Radio / The Men from the Ministry

Lamb: A letter from the Ministry of Housing, One. They say that their "Permission refused"-stamp has worn out, and they want to borrow ours.
Hamilton-Jones: Well they can't have it. Stamp their letter "Permission refused" and tell them we haven't got one.

The Men from the Ministry is a radio Sitcom and a political satire produced by The BBC which ran from 1962 to 1977, with one additional series made of re-recordings produced by BBC Transcription Services in 1980, which was never aired. This radio forerunner to the Yes, Minister was created by Edward Taylor and starred Wilfrid Hyde-White and Richard Murdoch as civil servants Roland Hamilton-Jones (“One”) and Richard Lamb (“Two”), with the former leaving after two series and being replaced by Deryck Guyler's Deryck Lennox-Brown (Also referred to as “One”). Other characters of the show are the duo's secretary Mildred Murfin (Norma Ronald) and their rather tyrannical, self-centered boss and Permanent Under-secretary, Sir Gregory Pitkin (Roy Dotrice on the first two series, Ronald Badley third series onward).

The show is set on the Ministry's “General Assistance Department,” an office that is designed to help other offices when they are overloaded with too much work. Typical episodes are centered around one or two assigments given by other offices. The staff of General Assistance Department are lazy and incompetent people determined to tangle in every bureaucratic thing, and Hilarity Ensues: Assigments are mixed up, there are memos and letters that end up to the wrong people and misunderstandings resulting from communication problems. The result is usually complete chaos, ranging from traffic wardens ending up with ballerina outfits to the whole of Britain losing all physical currency.

Outside of its fifteen-year run in Britain the show had a version produced in Sweden by Svergies Radio (SR) in 1963-1971. From there a bunch of scripts ended up in the archieves of Finland's Yleisradio (YLE). A Finnish version was first produced in 1979 and ended up being the third most popular radio show of the country, lasting for 30 years.


The Men from the Ministry contains examples of:

