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Series / Yes, Minister

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'Almost all government policy is wrong, but frightfully well carried out.' note 
Sir Humphrey: Minister, I have something to say to you which you may not like to hear.
Jim Hacker: Why should today be any different?

Yes, Minister (1980-1984) is a Brit Com 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. The original three seasons were followed by Yes, Prime Minister (1986-1988), in which Jim Hacker became PM. Both series were created by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, who also wrote all the episodes.

The episodes focus 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 political satire dealt with both specific issues and general principles of governance. It brought up issues 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.

Margaret Thatcher, the real-life PM at the time the series was first shown, was a huge fan and "wrote" a sketch featuring herself, Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey (in fact Sir Bernard Ingham wrote it). It can be read here.

Ranking sixth in Britains 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 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).

2013 saw the debut of a short-lived revival airing on GOLD (directly adapted from a 2010 stage version by Jay and Lynn), featuring Hacker dealing with problems such as Scottish Independence and issues with the coalition government that he's leading. Lynn wrote another stage production entitled I'm Sorry, Prime Minister, I Can't Quite Remember, debuting in 2023, which focuses on a now-retired Hacker and Sir Humphrey, as they are forced to live together in the same retirement home. There was also a 1987 DOS PC video game in which the player acted as Hacker and tried to make it through a week without tanking in the polls.

The Thick of It is a sort of Spiritual Successor.

This show provides examples of:

  • Acting Unnatural: In the 2013 remake, Hacker and Bernard react to the news that a diplomat dislikes formality by standing around the office in a variety of awkward "casual" poses.
  • 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.
    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.
  • Ad Hominem: Used in "Man Overboard", where Sir Humphrey decides to derail the Employment Secretary's military relocation proposal by attacking the Employment Secretary's character (by framing him as disloyal to the Prime Minister and plotting a leadership challenge) rather than attacking his proposal. He lampshades it by announcing that he's "decided to play the man instead of the ball". It ends up backfiring, however; Humphrey puts so much energy into discrediting the Employment Secretary that he doesn't remember to address the plan at all, which means that once the Employment Secretary's gone, there's nothing to stop Hacker safely implementing the plan - and taking all the credit.
  • Almighty Janitor: Sir Humphrey Appleby, despite being anonymous to the population at large and describing himself as a "humble functionary", is effectively running the country from behind the scenes by the end of the series.
    President of Buranda: I've always thought that Permanent Under-Secretary is such a demeaning title... makes you sound like an assistant typist or something, whereas you're really in charge of everything, aren't you?
  • Alternate History: The show is set roughly contemporaneously to when it is made and frequently alludes to actual world events that take place during the 1980s (such as the Falklands conflict) but Margaret Thatcher doesn't appear to exist (the Prime Minister that Hacker serves under is never referred to by name, is never heard nor seen, and is always referred to as "The Prime Minister", though is revealed to be a man in 'The Diplomatic Incident'). And, of course, Jim Hacker himself becomes Prime Minister in about 1986.
  • Ambivalent Anglican: Sir Humphrey states that "the Church of England is primarily a social organisation, not a religious one", and that it's more important for bishops to be properly refined Upper Class Twits than to actually believe in God (who Humphrey calls "an optional extra"). They also mention that professing actual belief in God is considered a problematic dogmatic position in a senior cleric.
  • Analogy Backfire: This exchange between Bernard and Sir Humphrey:
    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, (stands up and ominously looms over Bernard) never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, Bernard.
  • And That's Terrible: When Hacker complains that the former PM described him in his unpublished memoirs as "two-faced", Humphrey and Bernard don't react at all for a moment, and then Bernard dutifully and woodenly remarks "That was very wrong."
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: In "Official Secrets", Prime Minister Hacker's predecessor is writing his memoirs, which will be very embarrassing for Hacker, then 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.
  • Angrish: On the few occasions that Humphrey is flustered, thrown off guard or loses his cool, a typical response is stammering and spluttering incoherence.
  • 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.
    Hacker: (shocked) Ooh!
    Hacker: (confused) What?
  • Answers to the Name of God: In "The Key", Bernard has been instructed to confiscate all the keys to the door between the Cabinet Office and Number 10, to keep Sir Humphrey out. Sir Humphrey had a spare unofficial key however and appears, apoplectic with rage, before a terrified Bernard.
    Bernard: (reacting in terror as Humphrey suddenly storms into the room) My God!
    Humphrey: (furiously) No Bernard, it's just your boss.
  • 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.
    • Sir Humphrey's wish of "Happy Christmas" in this Christmas sketch.
  • Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?:
    Hacker: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?
    Bernard: I don't think so, Minister. I'm not thinking anything really.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When Humphrey attempts to dissuade Hacker from combating smoking, he brings up that they have enjoyed events sponsored by the tobacco industry. Hacker casually replies that he's been a guest at the Soviet Embassy - that doesn't mean he's a spy. Humphrey splutters and changes the subject.
  • Artifact Title: Averted. When Jim Hacker became Prime Minister, the show changed its name to Yes Prime Minister. Most people consider the two to be the same show (reasonably so, as aside from everyone getting promotions everything else was more or less exactly the same), with an unusual mid-series name change.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Paraphrased in the very first episode:
    Sir Humphrey The Prime Minister giveth. And the Prime Minister taketh away."
(Job 1:21)
  • As You Know: Played With. Not having read the papers, Jim Hacker often seems to know as much as the audience, but tries to hide it from his officials. In "A Victory For Democracy", notably, neither Hacker nor Sir Humphrey nor Bernard nor, indeed, the Foreign Secretary seem to precisely know what is happening on St. George's Island (or even where it is). The trope's name is invoked during a conversation between Humphrey and the Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs (the one person who knows anything about it), with Humphrey mainly making educated guesses and agreeing with whatever is said. The Foreign Secretary, despite clearly picking up on Humphrey's ignorance, humours him because Sir Humphrey is very on the ball in most cases, and there really has been no reason for Humphrey to know about the globally irrelevant island until now.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other:
    • In "Party Games," Hacker becomes visibly and genuinely upset when he thinks Humphrey is dying, and then, at the end of the episode, Humphrey is beaming with happiness and pride when he addresses Hacker as Prime Minister for the first time.
