'Almost all government policy is wrong, but frightfully well carried out.'
Yes, Minister (1980-1988) is a BritishSitcom about Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), an inexperienced cabinet minister (party never specified), and his permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne), who really runs the department. Almost every episode focuses on Hacker determinedly attempting, for political and occasionally idealistic reasons, to rock the bureaucratic boat by introducing some popular (and occasionally necessary) change, with Sir Humphrey just as determined to make sure that nothing comes of it. Hovering between them is Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds), Hacker's still idealistic and ingenuous Private Secretary, torn between his loyalty to Hacker (his political master) and his loyalty to Sir Humphrey (his civil service superior).The best (and funniest) political satire ever put on television, it dealt with both specific issues and general principles of governance intelligently, with a painfully precise balance of cynicism and good humour; the series made a star of Nigel Hawthorne, and rightly so.As with all good comedy, much of it is relevant today, with issues brought up such as a National Integrated Database, Trade Unions, Britain's relationship with Europe, Bribery, replacing Polaris with Trident, and a recurring theme of cutting government waste and slimming the civil service.Famous for its long-winded dialogue and word-play. For example:
Sir Humphrey: I wonder if I might crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by no means disagreeable obligation which has, over the years, become more or less established practice in government service as we approach the terminal period of the year — calendar, of course, not financial — in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Week Fifty-One — and submit to you, with all appropriate deference, for your consideration at a convenient juncture, a sincere and sanguine expectation — indeed confidence — indeed one might go so far as to say hope — that the aforementioned period may be, at the end of the day, when all relevant factors have been taken into consideration, susceptible to being deemed to be such as to merit a final verdict of having been by no means unsatisfactory in its overall outcome and, in the final analysis, to give grounds for being judged, on mature reflection, to have been conducive to generating a degree of gratification which will be seen in retrospect to have been significantly higher than the general average.
Jim Hacker: Are you trying to say "Happy Christmas," Humphrey?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, Minister.
(These are all the more remarkable if you know that Hawthorne memorised these speeches. He ended up on anti-anxiety medication as a consequence. The writers were horrified to discover he could still recite these speeches later - "My God, we're filling this poor man's head with rubbish!")Yes, Prime Minister, where Jim Hacker, the minister, became PM, followed.Margaret Thatcher, the real-life PM at the time the series was first shown, was a huge fan and once "wrote" a sketch featuring herself, Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey (in fact Sir Bernard Ingham wrote it). It can be read here◊. The series has in fact been criticized as being powerful propaganda for the Thatcher administration, as it was written by one of her advisors, despite the show portraying civil servants and politicians as corrupt, the politicians caring only about votes, in spite of the left-leaning sympathies of the show's co-creator, Jonathan Lynn.Ranking sixth in Britain's Best Sitcom, the show has quite a legacy. Humphrey the cat, the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office from 1989 to 1997, was named for Sir Humphrey Appleby.Any modern commentary on the civil service will almost certainly reference the series; a recent BBC look at Cabinet Secretaries through history was entitled "The Real Sir Humphrey", and interviews with the living office holders show they are intimately aware of the series' finest moments, and "Yes Ministerism" is even used to describe when civil servants are said to be controlling matters, and even in 2012 creating a "mock interview in the name of Sir Humphrey Appleby as a doyen of Whitehall" (voiced by Michael Simkins from the stage version).The Thick of It is a sort of Spiritual Successor. In 2010, a updated stage version of Yes, Prime Minister proved to be highly successful (with the actor playing Sir Humphrey getting applauded after pulling off two particularly long Humphreyisms). The play was still running in the West End as of mid-2012, and a new TV version was ordered by the British cable network Gold, airing for six episodes in 2013.
This show provides examples of:
Adorkable: Bernard and his "Gosh." and "Crikey." and occasionally speaking at length about etymology.
Actually Pretty Funny: Normally reserved and aloof, Sir Humphrey is visibly amused at Hacker's description of who reads the newspapers.
Hacker: Don't tell me about the press, I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; the Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and the The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
Bernard: Well I can't accept that, Sir Humphrey, no man is an island.
Sir Humphrey: I agree, Bernard, no man is an island, entire of itself, and therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, Bernard.
