate the excellent performances of the 3 major characters (the baffled, pompous but occasionally wily Minister Hacker, the diabolical and cunning Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne is masterful) and the naive, pedantic and slightly corruptible Bernard Wooley (who I used to have a crush on! Is that weird?). Later on, I read the brilliant spinoff books coming out of the series.

And now, years later as a political scientist (in training) and following the Obama cabinet building process I'm redicovering the show all over again via netflix (can I just say now- I love you, netflix). I marvel at how relevant the humor is even today, how sophisticated and subtle the writing is and how spot on the characters are. Then I weep for what passes for a sitcom these days.

I present to you this gem of an exchange in the episode 'Open Government':

Sir Humphrey (on a memo entitled Open Government which he naturally and virulently opposes, being a bureaucrat): "Always dispose of the difficult bit in the title, does less harm there than in the text."
Cabinet Secretary: "Yes, it's the law of inverse relevance. The less you intend to do about something, the more you have to keep talking about it'
Bernard Wooley: (uncertainly) "But what's wrong with open government? Why shouldn't the public know more about what's going on?"
Cabinet Secretary:(in utter amazement) "Are you serious? My dear boy, it's a contradiction in terms. You can be open or you can have government"
Bernard Wolley: "But..But surely the citizens of a democracy have the right to know"
Sir Humphrey :(with strained patience but utter conviction) "No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity and guilt. Ignorance has a certain dignity."
Cabinet Secretary:(profoundly) "If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong."

and this..

'We have decided to be more flexible in our application of this principle' means 'We are dropping this policy but we don't want to admit it publicly'

Classic- British comedy at its absolute best. They just don't make shows like that anymore. Does anyone else share my love for this show?

For my polisci friends and fellow lovers of British Comedy- this is a must watch...Hence the title of this post.

2 comments:

Heather said...

yes!! i remember watching this show when i was younger too! ah, the colonial bond we share runs deep indeed. it comes on late at night sometimes on canadian television- i will take you advice and look out for it... those brits sure do know how to do funny!

Lightlight said...

Yes, one of the few decent legacies of colonialism- along with cricket...

(to any outraged 'posties' - i keed, i keed)