    • In "The Death List" they compare their relationship to Stockholm Syndrome. When Bernard asks which one is the terrorist, both exclaim "He is!"
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Sir Humphrey Appleby epitomizes this trope. He basically runs the Department of Administrative Affairs and has a huge influence on the British Government whether working for his Minister or out-gambiting him as an adversary. He eventually rises to Cabinet Secretary where he is the bulk of the power behind the Hacker regime, including getting Hacker promoted to PM in the first place. All while being a "humble functionary". Sir Arnold, prior to retirement, also fit this.
  • Badass Israeli: The Israeli ambassador is a Badass Bureaucrat version, revealing that he knows all the information that Humphrey and the Foreign office have been keeping from Hacker and advising Jim on how to solve the crisis to his advantage in one move.
  • 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 campaign for the party leadership – and while they lost to the now 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 an 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 Hacker's career – altogether. However there is a turning point in their relationship where the PM becomes slightly more of a Benevolent Boss.
  • 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 Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne, and Derek 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, it's actually quite refreshing.
    • It helps that the satire is focused on the machinery of government, with the actual politics being fairly incidental to the thrust of the episode. The series avoids stating which party Jim Hacker belongs to, and the only episode actually taking place in Parliament has nothing to do with policy or the formulation of law: Jim and Sir Humphrey were Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee about a tell-all book discussing inefficiencies in the Civil Service, and the committee wanted them to confirm or deny the allegations.
    • One episode involves Hacker meeting the former minister for his department, now in opposition, and the two clearly get along quite well. The point is made that for all the posturing about issues in public, when it comes to the actual business of governing, the real opposition is in fact the Civil Service.
  • The Barnum: Sir Humphrey's whole approach to his job.
  • 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.
    • They don't always work for Humphrey, though. In "Man Overboard" he tries to scupper Hacker's plan to relocate large swathes of the MoD Oop North by hinting that the Employment Secretary, the originator of the policy, is plotting against him. As expected, Hacker takes the bait, manoeuvres the Employment Secretary into resigning, and the relocation scheme is shelved. However, the gambit fails because Humphrey didn't anticipate Hacker's next move, namely that with his position secure and the disloyal minister out of the way, he decides that the planned relocation can now go ahead anyway — and that now that the Employment Secretary is gone, some of the reasons for doing it have actually been strengthened.
  • 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. Lampshaded when Hacker asks him what he would do "if the chips were down", and he replies that his job is to ensure that the chips stay "up".
    • Humphrey himself frequently frames his actions as juggling the best interests of the country, which may not necessarily be voter-friendly, with the politically-motivated approaches that Hacker is inclined to take.
  • Benevolent Boss: The change from the PM being a Bad Boss 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"!
  • Big Labyrinthine Building: In the words of Jim Hacker in his "diary", i.e. the Novelization, a difficulty in adjusting to his new home as PM is that it's more like two houses back-to-back, "joined by corridors, stairwells and courtyards. Each house has five or six floors, and ... the main problem in finding one's way around Number Ten is that, because it is two different houses, because of subsidence during the war, and because the ground slopes away towards the back, it's almost impossible to know what floor you're on once you're upstairs."
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor
    Humphrey: Does he watch television?
    Hacker: He hasn't even got a set.
    Humphrey: Fine, make him a governor of the BBC.
  • Black Comedy: When discussing the possibility of starting World War III:
    Hacker: Supposing I did, and then changed my mind?
    General: That's alright - no one would ever know, would they?
  • Blackmail: Rarely in so many wordsnote  but often A will have compromising evidence of B's activities, or perhaps tapes of C being very indiscreet. Humphrey wields this weapon unscrupulously. With prodding from Humphrey and the Chief Whip, Hacker uses it to secure the position of PM in Party Games.
  • Blackmail Backfire: A rare case of Sir Humphrey's veiled attempts at blackmail actually being unsuccessful occurs in "The Smoke Screen", when he tries to deter Hacker from his attempts at pushing through strict anti-smoking legislation (which is, in actuality, a bluff that Hacker is pulling to encourage the Treasury to make cuts he actually desires elsewhere) by pointing out that opponents might try to smear him as a hypocrite by publishing photos of him attending events sponsored or held by tobacco companies. Hacker laughs it off by pointing out that he's a politician, and has attended a wide variety of functions held by people whose views he ends up opposing (such as diplomatic drinks hosted at the Soviet embassy).
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word:
    Bernard: It is a bit of a cover up, isn't it?
    Sir Humphrey: Certainly not, Bernard. It is a responsible discretion exercised in the national interest to prevent unnecessary disclosure of eminently justifiable procedures in which untimely revelations would severely impair public confidence.
    Bernard: I see. [beat] It's like Watergate?
    • In "Party Games", Sir Arnold Robinson wants a Prime Minister "who you know can be manipula... professionally guided."
  • Blasphemous Boast: Done in "Doing the Honours" while discussing the Order of St Michael and St George. The Order has three grades: Companion (CMG), Knight Commander (KCMG) and Knight Grand Cross (GCMG). Jim Hacker's Principle Private Secretary Bernard Woolley explains what the abbreviations mean in the Civil Service:
    Woolley: ...Of course, in the Service, CMG stands for "Call Me God". And KCMG stands for "Kindly Call Me God".
    Hacker: What does GCMG stand for?
    Bernard: "God Calls Me God".
  • Break the Haughty: Humphrey is served up a particularly delicious slice of this in "The Key".
    • Sir Arnold gets a minor one in "The Bed of Nails":
    Sir Mark: But Sir Humphrey will tell Hacker he'd be crazy to do it.
    Sir Arnold: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes, "I can hear him say. "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," roughly translated. Humphrey would have put it in English for Hacker's benefit. [Smugly, with distain] Hacker went to the LSE.
    Sir Mark: So did I.
    Sir Arnold: Oh, I am sorry.
    • Though this one may be a subversion; Sir Arnold's tone at the end of the exchange is full of condescension, making it unclear whether he is apologising for the insult to Sir Mark or whether he is sorry that Sir Mark had to attend an "inferior" school (essentially, compounding the insult).
  • British Brevity: The series consisted of three series of seven episodes each plus an hour-long special, while Yes, Prime Minister had two series of eight episodes each. Some box sets classify the special as Episode 0 of Yes, Prime Minister rather than episode 22 of Yes, Minister.