And There Was Much Rejoicing: In "Official Secrets", Prime Minister Hacker's predecessor is writing his memoirs, which will be very embarrassing for Hacker, when, in the next episode ("A Diplomatic Incident") he suddenly drops dead from a heart attack. When Hacker learns the news, and just before he remembers that he's supposed to act with dignified shock and grief, for a moment he has the biggest, happiest grin we've ever seen on his face.
Animation Bump: The series goes from the pilot's title sequence (which isn't animated at all), to the sequence used for the rest of Yes, Minister (which has the characters being drawn on-screen, but only very basic expression changes), to the Yes, Prime Minister title sequence (which is much more elaborately animated, including full body movements).
Antidisestablishmentarianism: Used for a quick laugh in "The Bishop's Gambit" when Sir Humphrey tells Hacker that a nominee for bishop is a disestablishmentarian.
Antiquated Linguistics: I inquire of your presence to place your distracted attention from the apparatus to which you view these aptly pages to a passage of text spoken before from another character. Sir Humphrey often used this technique to obfuscate issues, or, ironically, when he was having a hard time saying something. Similar to Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness because of its usage.
Bad Boss: It's stated in the series and especially the books that Hacker and the then Prime Minister had a somewhat adversarial relationship (Hacker having run a rival contender's in-party campaign for nomination as Prime Minister – and while they lost to the PM, he still holds a grudge). Indeed, it's stated that the reason Hacker was appointed to the Department of Administrative Affairs when he'd been the Shadow Agriculture Minister for seven years was because the DAA was considered a unglamorous political graveyard (That and the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture had begged not to have him – he'd have known too much!). Indeed early in the series the PM comes close to abolishing the entire department – and by extension Hackers career – altogether. However there is a turning point in their relationship where the PM becomes slightly more of a Benevolent Boss (see corresponding example).
Balance of Power: Explicitly, and pretty truthfully, lays out Britain's primary foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: Create a disunited Europe.
Ban on Politics: Surprisingly averted. For the most part, the focus of discussion is usually on the intelligence of the plot and dialogue, and the acting of Eddington, Hawthorne and Fowlds. Whatever political discussions do occur are either good natured, in keeping with the humour of the show or just kept down to a minimum. You get the odd exception, but considering how heated political discussions can get, its actually quite refreshing.
It helps that the satire is focused on the political machine, with the actual politics being fairly incidental to the thrust of the episode. The series avoids stating which party Jim Hacker belongs to, and there are never any scenes from in the House of Commons.
Batman Gambit: Oh so many. The opening episode alone shows Humphrey slipping a large purchase order for American-made computer monitors at the very bottom of the stack of daily paperwork in Hacker's red box work assignments (that most ministers just dodge anyway.) Knowing Humphrey would try to hide the good information from him, Hacker goes straight to the bottom of the pile and finds it, becoming irate that Britain would not buy British-made equipment instead, and plans to denounce it in a speech to be given the next day. This is of course exactly the reaction Humphrey was hoping for, and Hacker gets immediately called in by the Prime Minister who received an advance copy of the speech. The purchase of American monitors is part of a multi-million dollar business deal with NASA and will generate even more revenue for England unless Hacker fouls it up with his speech which has already been sent in advance to newspapers for review. Humphrey then stepped forward and humbly apologized for his grievous mistake earlier that day... he did not complete the paperwork correctly, and thus the media did not get the speech, only the Prime Minister. Hacker's job is thus saved and Humphrey has proven his usefulness to him... exactly as he had planned.
Beleaguered Bureaucrat: There are few series that show quite how daunting the task of running a country actually is. One of Jim Hacker's main problems is merely knowing and understanding the issues. Then of course, he has to try to solve them (usually unsuccessfully).
Bernard also becomes this frequently, either because of his troubles in balancing out the wishes of his two superiors or having to deal with the more mundane but equally tedious elements of a Vast Bureaucracy.