  • Accidental Art: Mr. Lamb's bicycle apparently was run over by a truck, and after leaving it in the Ministry's lobby it had been displayed the next day as modern art.
  • Accidental Hero: During the arrest of couple of shop-owners in Hackney for ridiculously small irregularities in their products that go against the norms set out by EEC, General Assistance Department accidentally blows the cover of two Soviet spies, allowing MI5 to catch them.
  • Accidental Misnaming: At one point Sir Gregory, thinking he's in grave danger in an inoperable underwater submarine, calls Lennox-Brown "Frederik." In the Finnish version he calls him (in this case Hamilton Jones) "Attila."note 
  • Adaptation Expansion: All the original BBC-produced episodes of the were restricted to 25-30 minutes so scripts where sometimes cut heavily... however, YLE gave no such restrictions during the production of the Finnish version, leading to episodes being anywhere from 25 to 48 minutes, often featuring full versions of gags which where either partially or completely left out from the originals.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Finnish version of "Seal of Office" changes the episode's circus seal into a circus bear, since the plot requires it to be confused with something else via pun. In the original General Assistance Department wants seal for the envelope they are about to send into NATO headquarters, where as in the Finnish version they're waiting for a collection letter for their delayed payment on the shipment (collection letter is "karhukirje" in Finnish, literally meaning "bear letter").
  • The Alleged Car: Lennox-Brown's car is this.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Lord Stilton sometimes plays this role to Sir Gregory.
  • Bad Boss/Mean Boss: Sir Gregory tends to be rather huge Jerk Ass to One and Two and often hit them on his anger.
  • Batman Gambit: Several times the plan to hide the non-existence of an accidentally made-up Super-Ship or British astronaut hinges on the assumption that anyone who'd normally know about it won't admit that they've never heard about it out of fear of missing the information of its development.
    Lamb: There are hundreds of people who'd know if a rocket had been fired, and as soon as they know they'll know they don't know.
    Lennox-Brown: Ah, but will they dare admit it? You didn't, I didn't, the Minister didn't. We were all afraid it was in some dispatch that we hadn't read. So we pretended we did know.
  • Big Applesauce: America is visited on several episodes, and it's always New York, apart from one Wild West Whole Episode Flashback.
  • British Brevity: The series in total had 159 episodes made during over fifteen years, with individual series' episode count ranging everywhere from 5th series' six episodes to 6th and 14th series' fourteen episodes.
  • Circular Reasoning: How does Lamb remember the to read the notes on the blotter? He has a notebook in which he writes notes to look a the blotter. How does he remember to look at the notebook? He has a reminder on the blotter.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: April Adams, General Assistance Department's second secretary, disspeared without a word after the first series, and was replaced by Mr. Crawley/Wilkins and other characters in the 1980 re-recordings and the Finnish translations.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After Lamb scolds Mildred over the typos on a recent memo, this exchange occurs:
    Mildred: It's Mr. Lennox-Brown's dictation, I can't hear him properly through a mouthful of biscuits.
    Lamb: Well you shouldn't eat biscuits when he's dictating.
  • Comically Serious: The newsreader Bryan Martin will report the most ridiculous things caused by One and Two's bunglings with utter seriousness.
  • Comically Small Bribe: When discussing how the Postman refused to give them back the letter they accidentally send to the wrong person, One credits the Postman's honesty, as he threw Two's five pence bribe to the gutter.
  • Composite Character: The Finnish version combined the characters of Mr. "Whizzer" Wilkins and Mr. "Creepy" Crawley (who were pretty much the same one already) into "Vinku" Wilkins, taking the former's name, stuttering and absent-mindedness and the latter's Verbal Tic.
  • Critical Research Failure: In-Universe, in "The Big Big Big Ben Bungle" Lamb refers to the "Hunchback of Amsterdam"
  • Dashingly Dapper Derby: All civil servants wear nice, black bowler hats.
  • Delegation Relay: After a fiery argument over the quality of Two's recent play for the Ministry's amateur theater, he and One refuse to talk to each other and try to use Mildred as a relay. She, however, isn't having any of it and quickly forces them to make an agreement.
  • Dirty Old Man: Sir Gregory is after young women of the Ministry, especially Ms. Daphney Bentwater from the typing pool.
  • Ditzy Secretary: Mildred is not the brightest secretary in the Ministry, to say the least.
  • Dub Name Change: The Finnish version has a lot of these. Most notably from Sir Gregory to Sir Henry, Roland to Hannibal and Derryck to Roland. in addition, many of the episodes originally featuring Lenox-Brown were aired with Hammilton-Jones in his place, and the change was only made due due the actor Kauko Helovirta's death in 1997.
  • Eat the Evidence: At the end of "Moving Target" Mr. Lamb quickly eats the note for Ministry's library that Sir Gregory mistook for a death threat, and was going to take it to Scotland Yard for handwriting analysis.
  • Eating Pet Food: When One and Two are hiding an animal in the office from Sir Gregory, Mr. Lamb is sometimes forced to eat the animal's food to fool Sir Gregory into thinking it's his breakfast/medicine.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Every episode begins with the knell of Big Ben, establishing the setting as London.
  • Epic Fail: After ending up with surplus of 75 pence, Sir Gregory demands that it must be lost or else there will be budget cuts. General Assistance Department's attempt at getting rid of it ends up with the surplus of 800 000 000 pounds.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Subverted. Sir Gregory wants One and Two to somehow get rid of Ms. Bentwater's overbearing mummy, and this exchange occurs.
    Lamb: Contact the Mafia?
    Sir Gregory: Oh, don't be absurd Lamb, don't be absurd. We don't know their address.
