Few comedy series' have ever boasted such devastatingly brilliant scripts as those turned out by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn for the BBC series Yes Minister and its later sequel, Yes Prime Minister.
The scripts keep their ever-fresh brilliance, whether you're watching any of the television series', or listening to the radio adaptations, or leisurely reading through the printed collected scripts editions. Few other scripts stand up so strongly on their own as these.
But the real thing is best, and here in the second series of Yes Minister are seven more wonderful episodes, originally broadcast in Britain between February and April 1981, and repeated regularly ever since, both in the UK and here.
The good news is that the BBC seems determined to bring us the entire collection - which totalled three series' of Yes Minister, followed, I think, by a Christmas special a year later which saw our Minister, Jim Hacker, unexpectedly promoted to Prime Minister, and then finally, a couple of years later, two series' of Yes Prime Minister.
What a brilliant show! It confirmed all our worst opinions about politics and the bureaucracy. We appreciated it because we saw exactly how little power the voting population actually had - rabid Conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher loved it because it served to confirm what a brilliant gameplayer she was.
The game was the intricate ongoing bout between politicians and bureaucrats, with the voters definitely relegated to nowhere-land. The politicians are given our votes to wield power; the bureaucrats are determined to keep the real power away from them. From that simple scenario was drawn some of the finest chamber-comedy of 20th century television.
I call it chamber-comedy because this series rarely left the office - the usual setting was around a desk, with Minister Jim Hacker locked in combat with the Department's principal secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby. Jim's bemused private secretary Bernard (Derek Fowlds) is usually hovering in the background, serving as the counterfoil whenever this two-hander needed a third player.
The two key players, Paul Eddington as Jim and Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey, will long be remembered for these roles. Paul Eddington served honourably as Jerry Leadbetter in The Good Life, but he is Jim Hacker for evermore. And though Nigel Hawthorne made a late bid for fame through his role as the mad King in The Madness of King George, he too will always be the ubiquitous, omnipresent and consummately crafty Mandarin, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Long may their battles continue.
The layer change is imperceptible. And seven half-hour episodes (a complete season) is a very generous serving indeed.
The video quality is very fine indeed for a television show of this vintage. It probably looks better than you'll have seen it before, but don't expect miracles - it is still a relatively low-budget television comedy series, with its brilliance found in its scriptwriting and acting.
Dialogue is all-important in Yes Minister; the wit and satire is densely layered and each viewing will reveal new gems. So clarity is essential, and this Dolby mastering gives us the soundtrack free of hiss or hum, with good mid-range strength. It doesn't give us much else, but that's all we want for this series. It's two-channel balanced mono, which is my favourite option for mono tracks rather than the single-channel mono we're often presented with.
Well, this classic television series should be in every home of people with an interest in politics, or an interest in how we get manipulated (what a nice choice of words - the first, much shorter, one I put there wasn't quite so nice) via politics and bureaucracy.