  • Bulungi: Buranda, referred to on the show as a TPLAC: "Tinpot Little African Country".
  • Call-Back: As PM, Hacker holds a security review of his predecessor's memoirs. They contain comments on several previous episodes, like Hacker's negotiations in Kumran, and his blocking the construction of a new chemical plant. They are presented in an unflattering light, which leads to the main plot of the episode, the fallout from Hacker's attempt to suppress the chapters in question.
  • 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.
    • Jim Hacker's previous role was Shadow Minister for Agriculture. In The Good Life, Paul Eddington plays the neighbour of a man who has decided to grow all his own food in the garden.
  • Catchphrase: The final line of nearly every episode (with a few early-episode exceptions) is 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."
    • "Yes"
    • "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.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma: This is part of the problem Hacker often has to deal with. If he doesn't take some action on the issue of the day, he looks bad for not doing anything. But any possible action he can take will offend some cog in the vast, complex political machine that is the government, which will have side effects that will also make him look bad. For example, when attempting to find staff that can be done without to reduce costs in the department, the most obviously redundant workers are union members who threaten a national strike if they're let go.
    • In "The Writing On The Wall", Jim and Humphrey keep an upcoming civil service RIF from starting by axing the entire Department of Administrative Affairs by essentially blackmailing the PM with one, threatening to use a leak of a proposal to further integrate Britain (guaranteed to be popular on the continent but reviled in England) into the EEC to the Opposition for use in an Official Question. If the PM supports the proposal, he loses support in Government. If he doesn't, he loses goodwill in Europe and his chance at a public honor for helping to unite Europe. The PM's Private Secretary quashes the elimination of Administrative Affairs to ensure that the Question is never asked.
  • 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.
  • Christmas Episode:
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Jim Hacker's chauffeur George is a regular source of information for the Minister in the first five episodes. He's never seen or mentioned after.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Bernard has an unnerving tendency to lapse into non sequitur, most of them hilarious.
  • Compromising Memoirs: The former Prime Minister's, and Sir John's that implicate Humphrey for covering up an act of espionage.
  • Corrupt Politician: The never-seen Basil Corbett, the Employment Secretary, who Hacker describes thusly: "He's a smooth-tongued, hardnosed, cold-eyed, two-faced creep." When his wife asks why he's so successful, Hacker repeats this. He's apparently so effective, that Humphrey works to keep Hacker on as Minister for his Department on hearing Corbett would take over from Hacker if they were moved.
  • Could Say It, But...: Bernard quite often uses this to pass on information to Humphrey which he's technically not supposed to pass on. In one episode, Humphrey asks him who in the department Hacker has gone to talk to. Bernard replies that he can see why he should tell Humphrey if Hacker has gone to talk to an outsider, but he can't see why it's important that he should tell Humphrey if Hacker wanted to check something with, for example, Dr Cartwright... Humphrey thanks him and goes to see Cartwright.
    • In an episode of Yes Prime Minister, Bernard does it again when he tells Humphrey that Hacker has been discussing the civil service pay rise with one of his advisers. Humphrey asks who, and Bernard says "I'm sorry, Sir Humphrey, I'm not allowed to divulge her name," thereby letting Humphrey know that it was Dorothy Wainwright, Humphrey's nemesis.
    • Part of Hacker and Humphrey's plan to get the responsibility for the unified transportation plan off their plates in "Bed of Nails" is Humphrey having lunch with a journalist, talking in general terms of how such a plan could cause unpleasant ripples in local communities while saying he isn't allowed to speak of the specifics, and then "accidentally" leaving a copy of their case study of how to apply the plan (which "coincidentally" used the Prime Minister's constituency as the testbed) behind when he went back to work.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: When Hacker hears in "The Death List" that Private Eye are doing an exposé on him, he wonders if they've found out about "the character reference I wrote for Dr Savundra" or "that wretched party at John Poulson's".
  • Deadly Euphemism: "Gardening leave", which is code for "You are being investigated for corruption, espionage or some similar indignity, and will not be performing your regular duties until cleared, which you probably won't be, but we will pretend you asked for time off to take care of your garden and the press and your co-workers will pretend to believe it." One of the few times Humphrey is visibly afraid is when he is threatened with "gardening leave". An example of Truth in Television, as "gardening leave" is often used in British corporate culture as a euphemism for "suspension, pending investigation and probable firing".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jim's wife Annie frequently undercuts his pomposity and pretensions with well-timed sarcasm.
  • Death Glare: Sir Arnold's reaction, when Sir Humphrey jokes that perhaps he ought to become a Minister.
  • Debate and Switch: Frequently employed, often of the Take a Third Option variety. The third option at the end of "The Whiskey Priest" drives Hacker to drink, because he may be a self-serving politician but he also has a conscience.
  • Defiant Strip: Invoked in "The Right to Know". Jim Hacker's daughter Lucy gets upset at her father's decision to remove the special protective status from Hayward's Spinney, which will place a local badger colony under threat. She plans to stage a protest, which Jim thinks will be a Storm in a Teacup, until he finds out the type of protest she intends: a 24 hour "Save the badger" nude protest vigil at Hayward's Spinney.
  • 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.
  • Demoted to Extra: Vic Gould, the government's Chief Whip, was originally supposed to be a regular character and Sir Humphrey's opposite number, who would try and terrify Hacker into getting the government's policies pushed through his department. Due to the cast being too large and the writers finding his character one-dimensional, however, he never made it past the pilot episode (outside of a small part in "The Whiskey Priest," and even then only because the script had Hacker meeting the Chief Whip, and the actor who played Gould happened to be available).
    • And then the role of the Party's Chief Whip was eventually replaced by Jeffrey Pearson (The character's name, not the actual actor, James Grout), who appears in "Party Games".
  • 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, even worse than "controversial".
    Sir Humphrey: "Controversial" only means "this will lose you votes"; "courageous" means "this will lose you the election".
  • Don't Do Anything I Wouldn't Do: Unusual Could Say It, But... example, when Hacker is definitely not telling Sir Humphrey to leak documents to the press during his upcoming meal with a journalist.
