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Radio / The Men from the Ministry

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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 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 Baddiley third series onward).

The show is set on the Ministry's “General Assistance Department,” an office in Whitehall that is designed to help other offices when they are overloaded with too much work. Typical episodes are centered around one or two assignments 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: Assignments 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 archives 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.

Hello, General Assistance Department, Lennox-Brown troping - um, speaking:

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  • 0% Approval Rating: Pretty much none of the civil servants in the Ministry like Sir Gregory. As Lamb puts it, "It's not he hasn't got friends it's just that they all hate him."
  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: In "Night We Crept into the Crypt" Lennox-Brown and Lamb have to get to the House of Commons while it's being surrounded by the police and military, and they do it by traveling through a sewer which is big enough to house them both.
  • Accent Adaptation: In the Finnish version American characters speak mostly in Helsinki slang, due to its "modern" sound and use of foreign loanwords creating a nice substitute for an American accent. The other native English accents from the original show such as Scottish or Irish are not adapted.
  • Accidental Art: Mr. Lamb's bicycle apparently was run over by a truck, and after leaving it in the Ministry of Art's lobby it had been displayed the next day as modern art.
  • Accidental Hero: During the arrest of a couple of shop owners in Hackney for ridiculously small irregularities in their products that go against the norms set out by the government, 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 
    • Happens quite often to Sir Gregory. Whenever One and Two are speaking about him in an insulting manner, he naturally storms into the office moments later and is greeted with a said insult: for example, as Lennox-Brown has just called Sir Gregory "a proper little Hitler", he accidentally greets him as Sir Adolf.
  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: When Mr. Lamb informs the rest of the General Assistance Department that he has been made the new Permanent Under-Secretary (or so he thinks), Lennox-Brown assumes he's having a nightmare caused by the Stilton he had for lunch.
  • Acronym Confusion: When being interrogated by an FBI agent, Lennox-Brown assumes he is from Federal British Industries.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Since the Finnish version ended up adapting the episodes completely out of order thanks to its Status Quo Is God nature, Daphne Bentwater (who debuted in Series 9), Lord Stilton (who debuted in Series 6) and Mr. Crawley/Mr. Wilkins (who debuted in Series 9 and 12, respectively) all ended up appearing within the first 30~ episodes.
  • Adaptation Expansion: All the original BBC-produced episodes were restricted to 25-30 minutes so scripts were 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 were either partially or completely left out from the originals.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Daphne Bentwater calls Sir Gregory "bunny". Sir Gregory in turn calls her "lotus blossom".
  • Against My Religion: Mr. Crawley got himself excused from Ministry's flu vaccination since he is a member of Portsmouth's Puritans who are against injections, though Lennox-Brown mockingly calls him a "devout coward."
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Pretty much played straight in "Birmingham is Revolting". All civil servants have an appointment with Dr. Schwein who mostly asks them questions about their childhood. Lennox-Brown's stories end up making him fall asleep.
  • The Alleged Car: Lennox-Brown's car is this.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Lord Stilton sometimes plays this role to Sir Gregory.
  • Analogy Backfire: Invoked by Sir Gregory in the Finnish version of "Flushed with Success". After Lamb presents him with a petition by the civil servants to fix the Ministry's plumbing, Sir Gregory asks if Lamb believes himself to be a new Spartacus leading a slave uprising. When Lamb reluctantly answers yes, Sir Gregory devilishly points out that Spartacus was executed.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: As General Assistance Department is trying to clear room in Hyde Park for a statue of a deceased industrialist, a hassle with a crazy speaker erupts and gets the attention of a park guard. When Lennox-Brown claims that they are working for the Department of the Environment, the guard responds by quipping that he's the archbishop of Manchester, which Lamb naturally assumes to be true.
  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: A common gag.
    Mildred: I just saw Permanent Undersecretary in the passage. [....] Any minute now he'll charge in here and say-
    Sir Gregory: (charges to the office) Now then Lennox-Brown!
