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Funny / Yes, Minister

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In general

  • There are many of these, thanks to both the marvellous word-play and the skilful performances by Nigel Hawthorne, Paul Eddington and Derek Fowlds; sadly, many tend to lose something in being written down. Nevertheless some shorter ones are still as good, such as:
    Hacker: Humphrey! Do you see it as part of your job to help ministers make fools of themselves?
    Humphrey: Well I've never met one who needed any help.
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  • Whilst Nigel Hawthorne's speeches as Humphrey were legendary and his ability in flawlessly reciting them rightly lauded, it's also down to Paul Eddington's perfectly played reactions that elevate some of them into the realm of genius; such as Hacker's response to Humphrey's typically verbose announcement that he's moving on to a new job: an utterly nonplussed and uncomprehending "... I see."
  • The newspapers scene:
    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 the 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 Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
    Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
    Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.
    • Suddenly, all those jokes at Fark make a lot more sense.
    • Watch Hawthorne's face as he's setting up the punchline. Those three actors had to have gone through rehearsals, and even he is cracking up knowing full well how hilarious it is going to be.
  • And also:
    Hacker: Europe is a community of nations, dedicated towards one goal.
    Sir Humphrey: Oh, ha ha ha.
    Hacker: May we share the joke, Humphrey?
    Sir Humphrey: Oh, Minister, let's look at this objectively. It is a game played for national interests, and always was. Why do you suppose we went into it?
    Hacker: To strengthen the brotherhood of free Western nations.
    Sir Humphrey: Oh really. We went in to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans.
    Hacker: So why did the French go into it, then?
    Sir Humphrey: Well, to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition.
    Hacker: That certainly doesn't apply to the Germans.
    Sir Humphrey: No, no. They went in to cleanse themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.
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  • While we're on the subject:
    Hacker: You're blathering, Bernard.
    Bernard: Yes, Minister.
    Hacker: Why are you blathering, Bernard?
    Bernard: It's my job, Minister.
  • Hacker realises that Bernard has dropped him in it with Sir Humphrey:
    Hacker: (stern) Bernard - how did Sir Humphrey know where I was?
    Bernard: Err... God works in mysterious ways.
    Hacker: Bernard. I would like to make one thing quite clear. Sir Humphrey is not God. Okay?
    Bernard: Will you tell him or shall I?
  • Pretty much any of the scenes were Bernard points out a badly Mixed Metaphor, but this one is a standout:
    Hacker: The point is, this situation is now a real hot potato. If I don't do something it could become a banana skin.
    Bernard: Excuse me, Prime Minister, a hot potato can't become a banana skin. If you don't do anything a hot potato will merely become a cold potato.
    • Hacker's diary for the episode reads, "I wonder if Bernard ever realises how close to death he sometimes comes."
  • Bernard gets another stellar moment when he objects to the phrase "stampeding herd of vultures": vultures are a flock, not a herd, and they don't stampede... "What do they do?" the PM asks icily, and unable to come up with a comparable word for "stampede", Bernard just does a bizarre impression of a vulture.
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  • In The Remake, there's a scene parodying the current trend of politicians to "look casual" by not wearing a full suit. Hacker takes off his tie, Bernard removes his jacket, and the determinedly uncasual Sir Humphrey rolls his eyes, and pushes his handkerchief all the way into his breast pocket.
  • Pretty much any time Hacker starts doing his Winston Churchill impression or tucks his hand into his jacket like Napoleon.

Specific episodes of Yes, Minister

    open/close all folders 

     Series 1 Episode 1: Open Government 
  • "Bill's got Europe!" "Lucky Europe. I didn't know Bill could speak French." "He can hardly speak English!"
  • Hacker is waiting for the Prime Minister to phone him. He gets several phone calls, none of which are from the Prime Minister, and Annie gets increasingly irritated as he jumps to answer the phone every time it rings. Then he hears it ring again, and runs to answer it. This time it's the front door.
    Frank: Did you know Martin's got the Foreign Office? Jack's got Health, and Fred's got Energy.
    Annie: Has anyone got brains?
    Annie: No. I know what I mean.
  • After a misunderstanding involving The BBC, Hacker is reluctant to pick up the phone when it rings again. Annie answers it after Hacker has gone into the kitchen.
    Annie: Oh, congratulations, Prime Minister!
    [Offscreen Crash, then Hacker runs in]
    Hacker: Give me that!
  • "I think, on the whole, I would prefer to call you Minister, Minister." "Minister-Minister? Does that mean I have to call you Private-Secretary-Private-Secretary?"