Benevolent Boss: The change comes when during a official inquiry into civil service waste and inefficiency, Hacker and Humphrey manage to do a pretty good job of covering up the problems – or at least stalling – despite massive evidence against them. Hacker is called in for a private word with one of the PM's enforcers, who points out that the PM actually wants the truth to come out, and is annoyed by how well he's covering for the civil service. Hacker is faced with a Question Of Loyalty – he can either further antagonize the PM, or likely burn bridges at his own department. In a blaze of glory, he chooses to reveal all. Humphrey is furious and certain it's the death knell of Hacker's career. However the PM is delighted, and sends him a hand written note inviting him and his family for Sunday Lunch at Chequers – in political terms a priceless reward. Whilst he never completely loses his fear of the PM, from this point in the series until Hacker becomes PM himself following the latter's retirement, it's implied after this point that they get on much more amicably, and several new powers and possible promotions are sent his way. The only other times they come close to clashing are all caused by outside influences, and don't amount to anything anyway.
Although this doesn't stop Hacker from being delighted when the old PM dies before his Compromising Memoirs are finished – a notable chapter was titled "The Two Faces Of Jim Hacker"!
Blackmail: Rarely in so many wordsnote ...though Humphrey does make explicit use of the term in "The Official Visit", with somewhat unfortunate results but often A will have compromising evidence of B's activities, or perhaps tapes of C being very indiscreet. Humphrey wields this weapon unscrupulously.
Bulungi: Buranda, referred to on the show as a TPLAC: "Tinpot Little African Country".
Can't Hold His Liquor: Not exactly, but when Jim Hacker gets drunk, he gets drunk and it doesn't seem to take an incredible amount to do it.
Casting Gag: Michael Aldridge (who'd played the head of MI6 in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) as the head of MI5. Both stories involve the revelation that a senior member of British Intelligence was a Russian mole.
Catch Phrase: Nearly every episode ends with someone saying "Yes, Minister" (or "Yes, Prime Minister" in Yes, Prime Minister)
"Oh, very droll, _____."
Similarly, Sir Humphrey's and Sir Arnold's "thin end of the wedge."
"Thank you, Bernard." Hacker, or Sir Humphrey, or both, when they can't take any more of his pedantic corrections and are politely telling him to shut up NOW, Bernard.
"Do sit down, Bernard." Or some equivalent is a sure sign that Bernard is about to get a lecture on some aspect of government about which he has just displayed his naivete.
Character Development: It's subtle, but over the seasons Hacker gradually learns how to beat Humphrey at his own game, Humphrey learns how to recognize when his interests coincide with Hacker's, and Bernard learns how to balance his two masters.
Democracy Is Flawed: Played with, as neither idealistic front-bench rookie Jim Hacker nor his much more experienced and rather jaded Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Humphrey were ever consistently in the wrong.
Department of Redundancy Department: Frequently used by Sir Humphrey, and a literal example - the Department of Administrative Affairs. They tried to cut down the number of people, so they hired 400 more people to research it, and concluded that they could do away with a tea lady or two.
Dirty Coward: Hacker often has shades of this; in many cases, the problem is something he could fight for, but he's afraid of losing votes if he does so. It's quite common among politicians in the series, to the point where something being described as 'courageous' is the most terrifying thing a politician can hear. "'Controversial' loses votes. 'Courageous' loses seats."
The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Yes, Prime Minister was written to have Hacker sitting down most of the scenes and shot so as to help conceal the fact that Eddington was suffering from skin cancer.
Jim: That's what you think. (Turns, opens a red box that turns out to be full of whisky) Who said nothing good ever came out of Whitehall?
Early Installment Weirdness: The first episode, filmed before a full series was commissioned, features very different opening and closing credits to the rest of the series, with somewhat more realistic line drawings of Eddington, Hawthorne, and Fowlds (as well as Diane Hoddinott as Annie Hacker) and a brass-heavy theme tune. Only in the second episode were the more familiar giant-nosed Gerald Scarfe caricatures and string rendition of the Westminster chimes (with French horn countermelody and "wacka-chicka" guitar) introduced.
Establishing Character Moment: Hacker's first conversation with Humphrey sums up so much of their dynamic (though also indicates that Hacker is not always as stupid as he appears):
Humphrey: We did cross swords when the Minister gave me a grilling over the estimates in the public accounts committee.
Hacker: I wouldn't say that.
Humphrey: Oh, you came up with all the questions I hoped nobody would ask.
Hacker: Well, opposition's about asking awkward questions.
Humphrey: And government is about not answering them.
Hacker: Well, you answered all mine anyway.