  • Assumed Win: When Lamb is applying for the executive post of the Junior-Assistance-Deputy to the Assistant-Deputy-Junior to the Deputy-Junior-Assistant, he assumes that he has got the job from the get-go because he is fifteen years senior to all other applicants. Upon receiving the letter from Staff Appointments, he doesn't even bother opening it until Lennox-Brown convinces him to at least read what exactly they are saying about his acceptance. Turns out Mr. Haggit from the canteen got the job instead.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Lamb becomes one when he is forced to pose as a receptionist in "Thoroughly Modern Ministry". Several civil servants bring him gifts like chocolate and roses, and Sir Gregory even tries to seduce "Raquel" at the end of the day and is only stopped in his advances because he'll have to leave to meet his wife.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Sir Gregory does not like Lady Pitkin at all and tries to avoid her as much as possible, and the feeling is mostly mutual from her side.
  • Bad Boss/Mean Boss: Sir Gregory tends to be a rather huge Jerkass to One and Two and often hits them in his anger.
  • Bad Liar: Mr. Lamb by his only admission doesn't know how to lie.
  • 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.
    Hamilton-Jones: Ah, but will they dare admit it? You didn't, I didn't, the First Lord of the Admiralty didn't. We were all afraid it was in some dispatch that we hadn't read. So we pretended we did know.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Hamilton-Jones pulls this off when he attempts to halt the redecoration of the Ministry that's endangering the pigeon nest at the window ledge. He has April call the Traffic Director of Scotland Yard and claims to be the "Duke of Bridlington" from the Office of State Occasions. He then claims that the Sultan of Yuwait is planning on a state visit tomorrow which includes a trip to the House of Commons and that the Director must have obviously heard about it unless he was lazy at his job. Traffic Director, being the slacker that all public servants in the show are, naturally swallows the claim and HJ manages to get Scotland Yard to halt all traffic near Whitehall for a couple of days, allowing the pigeon chicks time to learn how to fly.
  • Beef Bandage: After receiving a beating from Sir Gregory, Mr. Lamb is dabbing his eye with a frozen rissole, since he couldn't afford a raw steak.
  • Beleaguered Boss: As much as he's a Bad Boss, all of Sir Gregory's subordinates are complete morons and he is often on the verge of a breakdown.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: Mildred becomes one when she's promoted from secretary to civil servant in "I Want My Mummy". As an acting junior executive, she doesn't have immunity yet and everyone else dumps their work on her, and because of the workload she ends up mixing the British Museum's Egypt exhibition and Mr. Crawley's order for traffic warden uniforms together, as well as accidentally sending the exhibition's mummy to a hotel in Paris.
  • Berserk Button: Apparently whenever Lennox-Brown's name is mentioned Sir Gregory's face goes purple, and whenever Lamb's name is mentioned it goes green.
  • Best Out of Infinity: While the supercomputer CECIL is being installed on the General Assistance Department One and Two have ended up in a series of chess matches against the Foreign Office, with the Foreign Office having won the first 60 games. During the episode, the Foreign Office wins the 61st game, but at the end of the episode CECIL manages to defeat them 10 times in a row.
  • Big Applesauce: America is visited on several episodes, and it's always New York, apart from one Wild West Whole Episode Flashback.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: The episode "Not on your Telly" spends a few bits making fun of the BBC and its inner workings, with the staff being incompetent enough not to realize that they've been given the wrong documents and accidentally raising the tv license to 850£/month.
  • Brick Joke: After a christmas pudding that Lamb accidentally placed in Big Ben's leaver is removed from the machinery, Lennox-Brown tosses it out of the clock tower's window and dismisses Lamb's worries that it might've hit someone. Later on during a news broadcast, the newsreader mentions that the Prime Minister was hit in the head by a christmas pudding near the House of Commons.
  • 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.
  • Brits Love Tea: One and Two love tea beyond anything as the British gentlemen they are.
  • Bungled Suicide: After losing 600 000 pound win on the football pools, Mr. Lamb repeatedly attempts to hang himself on his braces, naturally failing because they're too elastic.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: When assessing Mr. Lamb, Ministry's psychiatrist Dr. Schwein states that he has many latent aptitudes and unplunged propensities. Lamb immediately assumes that Schwein is insulting him, and Lennox-Brown has to tell him that Schwein is complimenting him.
  • Circular Reasoning: How does Lamb remember 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.
  • Christmas Episode: There were three, Series 1's "The Magic Carpet" (lost but fortunately re-recorded in Series 14 as "The Christmas Spirit"), a special episode "A Present For Norman" (that is completely lost) aired between the first two series and Series 3's "The Post Office Pantomime".
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome:
  • Comically Missing the Point: After Lamb scolds Mildred over the typos in 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, Two credits the Postman's honesty, as he threw One's five-pence bribe to the gutter.