  • Explosive Stupidity: When One and Two are trying to get to House of Parliament through the sewers because the package Mr. Lamb left there during their inspection has been mistaken for a bomb and the area is sealed by police and military. In the sewers Lennox-Brown drops the flashlight in water, and Lamb lights up a match to help, not realizing it'll lit the flammable gasses of the sewers.
  • Failure Gambit: In "Conference Trick", Lord Stilton and Sir Gregory send Lamb, Lennox-Brown and Mildred to Paris' international conference to buy pieces of Venus in hopes that they'll screw up and end up with nothing (They can't afford to have landowning-rights on Venus you see). In this case it fails since the trio are so incompetent that they end up getting the whole planet, not to mention every other nation had the same idea.
  • False Reassurance: In the Finnish version of "Ban the Wotsit", One and Two are being interviewed on the TV after soviets manage to "replicate" the super-weapon Wotsit (which was really a pram full of junk mistaken for a weapon). The interviewer asks Lamb if he thinks the soviet weapon is as powerful as the original, which he answers that he is sure it is just as powerful, no more or less.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sir Gregory can sometimes be rather friendly when things go well, but it's always just a mask of his loathing of One and Two, and he'll make a 180 degree turn once things start to go downhill.
  • Flowery Insults: Sir Gregory's main weapon against One and Two
    Sir Gregory: You halfwitted idiots! Blundering buffoons! Icompetent monkeys!
  • Foreigner for a Day: In (sadly lost in original English) episode "Rebel in Regents Park" an old gardener of the titular park refuses to retire on Ministry's orders, instead creating his own country on small island in the middle of park's Duck Pond. Turns out that back in 1818 Prince Edward gave away the island to his family for all time.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Played for Laughs when Mr. Lamb goes to negotiate with an attaché of a Banana Republic about importing of a pelican. The attaché refuses on the grounds that Minister of Economy is at the office only at Thursdays, and the next Thursday is a national holiday during which they celebrate their people's liberator Pancho Manuel Gonzales. When Lamb suggests Thursday after that, the attaché says it's another holiday during which they celebrate the fall of tyrant Pancho Manuel Gonzales.
  • The Ghost: Mr. Lamb's landlord Mrs. Bardby is talked about a lot, but never physically appears on the series.
  • Glad I Thought of It: Pretty much every higher-up will take their employees and subordinates good ideas and claim credit for them, only to blame them if it goes wrong.
  • Gone Horribly Right: When Lamb is being depressed by the utter boredom of his life, Mildred and Lennox-Brown decide to make him take dancing lessons so that he will find more joy in his life. He does find dancing very enjoyable, so much that he plans to quit his job in the Ministry and become professional dancer.
  • Hamster-Wheel Power: "A Sense of Power" ends with Britain getting a new power source in the form of thousands of hamsters spinning a wheel-machine.
  • Happily Married: Hamilton-Jones/Lennox-Brown is happily married to a loving wife.
  • Hat Damage: Something happening to bowler hats is bit of a Running Gag in the show.
  • Herr Doktor: Ministry's psychiatrist is a man called Dr. Schwein who speaks with a heavy german accent.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: One and Two, wile having the occasional arguments, are closest friends each other has.
  • Hypocritical Humour: When planning on giving a petition about the poor quality of Ministry's bathrooms Mr. Crawley says that they have to stand up to Sir Gregory. After talking with him about it:
    Mr. Crawley: I said we just have to stand up to him.
    Lennox-Brown: You can come out from under the desk now.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: What's Lennox-Brown's reaction after finding out that they've not only destroyed Sir Gregory's house, but also put a Victorian Era Convenience in its place?
    Get the brandy from the first aid cabinet.
  • Insane Troll Logic:
    • Mr. Lamb asked his landlady to charge less rent for the benefit of both of them. When Mildred questions how it brings help to her, Lamb says that in weeks he can't pay she looses less money.
    • According to Sir Gregory, it is said that one person in four is mentally unstable. Therefore if you're in the bus and the nearest three people look sane, it must be you.
  • Insistent Terminology: Ministry's janitor Mrs. Banting is not a charwoman, she's a hygiene operative.
  • Insult to Rocks: In one of the episodes written exclusively for YLE has Mildred's boyfriend comparing Lamb's mind to a sieve. Mildred protests, as something actually sometimes stays in a sieve.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Sir Gregory's one in and out.
  • Lazy Bum: The staff of General Assistance Department tends to avoid work at all costs, only completing it on the last minute.
  • Literal-Minded: Mr. Lamb is prone to these.
    Mr. Youngblood: These accident figures. Have you noticed that in greater London a man breaks his leg every fifteen minutes?
    Lamb: He must be getting sick of it by now.
  • Magical Computer: In episode "The Trouble with Cecil" a computer named CECIL (Central Electronic Computer Information-Liaison) can talk and solve any logical problem, accurately predicting eight draws on the football pools.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: By Word of God, the "General Assistance Department" was created so that episodes wouldn't be dependent on work of only one type of State Administration.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The Christmas Episode "The Christmas Spirit" ends this way; the episode features One upsetting Santa and the main duo travelling to Christmas Land and escaping eventually on an magic carpet. The episode ends with Two awakening One from a sleep, but the carpet has appeared on Two's room...
  • Mistaken for Dying: Lamb and Mildred end up thinking that Lennox-Brown is dying in episode "A Rotten System" after after hearing Ministry's doctor and engineer Lambry converse about heating system in Lennox-Brown's room out-of-context.
  • Mistaken for Spies: During a trip to New York two poorly-worded notes One and Two left to their hotel and office back at London leave FBI and the British Government into thinking the two are spies planning on defecting to USSR.
  • The Mistress: Ms. Bentwater is this to Sir Gregory.