Humphrey: I'm glad you thought so Minister.
Expospeak Gag: Humphrey's overly long speeches are a hallmark of the series, often taking up to a hundred words to say something that can be boiled down to "Merry Christmas", or "I want my key back!"
Eye Take: Humphrey's reaction whenever Hacker has a particularly ambitious, unexpected, and ill-advised idea.
Face Palm: Sir Humphrey does a horrified double face-palm in "Big Brother", when Hacker goes ahead with announcing his plans for database safeguards on live TV.
Fictional Counterpart: Sir Humphrey and Bernard are alumni of "Baillie College", Oxford, a fictional stand-in for real-life Balliol.
Flanderization: Sir Desmond Glazebrook seems like a fairly sensible financier—if a bit baffled by Sir Humphrey's antics during a lunch meeting—in his first appearance. The next time he appears he's become a Cloudcuckoolander.
French Jerk: The French government in the "Yes, Prime Minister" episode "A Diplomatic Incident" has shades of this. Among other things, they engineer a diplomatic incident with a puppy in order to gain concessions over the Channel Tunnel, demand that the French embassy in London be guarded by French police and plant a bomb in their own embassy in order to try and embarrass British security.
Bernard: In the service, CMG stands for Call Me God. And KCMG for Kindly Call Me God. Hacker: What does GCMG stand for? Bernard: God Calls Me God.
For those not acquainted with the British Honours System, various awards are handed out by the Monarch, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. These range from the minor - CBE and OBE for pop stars, sportsmen and women, and minor Civil Servants, via knighthoods (hence SIR Terry Pratchett) to the rare 'Knights of the Garter etc'. CMG is one of the top ones. Cross of St Michael and St George. Becoming a Knight of the Order, then the 'Garter' are additions to this (promotions if you will). So a school caretaker who retires after 45 years can find him self in an ill-fitting hired suit to get his OBE, entertainers who've already gone through the various British Empire medals and are still around get the middle ranking ones and plain knighthoods, those on the inside, especially if you have rendered "great service" to the country (often assumed to be money to the PM's party - for industrialists, or knowing where the bodies are buried- for Civil Servants) get the biggies. Its basically a pat on the back for doing well that doesn't cost anything.
Gallows Humor: A few of Bernard's (often ill-received) jokes fall into this category.
When Minister Hacker is placed on a death list by a terrorist group, a detective meets with him to inform him of procedures to avoid being assassinated. The whole briefing is quite humorous.
Commander Forest: Oh, if you are pushed out of a high window and there's iron railings underneath, try and land on your head. Quicker.
Gambit Pileup: The French government is scuttled by this in "A Diplomatic Incident". Their gambit to create a situation to force Her Majesty the Queen to reject a gift of a puppy from the French President due to British quarantine laws, which would thus create outrage in France which will force the British government to accept terms favourable to the French in negotiations over the Channel Tunnel, would have worked perfectly had they not also put in place a gambit to embarrass the British security services in revenge for not being allowed to provide their own security by planting a bomb in the French embassy. Since the latter is discovered, and will prove far more embarrassing and scandalous than the puppy, they're forced to back down.
Geeky Turn-On: Really the only way to describe Humphrey's reaction to Bernard's speech in the last minute and a half of this clip.
Hacker: Don't discuss this with Arnold until I've spoken to him.
Humphrey: (indignant) Of course not, Prime Minister, I wouldn't dream of it.
Cut to a visibly-distraught Humphrey taking a sip of wine.
Humphrey: So what do you think I should do, Arnold?
Glasses Pull: Hacker suggests doing this during his first Prime Ministerial broadcast, so that he can look both formal and informal at different points in his speech. The broadcast's director talks him out of it, saying that it would just make Hacker look indecisive.
Good Counterpart: Dorothy Wainwright to Sir Humphrey in Yes, Prime Minister. Her intervention mostly serves to change the power balance of the show by having Hacker more readily willing to reign in Sir Humphrey.
Grey and Gray Morality- Sir Humphrey and Hacker, whilst both giving lip service to the good of Britain are both patently in it for their own ends, and the benefit of the Civil Service or the Party respectively. Hacker is slightly more sympathetic, as he actually possesses a conscience, but ignores it when it becomes politically inconvenient, as opposed to Humphrey, who is utterly callous and amoral. (In "The Whiskey Priest", Humphrey is delighted to be called a "moral vacuum" - but he's genuinely shocked at the notion of a civil servant resigning on a point of principle.)