  • Community-Threatening Construction: At least two episodes cover this (a village in Sussex making way for an airport in "Customs of the Country" and a Scottish village making way for a hydroelectric dam in "A Sense of Power"). On both occasions, the villagers vehemently resist...until they discover the compensation payments they'd receive.
  • 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.
    • In a subversion, the Finnish dub also didn't bother replacing Hamilton-Jones with Lennox-brown, until the former's voice actor passed away.
  • Cowboy Episode: "Fastest Brolly in the West", which focuses on Lennox Brown's and Lamb's great-grandparents, who are traveling across the West in 1870 and end up becoming sheriffs tasked to protect a small town after being Mistaken for Badass. In the end, they're driven away by the townsfolk who prefer the approaching criminals to their petty bureaucracy and regulations.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Throwing darts at a picture of Sir Gregory is sometimes referenced as a common pastime.
  • 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.
  • Depending on the Writer: Or episode, since Edward Taylor wrote all of them.
    • Hamilton-Jones's/Lennox-Brown's character varies a bit between episodes. For example, his fondness of Lamb can range from panicking after mistaking Lamb's antics for a suicide attempt, to being onboard with Sir Gregory's plan to let Lamb perform a rocket-launching ceremony after he received death threats towards whomever was performing it. In addition, while they are usually said to be Happily Married to their respective wives, sometimes they are more than happy to flirt with other women.
    • How self-serving and/or corrupt Lord Stilton is also varies, as sometimes he's on board with Sir Gregory's morally questionable antics and sometimes he finds them appalling.
    • Due to the fact that the Finnish version merged the characters of Mr. Crawley and Mr. Wilkins into one, the resulting version of Mr. Wilkins ends up having slightly inconsistent characterization, sometimes having his Verbal Tic and sometimes not.
  • Dirty Commies: Soviet/generic Eastern Block agents appear as antagonists in multiple episodes.
  • Dirty Old Man: Sir Gregory is after young women of the Ministry, especially Ms. Daphney Bentwater from the typing pool.
  • Disaster Dominoes: "A Sticky Business" features an epic one, where a series of misunderstandings and mishaps starting with a broken teacup end with the whole London Underground being filled with cold water.
  • Ditzy Secretary: Mildred is not the brightest secretary in the Ministry, to say the least.
    • Daphne Bentwater even more so when she temporarily becomes General Assistance Department's secretary. When she attempts to write in shorthand a few-sentence notice Lennox-Brown dictates in ten seconds, she only manages to get down "Dear sir".
  • Do-It-Yourself Plumbing Project: Since Sir Gregory has given Ministry's welfare funds only 85 pence, the Welfare Committee's leader Mr. Wilkins, being a "do-it-yourself-handyman" by his own words, offers to fix the Ministry's plumbing himself over the weekend. Being the Cloudcuckoolander that he is, Mr. Wilkins naturally ends up destroying the Ministry's plumbing in the process.
  • Double Entendre: Thanks to his Verbal Tic, Creepy Crawley has a lot of these.
    Crawley: I'll go and see what I can do with these paper clips. Perhaps if I stick them in my whats-its-name.
  • Drunk with Power: When Sir Gregory decides to go on an extended weekend he leaves Mr. Lamb in charge of a lot of minor jobs that have to be done. Lamb, however, misunderstands his instructions and thinks Sir Gregory is retiring and making him the new Permanent undersecretary. He immediately turns into a ruthless tyrant forcing all staff of the General Assistance Department to work 10+ hours a day and insults pretty much everyone within the Ministry within a few days.
  • Dub-Induced Plot Hole: Apparently the translator Kersti Juva forgot the Dub Species Change while translating a Call-Back in a later episode; because of this, a character references the time the duo had a seal in their office, something that never happened during the Finnish series.
    • Inverted in the Finnish version of "The Finger of Suspicion" which includes an explanation to where exactly the discrepancy in the Ministry's funds came from: Sir Calvin forgot that British money had been decimalized, and was still using the old counting system.
  • Dub Name Change: The Finnish version has a lot of these. Most notably from Sir Gregory to Sir Henry, Roland to Hannibal, and Lamb to Lamm. In addition, all but 17 of the 120 episodes originally featuring Lennox-Brown were aired with Hamilton-Jones in his place (and three episodes vice versa), and the change was only made due due to the actor Kauko Helovirta's death in 1997.