     Series 1 Episode 4: Big Brother 
  • Hacker finds out that Sir Humphrey's been fooling him, and Annie urges him to ring Sir Humphrey. Hacker protests that it's two in the morning, and Annie says that it'll establish his authority. After Hacker's conversation with an audibly-dishevelled Sir Humphrey comes this:
    Hacker: (hangs up) Oh—damn! I forgot to tell him to come and see me about it before Cabinet.
    Annie: Don't ring him now.
    Hacker: No, I suppose it is a bit late.
    Annie: Give him another ten minutes.
  • Sir Humphrey's expressions of sheer, bug-eyed horror and despair when Hacker manages to catch him out by giving a TV interview. Words cannot really describe his increasing despondency.

    Series 2 Episode 2: Doing the Honours 
  • Hacker becomes determined to renovate the honours system, which actually baffles Humphrey due to confusion over the definition of "earned".
    Hacker: I'm not going to approve any honour for any civil servant of this department who hasn't earned it.
    Humphrey: (totally lost) What do you mean "earned it"?
    Hacker: I mean "earned it". Done something to deserve it!
    Humphrey: But that's unheard of!
  • Bernard explains the various post-nominal letters to Hacker:
    Bernard: In the service, CMG stands for "Call Me God". And KCMG for "Kindly Call Me God".
    Hacker: What does GCMG stand for?
    Bernard: (deadpan) "God Calls Me God"
  • Sloshed Hacker suffers an impressive case of In Vino Veritas.
    Hacker: (on Humphrey, who is sitting across the table from him) I can't send him to prison. Can't send him to prison! Now, if I were a judge, I could whiz old Humphrey off to the Scrubs, no trouble. Feet wouldn't touch. Clang, bang, see you in three years time. One-third remission for good conduct. But I can't do that! I have to listen to him. Oh, God. On, and on, and on!

    Series 2 Episode 3: The Death List 
  • The procedure implementation for losing files.
    Hacker: Shred it!
    Bernard: Shred it?
    Hacker: No-one must ever be able to find it again!
    Bernard: In that case, minister, I think it's best I file it.

     Series 2 Episode 6: The Quality of Life 
  • Unbeknownst to Hacker, Humphrey has royally screwed him for planning permission for a bank in the area, by sabotaging the minister's visit to a city farm (he ensured it was threatened so the bank could step in and save Hacker's reputation in order to get the permission they needed).
    Bernard: [It's] Mrs Phillips, sir...The warden of the city farm you visited yesterday.
    Hacker: Ah, is she happy with the publicity I got? For her?
    Bernard: She doesn't seem too pleased.
    Hacker: Why?
    Bernard: She's just heard the farm is being closed...the lease is up at the end of the year, and she's just heard it's being turned into a car park. For Inland Revenue inspectors.
    Hacker: (A little later) This must be stopped. What idiot authorized that?
    Bernard: You did, Minister. (Hacker is told how he unknowingly did it). And, Mrs Phillips is still waiting to see you.
    Hacker: She's the last person I want to see. This is the greatest disaster of this century, Bernard!
    Bernard: There were two world wars, Minister.
    Hacker: Oh, come on, Bernard. Fighting on the beaches is one thing; evicting cuddly animals and small children to make room for tax inspector's cars is quite another league.
  • This conversation. Humphrey's facial expression at the end - juggling different thoughts that he'd be getting off-topic, and that the banker he's talking to is an idiot - is a sublime piece of physical acting by Hawthorne.
    Humphrey: Didn't you read the Financial Times this morning?
    Desmond Glazebrook: Never do.
    Humphrey: But... you're a banker. Surely you read the Financial Times?
    Desmond: Can't understand it. Full of economic theory.
    Humphrey (points at the very newspaper in Glazebrook's arm): Then why do you buy it?
    Desmond: Oh, you know, part of the uniform.
    Humphrey: Hm.
    Desmond: Took me thirty years to understand Keynes' economics. Then just when I'd finally cottoned on, everyone started getting hooked on these new monetarist ideas. You know, 'I Want to Be Free' by Milton Schulmann.
    Humphrey: Milton Friedmann.
    Desmond: Why are they all called Milton? ... anyway, I only got as far as Milton Keynes.
    Humphrey: Maynard Keynes.
    Desmond: I'm sure there's a Milton Keynes.note 
    Humphrey: Well... yes, there is... but it's... erm... ... do sit down, won't you?

