If you have switched on the ABC at any stage in the last twenty years, even if it was just the once, then chances are you caught an episode of Yes, Minister, the scathing political satire from the BBC, and of which Margaret Thatcher herself was said to be an avid fan.
First aired in 1980, Yes, Minister stars the late Paul Eddington as British MP Jim Hacker, a newly elected minister in her majesty’s government. He is joined by Derek Fowlds as his private secretary Bernard, and the incomparable Nigel Hawthorne (also recently deceased) as his permanent under-secretary and head of department, Sir Humphrey Appleby.
Created and written by Anthony Jay and Jonathon Lynn, three seasons were generated in all - being the first to win the BAFTA best comedy series award three years running. It was followed closely by two seasons of the even more popular Yes, Prime Minister. The central theme of Yes, Minister concerns the real role of the people’s representative (or lack of it) in the day-to-day running of the country. With the average Ministerial appointment lasting just 11 months, the Minister is simply an impotent figurehead – the monolithic civil service having learned long ago to do as it pleases and save its Minister from him or herself. Scathingly funny, and acutely sharp, this is British comedy at its very best. Such is the nature of politics, politicians and the public service that Yes Minister rings true wherever the Westminster system continues to govern, and will be do so for many, many years to come.
This release by the ABC sees the first series of Yes, Minister - all seven episodes - presented on the one disc:
Freshly re-elected, Jim receives a long awaited call from his party leader - the new Prime Minister. A Ministerial appointment awaits, and soon he is off to Whitehall as the Minister for Administrative Affairs. Introduced to his new private secretary Bernard, and the departmental permanent undersecretary Sir Humphrey Appleby, Jim wastes no time in enacting his party’s keystone policy ‘Open Government’. However, he soon learns (with more than a little help from Sir Humphrey), that policies are the stuff of campaigns not of the public service and that ‘Open Government’ is indeed a contradiction in terms.
The Official Visit
When Jim learns of an impending visit by the leader of a tin-pot little African nation to purchase oil drilling equipment, he schemes to use the visit to improve the government’s chances in upcoming by-elections. The African leader however, as it happens a former university chum of Jim’s, has political schemes of his own.
The Economy Drive
Feeling the heat of Fleet Street scrutiny, Jim plans a departmental 'economy drive’. With his political adviser Frank ‘Weasel’ uncovering many an area for improvement, it is up to Humphrey to bring out an old chestnut. Operation ‘hair-shirt’ is quickly put in place, and Jim is convinced to enact painful personal economies as an example to all. However, with his personal staff reduced to skeleton numbers, the Minister’s office is quickly brought to a standstill.
For many years the department has been planning a National integrated database, containing information on each and every British citizen. With his political integrity at stake, Jim intends to build in all possible safe-guards to prevent a police state, including granting the public access to their own files. Of course Humphrey disagrees. With help from the previous Minister, however, Jim gets the inside on Humphrey’s stonewalling techniques and for once gets his own way.
The Writing on the Wall
Jim’s hot air on phased reductions in the civil service finally comes home to roost and a government think-tank threatens to abolish his whole department. Suddenly Humphrey really does need the Minister’s help to block the scheme. Bernhard’s ideas for publicity campaigns like ‘Red tape holds the nation together’ aside, it’s the threat of a European identity card that finally provides a way out.
The Right to Know
With Jim’s plans foiled at every turn, he realises that Humphrey is supplying him with only enough information to support the decisions Humphrey requires. Proclaiming that he wants to be kept abreast of all happenings within the department, Humphrey obliges by snowing him under with useless detail. However, when Jim’s daughter threatens a nude-protest over an endangered colony of badgers, Humphrey takes the opportunity to press the point that ‘there are some things a Minister just should not know’.
Jobs for the Boys
When, in his political zeal, Jim unknowingly attaches himself to a failing government venture, Humphrey must hastily find a fix for the situation. The solution is to find a new benefactor for the project, but the banker he has in mind does not come cheap. Specifically, he wants a QAUNGO (Quasi Non-Government Organisation) posting – one of the ‘jobs for the boys’ that the government is frequently handing out. Jim must hastily swallow his moral objections to save his political career. Indeed it takes two to QUANGO!
Produced for television in 1980, there isn’t much you can expect from Yes Minister in terms of video, and therefore I was quite surprised by the level of quality that the transfer exhibits. Of course the image is full-frame and non-anamorphic, but there is a decent level of foreground detail and sharpness varies from reasonable to fantastic. Colours are muted, mainly public-service-drab, as the majority of scenes take place within the Minister’s own office or the 'Gentleman’s Club' that Humphrey and his other departmental heads frequent. Drab as they are, the colours are faithfully rendered, whilst black level and shadow detail are both good.
There are a few negatives however. Film artefacts, mainly flecks but also some scratches, creep in here and there. This is not surprising, and given the age of the production I would in truth have expected more. Also a little edge enhancement and a small amount of aliasing can be seen from time to time. In terms of MPEG artefacts the transfer also displays several instances of posterisation and a little background grain from time to time. Compression grain becomes evident in the final episode – swimming a little when the camera pans or the characters move. All in all, however, these problems are minor and will not spoil your enjoyment of proceedings.
With the series clocking in at 200 minutes, it is presented on a single sided dual-layer disc. As with most series from ABC/Roadshow the layer change has been well positioned between episodes.