  • Double-Edged Answer: A Catchphrase.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Hacker, at the end of "The Whisky Priest", seems at first to just Need A Freaking Drink (OK, several drinks). Then:
    Annie: You're sort of a whisky priest. You do at least know when you've done the wrong thing.
    Jim: Whisky priest?
    Annie: That's right.
    Jim: Good. Beat. Let's open another bottle.
    Annie: You haven't got one.
    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?
  • Drunk with Power: Played for laughs in "Party Games", wherein it takes Jim Hacker all of five seconds after learning he has secured the role of Prime Minister to shove a hand in his jacket and stare heroically into the distance as if he were Napoleon.
  • 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 Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne, and Derek Fowlds (as well as Diane Hoddinott as Annie Hacker, Neil Fitzwilliam as Frank Weisel and Edward Jewesbury as Vic Gould) 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.
    • The remainder of the first season doesn't experience this quite so much, but there are a few noticeable differences compared to the rest of the series, such as Frank Weisel's presence, Sir Frederick "Jumbo" Stewart occupying the role that Sir Arnold Robinson would have in the rest of the series, and only about half of the episodes ending with a Title Drop (the remaining half end with Hacker saying an Ironic Echo of something that Sir Humphrey told him earlier in the episode, or vice-versa).
  • Embarrassing Nickname: What is Sir Humphrey's nickname? "Humpy".
    • Sir Humphrey's counterpart at the Foreign and Commonwealth office, Sir Frederick Stewart, is always called "Jumbo" whenever he appears. Unsurprisingly, he is a very large man.
  • 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.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In "Party Games", Sir Humphrey and Sir Arnold run through the necessary qualities for an acceptable Prime Minister - then both realise, with some hilarity, who fits the bill.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Humphrey and Bernard insist on always addressing Jim as "Minister" or "Prime Minister", even when he insists otherwise:
    Hacker: I wish you'd call me Jim, at least when we're alone.
    Hacker: Oh, I'll try to remember that Minister.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Humphrey doesn't have a lot of moral convictions, but even he is genuinely hurt and outraged in "One of Us" when everyone suspects him of being a Soviet agent.
    • Humphrey is genuinely outraged when Hacker decides to basically bribe his way out of a politically embarrassing situation by paying a "loan" of £50 million of taxpayer's money to Buranda, with the understanding they'll never pay it back. However, he quickly changes his tune when Hacker tells him they'll be a KBE in it for him if he goes along with it.
  • Evil Mentor: "Evil" is too strong a word, but Sir Humphrey is clearly trying to mould Bernard into his view of an ideal Civil Servant, that is to say amoral and unscrupulous.
  • Exact Words:
    • Discussed in "Party Games"; when talking over his dilemma over whether to support the Foreign Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer in their race to become Prime Minister, Hacker perceptively notes that in his conversations with them, both of them heavily implied that they'd promote him to the other's job without actually categorically coming out and promising to do so, meaning that his dilemma is further compounded by the risk of pissing off one only to gain absolutely nothing from the other for doing so.
    • Humphrey often weaponises a version of this in his arguments with Hacker, by deliberately picking up on an ambiguity in Hacker's case and pedantically exploiting it in order to undermine Hacker's case. For example, in one episode during an argument about Hacker accidentally lying to parliament due to not being given pertinent information by Humphrey, Hacker claims that as Prime Minister he needs to know "everything". Humphrey proceeds to take him at his word and begin reading out trivial orders for stationary; when Hacker irritably clarifies that he means everything important, Humphrey points out that it can be difficult to determine what is important or not (rather disingenuously overlooking the fact that the information Hacker is complaining about not being given actually was important).
  • Expospeak Gag: Humphrey's 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!" Annotatable thus:
    Humphrey: The relationshipnote  which I might tentatively venture to aver has been not without some degree of reciprocal utilitynote  and perhaps even occasional gratificationnote , is emerging a point of irreversible bifurcationnote  and, to be brief, is in the propinquity of its ultimate regrettable termination.note 
    • Weaponized in "The Whisky Priest" when Humphrey and Bernard make selling state-subsidized arms to terrorists sound like a minor legal irregularity by referring to it only by the official titles of the laws being violated (see Xanatos Speed Chess, below).
  • Eye Take: Humphrey's reaction whenever Hacker has a particularly ambitious, unexpected, and ill-advised idea.
  • Facepalm: 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.
  • Facial Dialogue: Paul Eddington (Hacker) had a talent for this that has yet to be matched in any other series. It has been reported that after this became apparent, the scriptwriters would sometimes give him a choice of saying a line or remaining silent and letting his face convey the same information. An exceptional example is when he finds out his predecessor, who was about to publish some embarrassing memoirs, has unexpectedly died. The brief worry, then joy, then abrupt attempt to look sad is something to behold.
  • 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.
  • Foreign Remake: Ji Mantriji, an Indian TV series on STAR Plus, in which many episodes were directly adapted from the British original. Due to The Raj, the Indian government and civil service have a lot of organisational similarities to the UK, and the stereotypes of politicians and civil servants are pretty much the same as well.
  • Forgotten Anniversary: In "Big Brother", Hacker discovers that Bernard and Frank have double-booked him for governmental and party business on opposite ends of the country. He tells them to just figure out how to get them to both, but when he gets home he finds out that he is also supposed to be going on holiday with Annie for their wedding anniversary.
  • 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.
    • Averted with Maurice, the European Commissioner in "Party Games", who's friendly and sensible, and who is happy to allow the sausage to be called the "British Sausage".
      • Although Maurice is clearly francophone, his nationality is not stated. He could be Belgian.
  • Fun with Acronyms: On the subject of Knight Fever. (This is Truth in Television, believe it or not.)note 
    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.
  • 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.
    • In "The Grand Design" As new prime minster Hacker learns about his Nuclear deterrent responsibilities.
    Hacker: What if I were to change my mind? (Following a missle launch).
    General: Well, no one would ever know, would they?
  • Gambit Pileup: The French government is scuttled by this in "A Diplomatic Incident". To force the British to accept terms favourable to the French over the Channel Tunnel, they create a situation where Her Majesty the Queen will be forced to reject a gift of a puppy from the French President due to British quarantine laws. This would create (manufactured) outrage in France and would humiliate the British, and would have worked perfectly. Unfortunately, they 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 would create far more embarrassment and outrage than the puppy, the French are forced to back down.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "One of Us:"
    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 rein in Sir Humphrey.