    Season 2 episode 7: A Question Of Loyalty 
  • The five standard excuses the government has for deflecting blame. No.5? The one they used for the Munich Agreement - it occured before certain facts were known and couldn't happen again.
    Hacker: What important facts?
    Sir Humphrey: Well, that Hitler wanted to conquer Europe.
    Hacker: I thought everybody knew that.
    Sir Humphrey: Not the Foreign Office.
  • "They don't ask you to Number 10 just because you're thirsty."
  • At the end of the episode, Hacker getting his own back on Sir Humphrey at the hearing, undoing all of Humphrey's meaningless double-talk and attempts at deflection. Especially Humphrey's stunned outrage.

     Series 3 Episode 3: The Skeleton in the Cupboard 
  • Sir Humphrey loses his equanimity for the first time, when it looks like a very serious cock-up he made earlier in his career is about to come back to bite him in the press, with Humphrey getting increasingly flustered as he tries to prevent the seemingly oblivious Hacker from releasing it:
    Humphrey: We'd have to get clearances!
    Hacker: Who from?
    Humphrey: [Clearly grasping] ... Security implications! Foreign powers, national interests. We have to consult our allies, top brass. NATO, SEATO, Moscow!
    Hacker: Moscow?!
    Humphrey: Not Moscow. I didn't mean Moscow.
    • The bit about Moscow becomes even funnier if one knows that two seasons later Sir Humphrey ends up under suspicion of being a Russian agent.
    • Hacker's pure delight when he eventually cottons on to the reason for Humphrey's agitation, and his realisation that he finally has something he can use over Humphrey, with both Bernard and Hacker barely able to restrain their amusement, and Hacker having to hide his face in his handkerchief to wipe away the tears of laughter:
    Hacker: The question is, how am I going to deal with it?
    Bernard: Well, you could...
    Hacker: [Unrestrained glee] The question was purely rhetorical, Bernard.
  • When Humphrey is summoned to Hacker's office after Hacker realises why he's so jumpy about everything, Humphrey initially peeps around the door like a nervous schoolboy summoned to the headmaster's office for a telling off.
    Bernard: He's coming round now, Minister.
    Hacker: Why? Did he faint?
    • When about to deliver the coup de grace to Humphrey, to give him some dignity (and make him more compliant) Hacker apologetically asks Bernard to leave the room. Bernard complies, but can't quite stop himself from releasing a snort of laughter as he walks past Humphrey.

     Series 3 Episode 4: The Moral Dimension 
  • Hacker's brilliant about face and total demolition of a journalist at the end, completely bamboozling her and leaving her speechless, and actually impressing Humphrey immensely.
  • The discussion about 'creative negotiation' in Qumran between Humphrey and Hacker also qualifies.

     Series 3 Episode 5: The Bed of Nails 
  • The department has been saddled with an unwanted assignment directly from the Prime Minister to develop a unified transport policy, and Hacker and Humphrey are united to try and get rid of it. They hit upon the idea of developing a guaranteed-to-be-unpopular approach that would require intensive restructuring and enormous public cost, using a constituency chosen entirely at random as an example... the constituency happening to be the Prime Minister's. Hacker and Humphrey proceed to gleefully engage in a hypothetical destruction of the Prime Minister's constituency.
    Hacker: [Delighted] Oh, look! A park!

    Series 3 Episode 6: The Whiskey Priest 
  • Sir Humphrey and Hacker have different ideas of "confidential".
    Sir Humphrey: May I ask who this confidential source was?
    Hacker: Humphrey, I just said it was confidential.
    Sir Humphrey: Oh, I'm sorry, I naturally assumed you were going to tell me.
  • "Almost all government policy is wrong, minister, but frightfully well carried out."
  • Sir Humphrey pointing out to Bernard how a government bureaucrat must remain impartial.
    Sir Humphrey: I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I'd believed in all their policies, I'd have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to joining it. I'd have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel and denationalising it and renationalising it. Capital punishment? I'd have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I'd have been a Keynseian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and a destroyer, a nationilisation freak and a privitisation maniac, but above all I would've been a stark-raving schizophrenic.