  • Dub 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 a pun. In the original General Assistance Department wants a seal for the envelope they are about to send to NATO headquarters, whereas 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").
  • 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: Whenever 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.
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Mr. Lamb has several, including Valentino, Cantebury, and Hieronymous.
  • Epic Fail: After ending up with a 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 mother, 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: At one point One and Two have to get to the 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. After snatching the package and attempting to leave 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.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: While testing the new armored van for the Ministry, Mr. Lennox-Brown tries to sound serious:
    Lennox-Brown: Lennox-Brown to base. Lennox-Brown to base. Van traveling eastwards. All systems roger. How do you read me?
    Sir Gregory: Like an extremely boring book. Cut out all that "roger"-nonsense.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Hamilton-Jones and Lamb in one episode come up with lots of creative ways to detect Sir Gregory's approach into the Office and repel his advances, including sprinkling sugar on the liner and smearing grease on the sill. Sir Gregory ends up simply calling the Office via telephone.
  • Failure Gambit: In "Confidence 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 the 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, to 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! Incompetent monkeys!
  • Foreign Queasine: In the episode "Getting the Bird" Lamb attempts to import a pelican from the attaché of a Banana Republic, who suggests exporting his country's national delicacy to Britain as part of the deal.
    Attaché: We have tried many times to introduce our national delicacy to Britain but you English always say 'bleurgh'.
    Mr. Lamb: I'm sure it can't be that bad. What is it?
    Attaché: Tinned soldier ants in syrup.
    Mr. Lamb: Bleurgh.
    • Later, back at the office...
    Mr. Lamb: I've done it, One! You'll never guess what I had to do to secure the pelican!
    Mr. Lennox-Brown (Who has just heard the whole thing from a very angry Sir Gregory): They agreed to let you import the pelican on condition that you agreed to import a consignment of tinned solder ants in syrup.
    Mildred: Bleurgh.
  • Foreigner for a Day: In the (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 a 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 the Minister of Economy is at the office only on 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 in the series.
    • There is also Mr. Rudge from the Board of Trade, who's a subject of many Noodle Incidents.
    • The hall-porter Mathews is also this in most episodes, though he actually appears in the flesh in a couple of them.
  • 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 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 so that he plans to quit his job in the Ministry and become a professional dancer.
  • Gratuitous Latin: The pen name Lennox-Brown uses when writing to The Times' letter column is "Pro Bono Publico", meaning "for the public good".
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: Some of the episodes of the Finnish version recorded in the '80s remove the references to the USSR and the Russians, replacing them with simply "the other one" or "country of unfriendly relations", or not explicitly naming their nationalities.
  • 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 a bit of a Running Gag in the show.
  • Heads or Tails?: The "old and traditional way" to make difficult decisions at the General Assistance Department is to toss a coin over it.
  • Herr Doktor: Ministry's psychiatrist is a man called Dr. Schwein who speaks with a heavy German accent.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: One and Two, while having the occasional arguments, are the closest friends each other has.
  • Hypocritical Humour:
    • When planning on giving a petition about the poor quality of the 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.
    • Government wants to promote the use of British products and cut down unnecessary imports by distributing "Buy British"-lapel badges... Made in Japan, of course.
  • 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 public loo in its place?
    Get the brandy from the first aid cabinet.
  • Incoming Ham: Whenever Sir Gregory enters the office, he makes his arrival clear to everyone.
    Let me get my hands on you!
  • Informed Ability: Mr. Lamb is often described by the narrator as "an eager young executive". In the show proper, he is just as lazy as every other civil servant of the Ministry.
  • Injection Plot: "Don't Let Them Needle You" revolves around flu vaccination that's going to be injected into all civil servants. Both Lennox-Brown and Lamb try in vain as hard as possible to avoid the shot, and Hilarity Ensues: in the hassle, a new truth drug meant to clear the minds of a couple of British astronauts gets mixed up with the vaccine, and as a result, all the staff in Whitehall begin to tell the truth.
  • 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 loses less money.
    • According to Sir Gregory, it is said that one person in four is mentally unstable. Therefore if you're on 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.
  • The Inspector Is Coming: The plotline of multiple episodes, with the General Assistance Department always desperately attempting to make it look like they're doing a lot of work instead of slacking all day.
