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Thursday, 8 June 2017

Yes, Minister S1 (Election Special Guest Review by Reecey)

Yes, Minister
Series 1
(Election Special Guest Review by Reecey.)

So, welcome to Reecey’s Election Day Extravaganza!

It’s been a nightmarish seven weeks, but it’s very almost over. Should be done by noon tomorrow, hopefully earlier.

In honour of the third major election in less than a year (we had some local elections and the new combined authority mayors that are supposed to stand in for the devolved government that England has been disallowed) let’s cover some good old political comedy, shall we?

All the better, the very first episode deals with the immediate aftermath of a general election.

Long time Member of Parliament and Shadow Minister the Rt Hon Jim Hacker is re-elected into his seat and his party is victorious, moving into the benches of government.

This first episode see his appointment to the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs, and introduction to the Permanent Under-secretary of state Sir Humphrey Appleby and his Principal Private Secretary Bernard Wooley.

Now, considering that Brexit happened last year, you may actually recognise at least Sir Humphrey (‘Humpy’ to his posh, high level Civil Service friends) from this clip:

Sir Humphrey is what you might call the primary antagonist of the series, he is in conflict with Hacker in most episodes and represents the Civil Service in its most… unflattering light.

Older white men, classically educated at Oxbridge who see the business of governance as their job and view the exercise of democracy as something of an inconvenience rather than the sensible use of the only practical means of running a country.

Oh, and they’re all posh, because of course they are. You aren’t going to see any working class men taking this attitude, because they haven’t got the automatic expectation of power or a silver spoon in their mouths.

This is not to say that Sir Humphrey never has a point. Sometimes his points are cold heartedly pragmatic, and sometimes they’re actually sensible.

Prime example, the third episode of the series covers the issues of spending in the Civil Service. I many ways, the Civil Service can be, and is, bloated.

However, Sir Humphrey makes the point that once one department can be shown to make cuts, they’ll all be expected to do so.

The thing is, and this isn’t mentioned in episode, they’ll be expected to make them even if they don’t need to.
I used to work for ACAS on a temp contract some years ago, and I had family working there too both before and after.

ACAS was running incredibly efficiently at that time, but was forced to take on cuts that weren’t really necessary as part of an economy drive (title drop) across the Civil Service.

In the years following, the working conditions there got steadily worse and worse and they were shedding experienced employees due to increasingly unrealistic targets and their new employees were getting unfavourable contracts.

While talking about Civil Service spending, it’s important to remember that real people are negatively affected by cuts and economy drives. Something that Sir Humphrey forcibly reminds Hacker of with ‘Operation Hairshirt’, by encouraging him to make personal sacrifices that severely damage his working conditions.

To the point where he ends up saying something he shouldn’t have to someone he definitely shouldn’t have and causes a strike.

Eventually things go back to normal as Hacker finds himself in an incredibly uncomfortable position that he technically put himself in, because Sir Humphrey specifically allowed it to happen.

I’ve always viewed Yes, Minister and its sequel as a political version of Tom and Jerry.

In this analogy, Hacker is Tom and Sir Humphrey is Jerry.

In their conflicts, Jerry usually wins, but sometimes Tom manages to and it’s always far more satisfying when he does.

Of course, there’s also the times that they both lose to some third party, which would be the second episode, The Official Visit. AKA Nicola Sturgeon’s favourite episode.

In this episode, Hacker and Sir Humphrey are essentially blackmailed into acquiescing to the demands of the new President of the fictional African nation of Buranda. A country up there with Latveria and Genovia in the stakes of ‘fake countries with convincing names’.

I would advise caution in regards to this episode, as it shows some… racial meanness on the part of the characters.

It’s not hatred, but by golly, it’s mean and unnecessary.

Fear not, comeuppance is had, and it is fun to see.

Basically, Mohammed Salem (a former university acquaintance of Hacker’s who previously went by Charles Umtali before conversion to Islam) threatens to make a speech calling for the Celtic nations of Scotland and Ireland to rise up against oppression. Just prior to a pair of important by-elections, and during The Troubles.

No mention of the Welsh and Cornish, thus showing the cold and calculating nature of this speech.

He gets a favourable deal on some funding for oil drilling equipment in return for not ruining the by-election chances of Hacker’s unnamed party, and stirring up ethnic hatred in a place which was already seething with it.

For the most part, though, like his rodent counterpart, Sir Humphrey manages to get his way, but Hacker doesn’t make it easy.

Other things that they clash on include Open Government, an integrated database in Big Brother, The Right to Know and a building project in Solihull in Job for the Boys.

Then there’s The Writing on the Wall, where the two join forces to take down a common foe, which is a joy to behold in its own way.

As a first series, it’s not the best that the programme has to offer, to be sure, but for the nature of the department as dealing with a new minister who wants to make sweeping changes, it’s incredibly effective.

It’s also really, really funny. I don’t think I’ve necessarily done that justice here, but the jokes largely don’t fall flat, and the humour is very character driven.

Sir Humphrey’s impenetrable language and condescending demeanour, Bernard’s adorable pedantry and Hacker trying to be a decisive and effective leader, but usually failing.

I can unequivocally recommend this one, and if you can find it online, maybe you can use it to keep your spirits up during the long, long night ahead.

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