Gunboat Diplomacy: After getting caught up in a foreign policy mess about to cause substantial embarrassment and hearing about this trope being the approach in the "old days," Hacker briefly questions whether it is, absolutely, out of the question, much to the shock of his colleagues.
Harpo Does Something Funny: Or in this case, as writer Jonathan Lynn reports putting in the margins of scripts, "Paul doesn't have to say this line if he doesn't want to". Paul Eddington, who played Hacker, had an amazing ability to convey the same sense a line was intended to give with an expression. One particularly good example is 1:10 to 1:30 or so in this clip.
"In politics you have to learn to say things with tact and finesse, you berk!"
A subtle example exists with the Department of Administrative Affairs itself; an entire government department has been set up and staffed specifically to find ways of making cuts in other government departments.
In one episode, Hacker and Humphrey are having one of their debates when Hacker brings up some facts to prove his point. Humphrey superciliously notes that his facts are statistical, which can be altered or doctored. When the debate gets a bit more heated, Humphrey begins to point out that statistics exist to prove his point, only to catch himself and present them as 'facts'. Hacker immediately jumps on the hypocrisy of claiming that his facts are merely statistics while Humphrey's statistics are facts.
Incredibly Lame Pun: Bernard seems to make at least one per episode. At least he looks ashamed of the "pair of nickers" one he did in "The National Education Service."
Inherently Funny Words Jim's prime ministerial campaign just happens to revolve around the condition of the British sausage....
Insult Backfire: Hacker accuses Humphrey of being a moral vacuum. Humphrey is non-committal in the scene, but soon after Bernard asks if he'll end up a moral vacuum, too. Humphrey says he sincerely hopes so, if Bernard works hard enough.
In Vino Veritas: Hacker spilling his guts after having had too much of the wine at Baillie College's High Table dinner in "Doing the Honours."
Invisible President: You never see the Prime Minister or even learn his name until Hacker himself gets the job.
Jade-Colored Glasses: Hacker eventually gets these, but he has the heart (or lack of head) to take them off once in a while. Bernard follows a similar trajectory, while Sir Humphrey doesn't need them, as the lenses in his eyes were made of jade from birth.
Kicked Upstairs: Frequently referenced, and may have popularised the phrase.
Lame Pun Reaction: Sir Humphrey triggers an outstanding example in "The Bishop's Gambit": when told that one candidate had been waiting quite a while to be made a bishop, he replies, " So 'Long time, no See.'" The guy he was talking to scolded him for the pun, then spent the next minute or so trying not to burst out laughing.
In Yes, Minister, Cabinet Secretary Sir Arnold Robinson does his share of string-pulling. Even Sir Humphrey is hard-pressed to keep up.
By the time he become Prime Minister, Hacker has had enough practice against Humphrey that he manages to pull it off on occasion.
May-December Romance: While her age is never explicitly stated, Hacker's wife is definitely significantly younger than her husband. Diana Hoddinott, her actress is 18 years younger than Paul Eddington, who played Hacker.
Metaphorgotten: Bernard often pulls a thread on Hacker's metaphors, unravelling or derailing them completely.
Napoleon Delusion: When Hacker finds out that he's to be Prime Minister, his first reaction is silent incredulity, then fear, then awe, until finally he squares his jaw, sticks his hand inside his jacket and stares off heroically into the middle distance, as this trope. See Harpo Does Something Funny.
No Party Given: Hacker. His party was generally an amalgamation of the Tories and Labour (but not the Liberals either). He's implied to be a small-c "compassionate conservative".
Not So Different: In "Power to the People", Sir Humphrey, pillar of the establishment, demonstrates to the militant socialist Agnes Moorhouse that their views on democracy aren't that far apart at all.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Premise of series (with special award given for civil service). Exemplified by Humphrey's admission that there are often complications:
Hacker: Humphrey, can you ever give me a straight answer? A plain "yes" or "no"?
Sir Humphrey: Well... yes and no.