  • Insult to Rocks: In one of the episodes written exclusively for YLE Mildred's boyfriend compares Lamb's mind to a sieve. Mildred protests, as something actually sometimes stays in a sieve.
  • In-Universe Factoid Failure: In-Universe, in "The Big Big Big Ben Bungle" Lamb refers to the "Hunchback of Amsterdam".
  • Irish Explosives Expert: A non-violent example shows up in the episode "A Slight Case of Demolition" with O'haggoti's Demolition Company Ltd., an Irish demolition company that manages to knock down the Potters Green public convenience very efficiently in a single weekend. Too bad Lamb accidentally gave them the address of Sir Gregory's new house instead of the toilet...
  • It's All About Me: If Sir Gregory thinks One and/or Two are in mortal danger, he'll often get very worried... since their deaths might end up hurting his chances of getting a promotion.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In order to get into the American Embassy to retrieve a vital document that was accidentally left in an old Ministry's desk that was sold onwards, Lennox-Brown and Lamb disguise themselves as charladies. It doesn't work for long since the embassy member sees through their charade fairly quickly and the duo have to run for their lives across the London rooftops.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Sir Gregory's one in and out. While he may be pleased and friendly in some episodes, it's only because of some outside event giving him a good mood and makes no secret that he utterly loathes One and Two for their incompetence and laziness.
  • Kent Brockman News: The Newsreader John Curle/Bryan Martin, who often delivers the news of the problems One and Two's bungling has caused, always with complete serenity no matter how insane they are. There's also Forth Robinson, a Welsh reporter who often ends up witnessing the chaos the General Assistance Department causes first-hand.
  • Kicked Upstairs: This happens to Sir Gregory in the Finnish run after his actor Yrjö Järvinen retired from acting in 2001. He ends up spending too much government money, and as a result, gets sent to the House of Lords.
  • Lethal Chef:
    • Mrs. Bradby makes consistently terrible food. At one point Lamb describes having shepherd's pie and rhubarb custard... on the same plate.
    • Mildred is sometimes portrayed as a dabbling baker, and occasionally brings pastries she made to the office — whether or not they're actually edible depends on the episode.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Lennox-Brown pretty much says this to Mr. Lamb at the end of the episode "Claws" when he is forced to share cage with a horny female panda while in a panda-costume in order to please the Chinese government.
  • Like Is, Like, a Comma: The weird modern artist Ted Sponge in the episode "Torn to Shreds" uses the word "like" very excessively, and even manages to get Mr. Lamb to do it just as he leaves the office.
  • 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.
  • Long Runner: British version 1962-1977, fifteen years. Finnish version 1979-2008, twenty-eight years.
  • Loophole Abuse: This ends up being what saves the day in "Rebel in Regents Park". While yes, the gardener does legally own the island and has every right to establish his own country inside its borders, the lake the island is on belongs to England. If the water were to rise enough to cover the island, the latter would become part of the lake.
  • Love Potion: The duo accidentally mixes chicken's virility powder in the nation's milk reserves; everyone who drinks milk temporarily turns into a sex-obsessed maniac, even during a news broadcast.
  • Magical Computer: In the 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 the 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 traveling to Christmas Land and escaping eventually with a red carpet. The episode ends with Two awakening One from a sleep, but the carpet has appeared in Two's room...
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: According to Mr. Lamb, after his thumb was trapped in a paperclip, he was off sick for a week.
  • Mistaken for Dying: Lamb and Mildred end up thinking that Lennox-Brown is dying in the episode "A Rotten System" after hearing Ministry's doctor and engineer Lambry converse about the 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 in their hotel and office back in London leave FBI and the British Government thinking the two are spies planning on defecting to USSR.
    • Happens a lot really; whenever there's a leak somewhere in the ministry, one and two get suspicious of each other, and usually Mildred and Sir Gregory join opposite sides; For example, Lamb and Mildred might search HJ's office, which HJ and Gregory use as evidence.
  • The Mistress: Ms. Bentwater is this to Sir Gregory. Sir Clive drools after Paris Stilton.
  • Moustache de Plume: In-Universe Gender Flip occurs in the episode "A Problem Shared", where Lennox-Brown uses a pen name "Aunt Eveling" when answering an agony column on staff magazine since he and the editor agreed that woman's advice are more acceptable.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: When Sir Gregory is first reluctantly informed by Lennox-Brown that the surplus of 75 pence has somehow ballooned into 800 000 pounds, he immediately starts laughing and congratulates LB on his amazing sense of humor. It's only after Lennox-Brown gives him the receipt that he realizes that it's true, and the revelation causes him to have an episode.