  • Government Procedural
  • Gratuitous Latin: Sir Humphrey drops several Latin phrases in "The National Education Service" to use Hacker's ignorance of their meaning against him, and thus win an argument about the redundancy of classical education. Unfortunately, this riles Hacker up, and in a later debate where Hacker reveals his plan to shutter the Department of Education to Humphrey and completely demolishes Humphrey's flustered counterarguments, he ends with a Latin phrase he does know: "Quod Erat Demonstrandum."
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Sir Humphrey and Hacker, whilst both paying regular lip service to the idea that they are selflessly dedicating themselves to the greater good of the United Kingdom, 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 appears relatively 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.) Additionally, there are some episodes where it is Humphrey fighting for the good of Britain as a whole while Hacker maneuvers for partisan or personal gain. In "The Official Visit," for example, it is Humphrey who is outraged at the thought of paying fifty million pounds of taxpayers' money in extortion, whereas Hacker is in favor of it because of the benefits to his party. Likewise, in "The Greasy Pole," it is again Hacker selling out the national interest by blocking the construction of a politically unpopular but perfectly safe chemical plant in response to ignorant NIMBYism, while Humphrey tries to persuade him to let the project go forward. Both of these are a reversal of their usual roles, where Hacker is trying (sort of) to fight for the national interest as he sees it, and Humphrey obstructs him.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy:
    • In "The Official Visit", after getting caught up in a foreign policy mess regarding a speech by a visiting African leader likely to prove greatly embarrassing and struggling to figure out how to respond, Martin the Foreign Secretary says, "In the old days, we'd just send in a gunboat." After a brief chuckle from everyone, Hacker remarks, "I suppose that is absolutely out of the question?" causing everyone to stare at him.
    • Played straight in "A Victory For Democracy". An invasion of a Commonwealth country is imminent, so Hacker has an airborne battalion sent there on a "goodwill visit".
  • Here Comes the Science: A Prime Minister with an economics degree and a Cabinet Secretary whose degree is in the Classics struggle to make sense of whether a new chemical factory will be a health hazard or not, and utterly miss the relevant points. Both are completely out of their depth, and the nearest thing to a relevant contribution from Sir Humphrey is his parsing the Latinised names of the chemicals to see if this yields any clues as to what they are.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The Civil Service tend to weaponise this when they're duty-bound to give their political masters information which they really don't want them to see. Usually, it's done by concealing said information within a seemingly innocuously-titled report right at the bottom of the last of the many red boxes that they're given to work through; the Minister almost certainly won't manage to make it all the way to that paper, or if they do they'll only have time for a quick skim-read at best, but that way the Civil Service can legitimately say that they made the information available to the Minister while making it unlikely to ever be discovered. Unfortunately for them, Hacker catches on to this after a while, and even employs it himself in “The Bed of Nails”.
  • High Turnover Rate: The average Minister of Administrative Affairs lasts about eleven months before leaving for some reason or another. This is a big part of why Sir Humphrey, who's been a constant in the department since its founding in the '60s, has so much control over day to day affairs. It's also why there's so much bureaucratic inertia towards any new proposals: by this time next year there will likely be another Minister, who will undoubtedly be pushing new policies that require scrapping the currently proposed ones, so sufficient stalling can likely abrogate any need to actually implement any of them.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • 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 forces Oop 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 strengthened several of the arguments for it without realizing.
    • In "The Key", Humphrey takes great delight in dressing down Bernard for allowing Hacker's election agent into No. 10 without a pass. Humphrey issues new orders that NO ONE gets through without a pass or an appointment. No One. (This is 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 policeman, who rigorously applies the rules on Bernard's instruction, despite Humphrey's protests.
    • In "The Writing On The Wall", Hacker finally manages to get a proposal for a reduction in the civil service past Humphrey and to the PM, only to find that the first thing the PM wants to eliminate to reduce the civil service is his department.
    • In " A victory for Democracy" Humphrey and the Foreign Office spend so long reinforcing the idea that the Island of St. Georges is in no way threatened by an external enemy and that the area is very peaceful (withholding the intelligence that the Island is about to be invaded by West Yemen until its too late). They can't complain when Hacker sends an Airborne Battalion on a "goodwill visit", from which Hacker gains a major political win.
  • Holding in Laughter: Prime Minister Hacker is disparaging his predecessor for what he wrote about Hacker in his memoirs when they're informed his predecessor has abruptly died. Hacker's actor, Paul Eddington, then does some of the most epic face acting ever committed to videotape as he bursts out laughing before turning it completely around into a solemn, dignified nod, capped off by a simple, "Tragic."
  • The Horseshoe Effect: 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. Over the course of their scene together, they go from shouting at each other to somewhat wistfully declaring it a shame that they are on opposing teams.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: Hacker wants to revoke an order he gave. Humphrey responds: "That is impossible. Or difficult. Or inadvisable. Or requires legislation. One of those."
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: The entire Civil Service, for the most part. A bit too competent for Hacker's liking.
  • Hypocrite: After throwing Humphrey and the Department under the bus at the committee hearing in "A Question of Loyalty", Hacker is invited to a private lunch with the Prime Minister and his family at Chequers. He remarks that loyalty [to his political allies] has been rewarded. Humphrey makes a sneering comment about his lack of loyalty to the Department and Humphrey himself. In response Hacker retorts that "I have been loyal to you, Humphrey, in exactly the same way that you have always shown loyalty to me." Humphrey, who has sold Hacker out for his own self-serving ends on innumerable occasions, can only respond with spluttering nonsensical Angrish.
    • A great many of Humphrey's strategies to manage Hacker involve informing the Minister that continuing on his current stance will make him seem like one given the side effects of some seemingly unrelated matter that he had talked the Minister into doing earlier in the episode. One example is in "One Of Us", where Humphrey points out that now is not the time to start talking about large-scale defense cuts, given that he'd just had the Ministry of Defense spend a small fortune on an operation to extract a lost dog wandering around an artillery range for a PR stunt.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • The Chief Whip.
      "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 Humphrey trying to claim that Hacker's facts are merely statistics while his own statistics are facts.