Oh, Crap: Hacker goes on television and announces not only that the data protection safeguards Sir Humphrey has been blocking will be introduced, but that Sir Humphrey has staked his reputation on it. Sir Humphrey is watching the broadcast, and his expression is a picture.
Only Sane Man: Varies from episode to episode. Hacker usually seems like the Only Sane Man at the beginning; sometimes he is, and just as often, events prove him to be a Cloud Cuckoolander whose misguided idealism is blessedly thwarted by Sir Humphrey on behalf of the bureaucracy.
OOC Is Serious Business: In "The Writing on the Wall", Hacker is dead set on a course of action that won't do anyone any favours, and won't be swayed. It's serious enough that Sir Humphrey even drops his incredibly elaborate Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and tells him "If you're going to do this damn silly thing, don't do it in this damn silly way." This stops Hacker in his tracks.
Our Prime Ministers Are Different: We start with Prime Minister Invisible (as above); throughout his career, Hacker himself is a variable mix of Prime Ministers Personable and Focus Group, with the "Focus Group" bit getting slightly weaker over time. Towards the end of the series, he picks up some definite Prime Minister Iron tendencies (sometimes).
Oxbridge: Sir Humphrey and Bernard are both Oxford graduates in Classics, as are most other members of the Civil Service depicted in the series. Their disdain for Hacker, educated at the London School of Economics, is (as noted below) a Running Gag in the series.
To quote Sir Humphrey: "British democracy recognises that you need a system to protect the important things of life, and keep them out of the hands of the barbarians. Things like the opera, Radio Three, the countryside, the law, the universities ... both of them."
Sir Richard Wharton: Its full name is "The Peoples' Democratic Republic of East Yemen."
Sir Humphrey: Ah, I see, so it's a communist dictatorship.
Plucky Comic Relief: Bernard to a certain degree, a very slight degree as he was more than just the comic relief. Often seemed to have the funny thing to say at the least appropriate times as well as his acting out of animals or to visually show Hacker why his metaphors were wrong (see this clip "The Challenge", in this case it was actually Sir Humphrey) and also see Metaphorgotten example above. Often found puncturing a hole in tension you could cut with a knife.
Simply by testing of the tension could in fact be cut with a knife, you would, as a matter of fact, be puncturing it.
Properly Paranoid: Hacker is often convinced that the actions of anyone involved in government are part of some political plot. Probably because they almost always are.
You'd be paranoid too if everyone was plotting against you.
Put on a Bus: Frank Weisel, Hacker's political advisor in the first series of Yes, Minister, was written out of the show by the end of that season because the authors couldn't find much use for his overtly political character in a show that was supposed to focus on the conflict between government and administration.
The same thing happened to Vic Gould, the government's Chief Whip, who was originally supposed to be Sir Humphrey's opposite number, and would try and terrify Hacker into getting the government's policies pushed through his department. The writers found him to be too one-dimensional though, meaning that he never even made it past the pilot episode.
Qurac: In "The Moral Dimension," Hacker visits Qumran, a fictional Muslim country based on a Gulf Arab state — in fact, the scene where Hacker and his staff secretly consume alcohol was based on a real-life incident that happened on a British diplomatic visit to Pakistan.
In "The Bishop's Gambit" a British nurse was sentenced to several lashes for possessing a bottle of whiskey, which provokes a miniature crisis as the government does not want to push too hard as the Qumranis are described as great friends of Britain, letting them know what the Soviets were up to in Iraq, allowing listening posts to be set up for Britain's use, and even sabotaging Opec agreements for them.
Another possible Qurac in "A Victory for Democracy" is "The People's Democratic Republic of East Yemen" (as well as its twin, West Yemen), although the name suggests that it is rather a Marxist dictatorship than an emirate or a theocracy, though at the time of production there was, in fact, a "People's Democratic Republic of Yemen" which was a Marxist/Socialist state and was to the south of "Yemen Arab Republic."
Reassigned to Antarctica: Bernard (and occasionally Sir Humphrey) is occasionally threatened with reassignment to the Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea — not that Hacker would send him there (not having the power to do so), but Humphrey's inevitable Fate if they cannot jointly avert various impending crises.