     Series 3 Episode 7: The Middle-Class Rip-Off 
  • Bernard demonstrates he may be naive, but he is not that naive, and then perfectly anticipates Hacker's response to a given problem and plans ahead (not included below).
    Hacker: I thought these planning inspectors were supposed to be impartial?
    Bernard: Oh, really, Minister. So they are. Railway trains are impartial too. But if you lay down the lines for them, that's the way they go.

    Christmas Special: Party Games 
  • Sir Humphrey, having gained a promotion to Cabinet Secretary, decides to break the news to Hacker in his overly verbose fashion, leading Hacker to assume he's talking about dying.
  • Drunk Hacker returns, and he gets pulled over by the police for drunk driving under the speed limit. As he insists he's sober, he suddenly slides down the side of his car.
  • Hacker escapes trouble, but the Home Secretary gets into trouble because the current crackdown on drunk driving was his idea, and he got into something of an incident, involving him, some alcohol, a truck filled with nuclear waste, and a journalist's car.
    Hacker: So, what will happen to him?
    Sir Humphrey: Well, I gather he was as drunk as a lord. So, after a discreet interval they'll probably make him one.
  • Sir Arnold giving his opinion on choosing the next PM.
    Sir Arnold: Bit like choosing which lunatic should run the asylum.
  • Then, Sir Arnold and Sir Humphrey go over the idea qualities they think a PM should have (liked, controversy free, won't make waves, won't split the party, easily 'guided'). Their expressions as they realise exactly who that is are priceless.
  • Bernard hearing Sir Humphrey wants to nominate Hacker as PM.
    Sir Humphrey: Are you in a hurry?
    Bernard: (looking at his watch) No, I'm just checking to see it's not April 1st.
  • The entire scene of Sir Humphrey showing Hacker the MI5 files of the two contenders for PM. Which he can't show him, because they're classified.
  • At the end of the scene, Humphrey gives Hacker some advice on how to make it sound like he's not seeking office. Then it cuts to Hacker diligently copying down Sir Humphrey's words.

Specific episodes of Yes, Prime Minister

    Series 1 Episode 1: The Grand Design 
  • Three days into Hacker's career as PM, he tells Humphrey he wants to get rid of Trident and re-introduce conscription. In between this, the camera keeps cutting back to Humphrey's utterly aghast expression. Words cannot do it justice.
    • During the same episode, Hacker learns the PM has to have his own cook if he wants a meal, as Annie goes out to work, having only had half a Yorkie chocolate bar herself. Hacker asked Annie where the other half was as she left, but a later conversation with Bernard makes it clear he couldn't find it.

    Series 1 Episode 2: The Ministerial Broadcast 
  • The exchange between Sir Humphrey and Bernard when he realises Hacker's still trying to scrap Trident.
    Sir Humphrey: (after listing all the perks Hacker gets as PM) What more does he want?
    Bernard: I think he wants to govern Britain.
    Sir Humphrey: Well, stop him, Bernard!

    Series 1 Episode 3: The Smoke Screen 
  • Hacker managing to catch Sir Humphrey flat-footed for once. Trying to make the PM look like a hypocrite, he tells him he previously attended functions hosted by tobacco companies, and if he tries pushing the anti-tobacco agenda, this information will get out. Hacker just says "so what?", and Humphrey doesn't know how to respond.

     Series 1 Episode 4: The Key 
  • Sir Humphrey's increasing paranoia about being replaced and the increasing obstructions placed on his access to the Prime Minister (most of which, ironically, resulting from his own pompous instructions to Bernard earlier in the episode about persons without appointments or passes being allowed access to Number 10) lead to him clambering out of his window and climbing up a drain pipe, accidentally setting off an alarm in the process. When the bedraggled, upset Cabinet Secretary finally sees Hacker, it leads to one of the show's ultimate examples of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness:
    Humphrey: Prime Minister I must express in the strongest possible terms my profound opposition to the newly instituted practice which imposes severe and intolerable restrictions on the ingress and egress of senior members of the hierarchy and will, in all probability, should the current deplorable innovation be perpetuated, precipitate a progressive constriction of the channels of communication, culminating in a condition of organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis which will render effectively impossible the coherent and co-ordinated discharge of the function of government within Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!
    Hacker: ... You mean you've lost your key?