    • In "The Compassionate Society", Hacker eventually hits on the idea of using the fully admin-staffed hospital which has no medical staff or patients to house one thousand Cuban refugees, which will both satisfy a committee which is preparing to come down unfavourably on the department and avert a potentially devastating strike action. Humphrey, who has spent the entire episode thwarting Hacker's attempts to open the hospital to medical staff and patients, immediately protests and starts pompously lecturing Hacker on how the hospital is intended for a huge waiting list of British patients.
    • In "Power to the People", despite the militant socialist council leader's contempt for Sir Humphrey's dogmatic ideology, unaccountable and undemocratic role in society and arrogant conviction that he alone knows what's best for everyone, it's gradually demonstrated that she's equally dogmatic, has just as little interest in being democratically accountable as he does and is also arrogantly convinced that she alone knows what's best for everyone.
    • In "Party Games", Sirs Arnold and Humphrey are sitting together at dinner. This is the conversation opener:
    Humphrey: How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?
    Arnold: I'm sorry, I can't talk about that.
    • In "The Death List", an argument about surveillance culture leads Hacker to question whether Humphrey has ever been under surveillance himself. Humphrey pompously replies that he's a civil servant, in a manner that suggests that being so automatically places him beyond suspicion. Unfortunately for him, Hacker immediately retorts that Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby (aka three of the infamous "Cambridge Five" Soviet spy ring) were also civil servants.
  • I Am the Noun: Hacker eventually develops this attitude as Prime Minister, treating any insult to himself- even truthful ones- as malicious gossip that undermines the national interest.
    • In general, most civil servants and many politicians appear to have this attitude either about their jobs or about themselves, while deriding their colleagues for their sense of self-importance. Humphrey, Arnold and others all believe that the Civil Service are the ones who really run the country and keep everything working, and as such should be immune to budget cuts or any serious disciplinary actions...although, they sometimes put this aside when their own career prospects are at stake.
  • I Have This Friend: Whenever Bernard needs to tell Humphrey about Hacker's plans without actually telling him, he always couches his words in a series of hypothetical scenarios of a hypothetical minister.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Hacker, fairly often.
  • 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.
    • When Jim finds out his style of governing is criticised as "dictatorial", he's rather pleased with himself. Being frequently frustrated with his orders being outright disobeyed, he seems to enjoy the idea of being an all powerful dictator, and comments that sometimes strong leadership is needed. As if to hammer the point, as he sits down he slips out rather happily "Dictatorial, eh?".
    • And this exchange between Humphrey and Bernard:
    Humphrey: You're talking in riddles, Bernard.
    Bernard: Oh thank you Sir Humphrey.
    Humphrey: That was not a compliment!
  • 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."
    • First rule of political indiscretion: always have a drink before you leak.
  • Invisible President: You never see the Prime Minister or even learn his name until Hacker himself gets the job.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Hacker and Humphrey are called before a select committee on government waste and prepare a joint testimony beforehand to deflect any blame. However, Hacker meets with the PM's advisor, who tells him that the PM wants him to request a full investigation into the civil service, and tells him that Humphrey has described him as "a pleasure to work with" (civil service-speak for "controllable"). At the hearing, Hacker completely throws Humphrey under the bus ending with "If I may say so, he [Humphrey] is a pleasure to work with"
    • In "The Tangled Web", Hacker gets into a bit of trouble when it turns out that he inadvertently lied to the House of Commons about the government tapping an MP's telephone. Sir Humphrey knew about it but didn't inform Hacker because, according to Humphrey, Hacker "didn't need to know". When Hacker requests that Humphrey lie about the phone-tapping to a select committee of parliament, Humphrey reacts very self-righteously, pompously chiding Hacker over "the tangled web we weave" and hypocritically informing him that he has no intention of being "part of some squalid cover-up". So naturally, when Humphrey has gotten himself into very big trouble over a foolishly indiscreet radio interview and is begging Hacker to help him keep it quiet later in the episode, Hacker takes great pleasure in throwing all these words back in Humphrey's face.
  • Is This Thing Still On?: In "The Tangled Web" Humphrey finishes a typically rehearsed and harmless radio interview without saying anything troubling, but then after the interview is officially "over" cheerfully admits to the interviewer a number of things that directly contradict the interview because he thinks they're off the record- unaware that the tape recorder in the recording booth is still rolling.
  • It's All About Me: Most characters either start off as this or gradually become corrupted to think this way. The few characters willing to take moral stances on issues- such as Hacker or Weisel- ultimately prove to be corruptible if their reputation or bank accounts will benefit or suffer from it in some way, and Hacker eventually starts thinking of nearly every moral issue in terms of whether or not it will make him look good or bad.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • In the second episode, Humphrey wants the reception for the Burandan President to be held at its London Embassy, as is normal. Hacker, on realising there are three Scottish by-elections in marginal seats coming up, decides to hold it in Scotland on the pretext that the Queen is at Balmoral, which means the reception would have to held at Buranda's much smaller consulate in Edinburgh. Humphrey, though motivated by his love of Embassy Parties, points out that Hacker is blatantly putting Party before country, hoping the event will increase support for his Party. While this is undeniably true, Hacker also raises the good point that London isn't the only place in the United Kingdom, that the regions tend to feel left out of government, and that since the President is coming over to finalise oil contracts the best place to meet him is where the country's oil production is centred.
    • In "Party Games", while their various misdeeds are not the real reason the Civil Service doesn't want either to become Prime Minister (the real reason is because they're both competent reformers who would effectively challenge the power of the Service), the various reasons Humphrey gives to Hacker about why neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Chancellor should get the job are pretty compelling by themselves; one is heavily implied to be a swindler, and the other is suggested to have had various sketchy sexual encounters with women implied to be agents of unfriendly powers.
    • In "The Whisky Priest", Bernard is troubled by Sir Humphrey's total lack of moral qualms on the government allowing weapons to end up in the hands of terrorists. Humphrey simply replies that as civil servants it's not their job to question or judge government policy, but simply carry it out, which is amoral in this instance but generally true. When Bernard asks him how he can implement a policy he doesn't agree with, Humphrey (correctly) replies that as civil servants serve multiple successive governments of wildly different aims and ideologies, it's impossible to have a career of any length and agree with every government policy, something many career bureaucrats can likely sympathise with.