The most common threat is being sent Oop North. One episode resolves around a mass reassignment of defence personnel there, uniting every senior officer and civil servant who wanted to be near Harrods and Wimbledon against it. Bernard reacts in horror at being even a head of department in Lossiemouth. He thought it was a kind of dog food.
Hacker's worry about being assigned to Northern Ireland is not an example of this, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was and is based in London, but the post was regarded as one of the most troublesome in the cabinet and one of the few which carried a significant risk of assassination, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.
In "The Bishop's Gambit" it's revealed that the bishopric of Truro is a similar position for the Church of England; because it's 'very remote' it's where they like to send their more troublesome or irritating bishops (such as those who are either utterly incompetent or actually vocally believe in God).
Slave to PR: Hacker, and all other politicians in the show's universe are petrfied of anything resembling bad publicity, the old Prime Minister's memoirs describe him as "running for cover at the first sign of unpopularity".
Sleazy Politician: Averted! For all his attempts to win popularity in the most self-serving and underhanded ways imaginable—including weaselling his way into Number 10—Jim Hacker comes off as more pathetic than despicable, and as Annie notes, he's a "whisky priest" who's still got his moral compass about him even as he tucks it away, grits his teeth, and ignores it.
Small Reference Pools: Hacker cannot name many playwrights. "[Theatre] is one of the great glories of England, isn't it?" - "You mean Shakespeare?" - "Yes." - "Who else?" - "Well, er, Shakespeare... and, um... Sheridan... Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw..." - "They were all Irish."
The Stateroom Sketch: Done with a really small rail carriage and an endless series of visitors, one of whom is very fat (presumably Jumbo, Humphrey's counterpart at the Foreign Office).
Status Quo Is God: Usually downplayed in that while Hacker never really achieves much and the things that he does achieve are so inconsequential that you can understand why they're never mentioned again, this all has a specific cause — namely Sir Humphrey and the Civil Service's constant stymieing of Hacker's attempts to push reforms through.
Occasionally he achieves something noteworthy — the database safeguards he manages to get into action at the end of the episode "Big Brother" appear to be the basis of the Data Protection Act 1984 (albeit the episode was made in 1980, so the law's passage would have taken a while, and most of the work was done by his predecessor). Hacker's "computer security guidelines" are mentioned in passing in connection with the previous Prime Minister's memoirs in "Official Secrets."
Truth in Television. John Major's excellent management of the economy (politely excusing Black Wednesday) was pretty much completely forgotten in the 1997 election, and New Labour's introduction of the minimum wage didn't prevent them from being killed in the 2010 election.
In the pilot episode, it's mentioned that the Department of Administrative Affairs is a political graveyard, and it's implied that the reason is that Humphrey was too good at blocking the Ministers' policies for them to ever advance any further.
Story Arc: None were done in the Yes Minister phase, but a few were tried during Yes, Prime Minister: Hacker's "Grand Design" had three episodes dedicated to it, and was at least mentioned in passing during every episode of the first season; his predecessor's memoirs the following season lasted for two episodes. The 2013 Yes, Prime Minister series was effectively one long storyline, taking place in the course of a single night and being spread over six episodes.
Take a Third Option: In "Party Games," Hacker becomes the kingmaker in the battle to select his party's new leader (and therefore Prime Minister), and his decision pretty much comes down to whether he'd prefer to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer or the next Foreign Secretary. Bernard persuades him that neither of those is really that desirable, and persuades him to take the third option — become the Prime Minister himself.
Also played with when Hacker, initially believing the 'third option' Bernard is pushing him towards is Home Secretary, makes it clear that even he's aware that that option isn't worth it:
Hacker: Home Secretary? Responsible for all the muggings, jailbreaks and race riots?
Tender Tears: Hacker, apparently, as he starts crying in "Party Games" when he believes Humphrey is telling him that he's dying, and then wears an embarrassed Tearful Smile once the misunderstanding is cleared up. (It's more hilarious than it sounds.)
Title Sequence Replacement: The pilot had a different title sequence, not drawn by Gerald Scarfe. In reruns (but not on DVD), it was replaced with the titles used for the rest of the series.
Throw the Dog a Bone: Every so often, when the moon was right and the writers were feeling kind, Hacker would win out over Humphrey. This became gradually more frequent during Yes, Prime Minister as Hacker's power and experience grew. In "The Key", he has Humphrey at the brink of madness.