     Series 1 Episode 6: A Victory for Democracy 
  • Hacker solves the pending international crisis the Foreign Office doesn't want the UK to get involved in and neatly shifts the blame on to his Foreign Office Liaison, Luke, who, in addition to not having the British representative at the UN abstain in a vote against Israel, as Hacker had ordered, had been doing his utmost to ensure Hacker didn't know the crisis was brewing. And then, in addition to the blame, "rewards" Luke with a new job as an ambassador.
    Luke: (suspiciously) Which embassy?
    Hacker: Tel Aviv.
    Luke: Oh my God. (anguished) You can't! The Israelis won't want me! They know I'm on the Arabs' side!
    Hacker: (feigning bewilderment) I thought you were on our side!
  • Sir Humphrey, having had an interest in keeping the Prime Minister in the dark about the situation, is less-than-thrilled when he learns that Hacker has sent a huge British battle group to the disputed region as part of a 'goodwill visit'. He's even less impressed when the Americans, who had been planning to intervene militarily in the disputed region had the British not done so (and cause great embarrassment to the British in the process), announce that they're delighted with the result and are willing to sent 'reinforcements' if necessary:
    Sir Humphrey: Reinforcements of what?!
    Hacker: [Without batting an eyelid] Reinforcements of goodwill, Humphrey.

     Series 1 Episode 7: The Bishop's Gambit 
  • Hacker is given the task of choosing ("recommending a choice to the Monarch.") a candidate for a Church of England bishopric which has become available. Faced with candidates who are unacceptable either due to excessive "Modernism"note  or "Disestablishmentarianism"note , Hacker is finally faced with a choice between a religious conservative and the Dean of Ballie Collegenote , a dullard who shows no interest in anything but cricket, the history of Islam and steam trains:
    • Firstly, Humphrey points out that the first candidate's conservative beliefs would lead him to publicly and outspokenly challenge government policy on issues such as birth control, abortion, media violence, Sunday trading, sex education and pornography:
      Hacker: [Nervous] But these are issues on which the government is hoping to have no policy. Our policy is not to have a policy.
      Humphrey: Well, quite. He's against your No Policy Policy.
    • He then points out that the Dean is still an option:
      Hacker: Well, he's not really up to it, is he? I gather he's very lazy, vain and totally uninterested in Christianity.
      Humphrey: [Enthusiastic] Yes, but he's not against it! I think he'd make a thoroughly British bishop: cricket, steam engines and a complete ignorance of theology.

     Series 2 Episode 1: One Of Us 
  • Hacker takes great pleasure in informing Sir Humphrey that MI5 has found evidence clearing him of suspicion of espionage and that he's off gardening leave. Specifically, records stating that the recently deceased spy that Sir Humphrey once did a security interview of and failed to report anything suspicious about considered the now-Cabinet Secretary to be an idiot rather than a collaborator.
    I just had another session with that goof Sir Humphrey... The man has so much wool in his head that I had no trouble at all pulling it over his eyes.

     Series 2 Episode 3: A Diplomatic Incident 
  • Hacker's series of facial expressions when he is told of his predecessor's death are a particular highlight. He is initially delighted that the former Prime Minister is taking scandalous details to his grave with him but then remembers that he's supposed to be sad that a beloved public figure has died, and quickly contorts his ecstatic smile into something resembling an expression of grief.
  • The entirety of the scene where Bernard and someone else are on the phone. Beautiful lines like this occur: "Yes, we will be wanting simultaneous translators for the meeting with the PM. ... No, not when the PM meets the leaders of the English-speaking nations. ... Yes, the English-speaking nations can be said to include the United States. With a certain generosity of spirit. ... No, you can't have alphabetical seating at the Abbey. You'd have Iraq and Iran next to each other. Plus Israel and Jordan all sitting in the same pew. We'd be in danger of starting World War III. ... I know "Ireland" begins with an "I", but no. Ireland doesn't make it any better. Ireland never makes anything any better." What's especially funny about this is that seating in the UN General Assembly is alphabetical, so Iran and Iraq are directly next to each other, and Ireland is directly between Iraq and Israel.
  • When one of the secretaries suggests temporarily making Buckingham Palace part of the French Embassy to allow the presentation, Bernard quickly points out the stupidity of that idea, "Peter, The PM is fighting for the sovereignty of the Channel Tunnel! How do you think he feels about the sovereignty of Buck House? How do you think the Sovereign feels about the sovereignty of Buck House!"
  • "Quarantine, Prime Minister!"
  • The Soviet ambassador explaining the death of a former PM is no loss for Britain. "You know what his trouble was. He had plenty here (indicates head), plenty here (indicates heart) but nothing here!" (Grabs Sir Humphrey by the balls.)