    Bernard, I have served eleven governments in the past thirty years. If I had believed in all their policies, I would have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I would have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel. And of denationalising it and renationalising it. On capital punishment, I'd have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I would've been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a grammar school preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac; but above all, I would have been a stark, staring, raving schizophrenic.
    • In the same episode, Humphrey counters Hacker's moralistic arguments about British arms finding their way into the hands of Italian terrorists as being evil and Humphrey's nonchalance about it as being amoral by pointing out that the existence of a British arms industry in the first place is itself an act of amorality — weapons are designed to kill, companies are set up to sell their product to people willing to buy it, and the simple fact is that the "bad guys" are just as (if not more) interested in purchasing weapons as the "good guys". There's simply no way for Britain to maintain an arms industry which only sells to people it considers morally virtuous.
    • The discussion about rescuing the lost dog in "One Of Us" may be insensitive, but the official from the Defense Ministry is right about how difficult it would be for a large scale search given that the search area was in an artillery range full of unexploded ordnance, and trying to search for it without using specially trained personnel with expensive equipment was asking for humans to get killed, should they accidentally set some of it off.
    • While Hacker's military relocation plan in "Man Overboard" is really only a Jerkass move from the point of Humphrey and the high-ranking military officers opposed to it (since they don't want to risk being moved away from London and all the cushy privileges they enjoy there), Humphrey does make a point of noting that the actual arguments in favour of such a move are genuinely strong.
  • Just Train Wrong: In "The Official Visit", while Bernard is running for the train, a sign reading "OFF" lights up. Then, once he's safely on the train, the signal goes green and the train leaves. In reality the "OFF" indicators are linked to the signals, and change at the same time as them; showing "OFF" when the signal is still red would be a serious safety failure.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Frequently referenced, and the series may have popularised the phrase. Specifically, Hacker lives in perpetual terror of being sent to the House of Lords, since it has no meaningful political influence whatsoever and, for all the pomp and circumstance and titles, is basically a place where failing political careers go to die. And later, Hacker was honestly tempted about taking a dead-end but incredibly well-compensated job with the European Economic Community; apparently, there is a point where the quality of the gravy train makes being kicked upstairs worth it.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Played with, in that it's the winning side who ends up backing down. In "The National Education Service", Humphrey effectively undermines Hacker's argument about the benefits of classical education by bombarding Hacker with Latin quotes that he clearly doesn't know the meaning of and must have translated for him. Unfortunately, he begins to get a bit cocky, and eventually comes out with "Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses" — which translates as "if you'd kept your mouth shut we might have thought you were clever." When Hacker learns that, his apoplectic reaction — and the fact that he's clearly within seconds of leaping up out of his chair and chinning his Cabinet Secretary — is enough to convince Humphrey that he's pushed that particular button once too often, and he hastily backs down.
  • 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.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: In "The Challenge", after Humphrey tells the Minister that they need to be worried about being attacked by the French, Hacker almost repeats it. At the last second he changes it to "the Frigging Chinese".
  • A Lighter Shade of Grey: Both Hacker (an elected MP) and Sir Humphrey (an unelected civil servant) always have their own interests at heart when deciding government policy. However, Hacker, while not entirely free of venal self-interest (he's often willing to put 'what will get me re-elected' over 'what is the right thing to do' when push comes to shove) almost always ends up the most sympathetic of the pair; he's often at least aware of what would be best for the people, and will try to fight for a cause he truly believes is right. Sir Humphrey is just unashamedly amoral about achieving his goals, and even the more seemingly justifiable of them will usually be tinged with a hint of self-interest.
  • Logic Bomb: Frequently deployed in Humphrey's lines of arguments.
    Bernard: This contract was obtained by bribery!
    Humphrey: Of course. All contracts in Kumran are obtained by bribery, everyone knows that. It's perfectly all right, as long as nobody knows.
  • Lovable Coward: Bernard, sometimes, on full display in "The Key", where he lets Humphrey into a private meeting after explicitly being told not to. His defence? "He's bigger than me."
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: The Department of Administrative Affairs was specifically invented to allow Hacker to deal with any political issue the writers might be interested in exploring.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Selim Mohammed, president of Buranda, whom Jim recognises from his student days. He describes 'Charlie' as being the sort of person who follows you into a revolving door and comes out first.
  • Malicious Misnaming: In the first series, Sir Humphrey keeps referring to Jim Hacker's political advisor Frank Weisel as 'Mr. Weasel'. Bernard sometimes does it as well, but that is usually accidental after he has heard Sir Humphrey do it.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Humphrey. Hacker thinks he is.
    • 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. This begins, appropriately enough, in the special where he becomes PM, "Party Games", in which he's not manipulating Humphrey but public opinion of himself, with the whole "Eurosausage" gambit.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • A hacker can mean a person who is inexperienced or unskilled at a particular activity.
    • Woolley is a homonym of woolly, meaning confused or unclear.
  • Metaphorgotten: Bernard often pulls a thread on Hacker's metaphors, unravelling or derailing them completely.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Briefly happens to Sir Humphrey, due to Hacker mishearing him call the new president of the African country of Buranda "an enigma".
    Humphrey: All that we know is that he's an enigma!
    Hacker: Humphrey, I don't care for that word.
    Humphrey': (mystified) Enigma?
  • Mystery Meat: The "Eurosausage" incident started out as an EEC attempt to reclassify British sausages as "emulsified high-fat offal tubes" when sold on the Continent, on the grounds that they didn't meet the quality standards that the EEC had decided on for sausages.note  Hacker skilfully earns political capital by turning this into an international brouhaha.
  • 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. Not to mention Hacker's tendency to lapse into Churchill-like speeches, complete with intonation and accent, whenever contemplating the supposedly great works he's about to undertake.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: In "A Diplomatic Incident", when Hacker's predecessor dies.
  • Newscaster Cameo:
    • Ludovic Kennedy appears as himself in several episodes.
    • Sue Lawley in 'The Compassionate Society'.
    • Moira Stuart has a brief vocal cameo in 'Party Games', announcing the PM's resignation.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • In an in-universe example, when practicing his speeches Hacker has a tendency to imitate the distinctive voice of Winston Churchill.