  • 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 the wrong houses in the dark.
  • Natural Disaster Cascade: The cast using a Weather-Control Machine to alter the weather to their benefit in certain areas goes awry by causing the weather to detrimentally change in other places, and their attempts to rectify the problem make it continuously worse.
  • Nepotism: Sir Clive is explicitly stated to be Lord Stilton's nephew.
  • 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 Party Given: The current ruling party of the House of Commons is never specified in the show, and "the opposition" is always referred to as just that. That being said, the Prime Minister is clearly a caricature of Wilson in the original BBC run, and in the episodes of the Finnish run recorded in the 80's she's clearly a caricature of Thatcher.
  • Noodle Incident: Never-seen bunglings and events of the General Assistance Department and other offices are often referenced.
  • Nothing Is the Same Anymore: Very downplayed; The Finnish dub went out of its way and wrote a brief plotline that permanently replaces Sir Gregory with Sir Clive, and the change in leadership is openly discussed In-Universe (unlike the quite sudden change from Hamilton-Jones to Lennox-Brown). That said, his replacement is still pretty much the same character with minor changes, so while there is a change to the status quo it doesn't affect that much.
  • 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 Now, We're Too Busy Crying Over You: Following Lamb and Mildred's mistaken belief that Lennox-Brown is deathly ill, doctor Cribble calls the Office to inform the General Assistance Department that the Ministry's heating system has finally shattered that morning. Lamb and Mildred naturally assume that Lennox-Brown has died, and start collecting money for his wreath... only for Lennox-Brown to enter the office at that moment, leading to a priceless Double Take from Lamb.
  • Not so Dire: One episode opens with Hamilton-Jones and Lamb talking about an alarming national catastrophe that's threatening the entire nation's pride. Then we find out they're talking about losing a cricket match to Australia.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Constant source of comedy: whenever One and Two oversee the businesses of others, they tend to attach 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.
  • Office Golf: Besides making paper darts out of assignment papers, this is One and Two's favorite pass time in the office.
  • Opening Narration: Every episode opens with the narrator explaining something about Ministry and/or its workers.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: During an episode of the tv program Panorama dedicated entirely to the Civil Service Sir Gregory is being interviewed on Ministry's Hospitality budgets. However, due to a mistake caused by the General Assistance Department, the Interviewer Robin Gay thinks he is interviewing Sir Gregory about sex in the civil service. The result is as hilarious as you think:
Sir Gregory: In next month I'm expecting a foreign delegation. I'd like to put a show for them. Let them see what we British can do.
Robin Gay: S-sir Gregory I must ask you to be a lot less strict...
Sir Gregory: And I may say that Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition will be involved.
Robin Gay: Sir Gregory please!
Sir Gregory: May I explain what their position will be?
  • Only Sane Man: April essentially plays this role in Series 1. This might've been a factor to her disappearance in Series 2, since she doesn't get much material in the comedy (apart from the episode "Moderately Important Person", where she's the main focus of Prince Salim's lust).
  • 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 killing a mouse that pests the office, which they interpret as Lennox-Brown and Mildred trying to kill Lamb.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Outer Hebrides are considered the worst possible place to go; apparently bowler hats will get moldy in a week and the climate is so cold that even germs can't live there.
  • 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 its place) and then helping the City Council to force a stubborn family to leave. He never makes the connection because of his focus on cleaning the department office as well as general idiocy.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Staple of the show's humor: poorly worded notes end up causing havoc, telephone conversations are misinterpreted due to being heard only from one end and out-of-context, and instructions aren't laid out properly leading to big misunderstandings among other things.
  • Poor Man's Porn: It is sometimes mentioned that Mr. Lamb apparently has a habit of going up and down the Underground escalators while staring at the underwear advertisements on the walls.
  • Prank Call: After Lamb (thinks he) has been made the Permanent Under-Secretary, he spends most of his time making prank calls all across the ministry insulting and mocking pretty much everyone.
  • 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 the 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!