Translation: Yes: Frequently, especially after one of Humphrey or Bernard's long-winded explanations leaves Hacker confused.
Truth in Television: Many politicians have admitted that it is, effectively, their version of This Is Spinal Tap. The writers also frequently got into trouble for featuring "entirely hypothetical" situations that bore a remarkable similarity to real life events. The aforementioned sneaking drinks into Qumran was one such example. It wasn't until (relatively) recently that the writers openly admitted (and named) their mole. On a somewhat scarier note, they also admitted that they never used a lot of the stories they were fed as they were simply too unbelievable, proving once again that Reality Is Unrealistic.
The Unfettered: Sir Humphrey. He is, as Hacker puts it, a "moral vacuum", and freely admits he is unconcerned with anything but the continued operation of the government and its policies, whoever and whatever they may be.
Villainous Breakdown: Depends on whether you think Sir Humphrey's the villain, but whenever something comes up that he didn't anticipate his default response is panicked, spluttering incoherence.
This can lead into Woobie territory on occasion: by the end of "The Key", Sir Humphrey has been forced to eat Humble Pie and begs Hacker, on the verge of tears, to let him have his key back.
According to annotations in the published 'memoirs', Humphrey did end up going completely mad in his old age. It's implied that Hacker was the main cause.
Wag the Director: Paul Eddington, a firm believer in nuclear disarmament, once convinced the writers to rework the script of a Yes, Prime Minister episode that he believed was rather too flippant about Nuclear War.
The Watson: Jim Hacker's personal private secretary Bernard, to whom Sir Humphrey is often obliged to explain how things really work.
In other instances, Bernard has to explain to Hacker how things really work — often in order to help Hacker attempt to win the day.
Xanatos Backfire: Humphrey's gambit in "Man Overboard" to get rid of the Employment Secretary in order to foil his plan to move half of the armed forcesOop North backfires spectacularly in the very last minute of the episode when Hacker decides that now that the Employment Secretary is gone, he can implement the plan anyway and take the credit for it himself. It's only then that Humphrey realises that he spent so much time engineering the Employment Secretary's downfall that he never bothered to discredit the actual plan, leaving him with no counter argument — and as Hacker unwittingly points out, he's actually unwittingly strengthened several of the arguments for it.
In "The Key," Humphrey takes great delight in dressing down a policeman for letting him through security without checking his pass, despite the man's protests that everyone knows who Humphrey is. Humphrey issues new orders that NO ONE gets through without a pass. No One. (This is of course part of his broader scheme to limit access to the Prime Minister). This comes back to bite him towards the end of the episode when he is locked out of No. 10, desperately tries to get back in, and is refused entry by the same policeman, who takes great delight in making sure the new rules are rigorously applied, despite Humphrey's protests.
The novelisations also provide examples of:
Downer Ending: In contrast to the TV series, due to the order of events being changed around. The last episode of Yes, Prime Minister, "A Tangled Web" ended with Hacker gaining leverage over Humphrey, in the form of a tape recording of him admitting to a simple partial solution to unemployment that no politicians have the balls to take any action on. The last chapter of the novelisation, "The National Education Service" ends not only with Hacker's plan for the Department of Education falling apart, but with this:
My plans were turning to dust. Like all my plans. Suddenly I saw, with a real clarity that I'd never enjoyed before, that although I might win the occasional policy victory, or make some reforms, or be indulged with a few scraps from the table, nothing fundamental was ever ever going to change.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: The books are presented as being derived from the private tapes of Hacker, Appleby's memos released under the 30-year rule, and after-the-fact interviews with Woolley and minor characters. The "editors' notes" also act as a kind of Framing Device.
Unreliable Narrator: Hacker is stated outright to be one by the "editors" - it's suggested this is an inevitable part of the business of politics.
"Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Actually put in the introduction. Hacker went on to the House of Lords (and as validation of the Oxbridge-educated civil servants looking down on his education, the introduction is signed "Hacker College, Oxford"). Bernard became Sir Bernard Woolley, head of the Civil Service. Sir Humphrey retired and eventually went to a nursing home; as the books puts it "advancing years, without in any way impairing his verbal fluency, disengaged the operation of his mind from the content of his speech."