  • Moustache de Plume: In-Universe Gender Flip occurs in episode "A Problem Shared", where Lennox-Brown uses a pen name "Aunt Eveling" when answering an agony cloumn on staff magazine, since he and the editor agreed that woman's advice are more acceptable.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Episode "Bare Necessities" has One and Two stripping down in order to negotiate with the owner of a Nudist colony about buying the land, but since they do it in the night they keep going into wrong houses in the dark.
  • Never My Fault: When something goes wrong, One will sometimes blame Two for what has happened, even when he is just as (or even solely) responsible.
  • No, Except Yes: While giving most of Culture Ministry's yearly Art's Conucil Grants to small-time artists and simple con-men, Sir Gregory angrily calls and asks Lennox-Brown if he's forgotten annual grants for all the national organisations. Lennox-Brown's states that he has definitely not forgotten them indeed, since he's never even heard of them.
  • Noodle Incident: Never-seen bunglings and events of General Assistance Department and other offices are often referenced.
  • Not in Front of the Parrot: In episodes "A Bird in the Hand" and "Health and Deficiency" the parrot that's in the office repeats the insults that One and Two had said about Sir Gregory when he's in the room.
  • Not So Dire: One episode opens with One and Two talking about an alarming national catastrophe that's threatening entire nation's pride. Then we find out they're talking about losing a cricket match to West Indies.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Constant source of comedy: whenever One and Two oversee the businesses of others, they tend to attach on to the smallest of regulations and orders no matter how irrelevant they are. The two also often create forms full of questions that A) have nothing to do with the thing the form is about, and B) are impossible to answer.
  • Opening Narration: Every episode opens with the narrator explaining something about Ministry and/or it's workers.
  • Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: See Mistaken for Dying above.
    • After Lennox-Brown and Lamb have an argument over the below-mentioned Stilton cheese purchase, he and Mr. Crawley hear Lennox-Brown and Mildred discussing about killing a mouse which pests the office, which they interpret as Lennox-Brown and Mildred trying to kill Lamb.
  • Playing Both Sides: Mr. Lamb accidentally pulls this off in "Bringing the House Down" by first helping Mildred fight against City Council's attempt to re-house Mildred's family (since they want to clear the entire street and build a new office building in it's place) and then helping the City Council to force a stubborn family to leave. He never makes the connection because his focus on cleaning the department office as well as general idiocy.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: One and Two fit this trope to a T, with their bowler hats, pin-striped trousers and umbrellas.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: In episode "Getting it Taped" Mr. Lamb appears in an amateur play:
    Lamb: (In character) All this work and worry, and what do I get? Runs offstage!
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Since civil servants can't be fired, Sir Gregory frequently threatens to reassign One and Two to the Outer Hebrides due to their constant bungling.
  • Refuge in Audacity: One and Two are masters of this when it comes to explaining their huge screw-ups as official "government experiments" etc.
  • Speak Friend and Enter: In the episode "Cheesed Off" offices are faced with an infestation of mice. Lennox-Brown suggests poisoning them (and in the Finnish version using high tech methods to get rid of them such as laser beams or ultrasonics). Mildred suggests a cat.
  • Spot of Tea: One and Two love tea beyond anything as the British gentlemen they are.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Hamilton-Jones and Lennox-Brown are practically the same character with just different names and voice-actors.
  • The Television Talks Back: When listening a horse race from the radio all the sudden the speaker informs that horse My Wotsit (which everyone thought was going to lose) starts to moving up. Lamb says that they said that My Wotsit didn't have a chance, which the speaker replies that he was wrong in his earlier statement about My Wotsit's chances.
  • To Make a Long Story Short: Mr. Lamb often tries to do this when forced to explain a complicated situation. However, he always just takes random segments from the events that don't make any sense at all when combined.
  • Tranquil Fury: After Lamb accidentally buys thousand pounds worth of light Stilton cheese, Sir Gregory is pretty much this.
    Sir Gregory: (completely calm) Lamb, in all my years in the public service I have never encountered such asinine incompetence...
    Lamb: Don't try to hide it Sir Gregory, you're cross.
    Sir Gregory: Cross? Cross? I'll murder you! I'll shake you 'til the sawdust runs out of your ears!
    • Even more so in the Finnish version, where he delivers the death threat with complete serenity.
  • Truth Serums: Mistaking that General Assistance Department is the head of British Intelligence, two Soviet spies use their new experimental truth serum on Mr. Lamb in order to get information.
  • Tyop on the Cover: Mildred is bound to make typos, leading to this:
    Sir Gregory: Now where's the arts-council report, I expected my copy yesterday.
    Lamb: Er, there's been a slight typing error sir.
    Sir Gregory: Yes, I can see it from here. On the cover it says, "A report for the Homo secretary."note 
  • Verbal Tic: Mildred has a habit of saying "righty-ho" in the place of "right away", which annoys One greatly.
    • Mr. Crawley always forgets names of basic everyday things and calls them "Whats-Its-Names."
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: Dying is often used with an euphemism of "Going to the Great Ministry in the Sky."
  • Whitehall: The setting of the show.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: Majority of the episodes "A Back-dated Problem" and "The Fastest Brolly in the West" are spent on the two pairs of One and Two's ancestors, who worked on the General Assistance Department during the Elizabethan era and the Wild West era, respectively.
  • Who's on First?: "The Great Trouser Troubles" has a lot of fun with this with the China's ambassador Hu Flang.


Alternative Title(s): The Men From The Ministry

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Radio/TheMenFromTheMinistry?from=Main.TheMenFromTheMinistry