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Not that the series had any real overarching storylines, but the Finnish dub has a brief plotline that permanently replaced Sir Gregory with Sir Clive, due to Sir Gregory's voice actor Yrjö Järvinen retiring. This is especially noticeable as the change in leadership is openly acknowledged In-Universe with characters still referencing Sir Gregory and comparing him with his replacement, while the earlier change from Hamilton-Jones to Lennox-Brown wasn't addressed at all.
  • 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.
  • Remember the New Guy?:
    • Despite being Adapted Out, April Adams appears in one Finnish episode. Oddly enough, said episode (The War with the Isle of Wight) ended up being one of the last scripts of the original BBC run to be translated into Finnish, a weird time to bring back a previously unheard character.
    • Lennox-Brown simply appears in the Finnish dub without much fanfare, and characters treat him like he's always been there.
  • The Remnant: Hilariously inverted in "Something About a Soldier": General Assistance Department finds out that the demobilization order of Burgenhead Light Infantry was accidentally lost under the file cabinet in 1945, and that 20+ years later the troops, located deep in Welsh wilderness and having their communications cut off, are still under the belief that the Second World War is going on and that a German invasion might be imminent. When the Bavarian Birdwatching Society arrives from the east at their stations the Major of the unit immediately assumes that rest of Britain has been overrun and tries to assault the German tourists.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Mildred has a habit of saying things such as "Raise a cheer, tea is here!"
  • Rudely Hanging Up: Sir Gregory ends most of his phone calls to the General Assistance Department by hanging up on One whenever he's halfway through his sentence.
  • The Scapegoat: If the General Assistance Department has made an error, Mr. Lamb is always the one primarily responsible, since according to Lennox-Brown as the junior executive it's his job to take the blame.
  • Sea Mine: The episode "The Thing on the Beach" revolves around a sea mine on an English beach resort that Mr. Lamb is forced to defuse. It turns out to be a mine-shaped collecting box.
  • Secret Pet Plot: In several episodes, the staff of the General Assistance Department are forced to keep a pet in their office, including a hamster, a dog and a parrot. Since Sir Gregory despises all animals great amount of hijinks ensue trying to hide their existence: this includes Mr. Lamb pretending to have a cold when the parrot starts talking in the file cabinet, and being forced to eat the animals' food in order to fool Sir Gregory into thinking it's just his breakfast.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "The Man Who Made it Rain" has this exchange:
    Lamb: Ah, here we are. It seems this chap is called doctor Barnhoff.
    Halmilton-Jones: Doctor who?
    Lamb: No, doctor Barnhoff.
    • In "A Motley Crew" General Assistance Department is set to inspect an oil rig. As Sir Gregory tells, all oil rigs have names, there's the Penelope rig, there's the Veronica rig, and GAD is set to go on the Diana rig.
  • Signs of Disrepair: As Britain is struggling with an energy crisis, Sir Gregory comes up with an idea to cut fuel consumption by ordering the West End's neon signs to be shown only half the time. Unfortunately, General Assistance Department fails to relay his orders properly, instead ordering the advertisement to show half the words.
    Newsreader: There are complaints about the advertisement on Piccadilly Circus, which normally reads "Get Valfer's Stuffed Dollys", now reads "Get Stuffed."
  • The Slacker: The staff of General Assistance Department tends to avoid work at all costs, only completing it at the last minute.
  • Snap Back: Doesn't quite enter Negative Continuity as some events are referenced in later episodes, but no matter what our "heroes" manage to screw up, everything is always back to normal by the next episode.
  • Speak Friend and Enter: In the episode "Cheesed Off" offices are faced with an infestation of mice. Lennox-Brown suggests using high-tech methods to get rid of them such as laser beams or ultrasonics. Mildred suggests a cat.
  • Stamp of Rejection: "Permission Refused" stamp is one of the most common and valuable tools the Whitehall bureaucrats use, and often forms are automatically rejected and sent back without even reading them. In fact, "Permission Granted" is stated in one episode to be one of the rarest stamps in existence.
  • Strike Episode: After tea and coffee drinking in the Ministry is completely forbidden by Sir Gregory, all of the civil servants go on a strike to get tea breaks back. It takes three weeks for anyone to notice anything.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute:
    • Hamilton-Jones and Lennox-Brown are practically the same characters with just different names and voice actors. It almost crosses over to The Other Darrin since the change is never acknowledged In-Universe and the narrative pretty much treats them as a single character.
    • Series 9, 10, 11, and 14 feature Mr. Crawley, an odd man from the neighboring office that has many quirks. In Series 12 and 13 he is absent and is replaced by Mr. Wilkins, an odd man from the neighboring office with many quirks. The Finnish version simply makes them the same character.
    • Sir Clive (Replaces Sir Gregory in the Finnish version following actor Yrjö Järvinen's retirement) differs from his predecessor by his voice, he has an affair with a different secretary, and has a poodle. Unlike the previous examples, he's however clearly a different character in-universe, becoming the new Permanent Under-Secretary after Sir Gregory is Kicked Upstairs off-screen.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Mr. Lamb does this often when he has something to hide.
    Mr. Lamb: If you think I'm going to Sir Gregory's office you're quite wrong!
  • Take Five: When One and Two are about to have a heated argument, One usually tells Mildred to answer the telephone in the outer office, even though it's never actually ringing.
  • The Television Talks Back: When listening to a horse race on the radio all of a sudden the speaker informs that horse My Wotsit (which everyone thought was going to lose) starts to move up. Lamb says that they said that My Wotsit didn't have a chance, and 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 a 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.
  • Thrifty Scot: Several ones pop up throughout the series, such as Sir Calvin McFrugal, the financial advisor of the Ministry of Works who considers having two chocolate biscuits during the elevenses insane extravagance.
  • Truth Serums:
    • Mistaking that the 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. Hidden in sugar, nobody realizes what causes them to blurt out the truth until Sir Gregory starts showing the side effects (hysterical laughter), after which they offer him more.
    • Another one ends up being injected to all civil servants and government officials instead of the annual flu vaccine, leading to the entire Whitehall speaking nothing but the truth with hilarious results.
    Lennox-Brown: Morning Mildred! Glad I'm late, gives me less time in the office.
  • Two Rights Make a Wrong: As two Mayors of different London boroughs are tied into a fierce argument over fluoridation of a shared reservoir, Hamilton-Jones decides to make one of them change their mind on the matter. Unfortunately, Lamb, thinking HJ isn't going to do anything about it, does the same to the other mayor, which takes the whole debate back to its starting point.
  • Tyop on the Cover: invokedMildred 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 
  • Ultimate Job Security: Civil servants simply cannot be fired no matter what. When Lamb temporarily resigns in one episode Sir Gregory even merrily states that he has tried several times to find a way with no success. The worst punishment Ministry Men can get is to be reassigned into the archives of the Outer Hebrides.
  • Upside-Down Blueprints: Invoked by Mr. Lamb in one episode. After transport people return the plans for a potential flyover wanting instead an underpass, Lamb orders Mildred to send the plans back turned upside down.
  • Verbal Tic:
    • Mildred has a habit of saying "righty-ho" in place of "right away", which annoys One greatly. In one episode, Sir Gregory says it as well.
      • She also has a habit of saying "Oo-er" every time a mistake is made.
    • Mr. Crawley always forgets the names of basic everyday things and calls them "Whats-Its-Names."
  • The Vicar: The Vicar of One's hometown is mentioned frequently, with Lennox-Brown often participating in Noodle Incidents as they attempt to fix a hole in the roof of the village church.
  • Walking Techbane: If there's a way to get a machine malfunctioning or make an error while using it, Mr. Lamb can and will do it. This even gets him noticed by the Technology Insitute in one episode, as they (unsuccessfully) try to make him a test user for their newest machinery.
  • Weather-Control Machine: One is the center of the episode "The Man Who Made it Rain". Somewhat of a deconstruction, since rapidly and suddenly changing the climate in a small area ends up having much larger consequences elsewhere, with the problems growing worse and worse each time the machine is used to fix the previous problems.
  • Went to the Great X in the Sky: Dying is often used with a euphemism of "Going to the Great Ministry in the Sky."
  • Westminster Chimes: As mentioned in Eiffel Tower Effect, the intro to every episode begins with the chime of Big Ben.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: The 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 China's ambassador Hu Flang.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: When Lamb's new pet hamster Harry in the episode "A Sense of Power" is acting restless, he decides to buy another one called Charlie for company before leaving to Scotland for negotiations with the locals. When he and Lennox-Brown return it turns out that Charlie has had a litter.
    Lamb: You mean he's not a Charlie, she's a Charlotte?
    Lennox-Brown: Obviously the only Charlie 'round here is you!