    • In "The Greasy Pole", the Glaswegian industrialist Sir Wally McFarlane is a fictionalised Sir Monty Finniston. He is named after another Glaswegian: Walter MacFarlane, a Victorian iron founder.
    • In "The Challenge", Ben Stanley is a clear reference to Ken Livingstone.
    • The Prime Minister's advisor Sir Mark Spencer refers to Sir Derek Rayner, who at the time was both an advisor to the government, and chairman and chief executive of Marks & Spencer.
    • The "Napoleon Prize" is awarded to the statesman who has made the biggest contribution to European unity since Napoleon (not counting Hitler). Its real-life counterpart is the Charlemagne Prize.
    • In "Big Brother", the bowtie-wearing broadcaster Godfrey Finch alludes to Robin Day.
    • Leslie Potts, the chain-smoking Minister for Sport who gets promoted to Minister for Health, represents a Nottingham constituency and worked as a consultant for a Tobacco company, may be one for Kenneth Clarke, a major figure in the Conservative Party who at the time of broadcast was a Nottinghamshire MP and was Health Secretary, which was considered comical due to his image of poor health. Ken claimed that he kept being asked if he was the model for this character.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: In "A Victory for Democracy", a rare triumph for Hacker when he prevents a Commonwealth country from being invaded by Marxist guerillas, which would have then been liberated by the United States.
  • 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".
  • Noodle Incident: We never learn exactly what was in the MI-5 files of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary to disqualify them from the premiership in "Party Games", but the former was apparently a sex addict involved in some very kinky things with some very kinky ladies from unfriendly countries, and the latter up to his knees in financial wrongdoings.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Implied. Bernard in "The Key" defends Hacker's right to exclude anyone he doesn't want to see from his house, by saying he (Bernard) wouldn't give his own mother-in-law the key to his house. Results in an Analogy Backfire.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: The premise of the series (with special mention given to the 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.
  • Once an Episode: Except for a handful of episodes in the first series, the last line in every episode is, "Yes, Minister" (or "Yes, Prime Minister" after Hacker is made PM).
  • One-Hour Work Week: Early on in Yes, Prime Minister, Bernard tells Hacker that the duties of the PM only really take up about eight hours of the typical week, and the rest of the time is his. This is actually true to an extent in real life, though the fact that the PM is also a serving MP, with the duties this implies, plus the need to read up on various matters of importance so as to not look like an idiot during those eight hours of official work mean that RL PMs generally keep themselves very busy.
  • 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. Bernard, who is something of a middle ground between the idealism of Hacker and the competence of Humphrey, might be the closest to the actual Only Sane Man though.
  • O.O.C. 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 Presidents Are Different: Prime Ministers in this case. We start with Prime Minister Invisible; 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).
  • Page Three Stunna: An early episode where Jim's daughter threatens to participate in a nude animal rights protest gets Sir Humphrey to comment that this story could end up on page one, and possibly page three as well.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: A speciality of the Civil Service, who tend to dress up scathing criticisms and insults in very polite and at times deferential language. For example, in "Doing the Honours", Sir Arnold calls Sir Humphrey in for a little chat when Hacker's plan to ensure Civil Service cooperation by threatening to withhold his recommendations for the current Honours list starts to spread. During their conversation, Sir Arnold genially informs Humphrey that "I'm not reprimanding you, I don't have all the facts" but mildly expresses concern that, should Humphrey fail to get the plan scotched, people might start to wonder whether Humphrey was "sound". Humphrey leaves the meeting looking like someone's worked him over with a two-by-four. Later lampshaded by Bernard and Hacker when they gossip about it; Hacker describes the conversation as "a real punch-up".
  • Pen-Pushing President: Considering the premise, that's bound to happen.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: Lampshaded in the following dialogue from "A Victory for Democracy":
    Sir Humphrey: East Yemen, isn't that a democracy?
    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). Often found puncturing a hole in tension you could cut with a knife.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The entire conflict in "Jobs For The Boys" would not have happened had Sir Humphrey simply told Jim why touting a certain joint government/industry partnership as a success was a bad idea (the industrial partner was on the verge of going bankrupt, which would cause the project to fail) instead of trying to convince the Minister not to discuss the project during an interview that afternoon without any explanation, causing Jim to conclude that his Permanent Secretary is trying to pull something on him.
  • Promoted to Scapegoat:
    • In "The Bed of Nails", Jim Hacker is given the responsibility of formulating an integrated transport policy and the title of 'Transport Supremo'. Jim is quite pleased with what he sees as a promotion. Sir Humphrey immediately recognises this for the poisoned chalice that it is, and points out that this means that Hacker is now responsible for every transport screw-up in the country. The two of them join forces to find a way to force the PM to give the job to someone else without damaging the department's reputation.
    • In "The Writing on the Wall", when the DAA is threatened with closure, Hacker is rumoured to be in line for receiving the job of Minister for Industrial Harmony - in other words, being responsible for strikes, which in 1970s Britain were frequent enough to be a spectator sport.
  • Properly Paranoid: Hacker is often convinced that the actions of anyone involved in government are part of some political plot against him personally. Probably because they almost always are.
    You'd be paranoid too if everyone was plotting against you.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: During an argument about a hospital with almost 600 admin and union staff and no patients or medical staff in "The Compassionate Society", Hacker is driven so up the wall with Sir Humphrey's cheerful acceptance of the insane bureaucratic logic for why this makes sense (the administrators are needed to manage the union workers, and the union workers are needed to maintain the building the administrators are working in) that he ends up bellowing "HUMPHREY! THERE ARE NO! PATIENTS!" at him.
  • Push Polling: Sir Humphrey demonstrates how this works by asking Bernard two separate series of questions, one leading to the obvious conclusion that compulsory military service would be a good thing and the other leading to the obvious conclusion that compulsory military service would be a bad thing.
  • Put on a Bus: Frank Weisel, Hacker's political advisor in the first series, 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.
  • Qurac:
    • In "The Moral Dimension," Hacker visits Qumran, a fictional 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, or at least their wives. 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.
    • When it is hinted that Hacker will be moved to a post as Minister for Industrial Harmony, he moans "That means strikes! Every strike in the country will be my fault!"
    • 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).
    • The House of Lords is another. In one episode the PM considers sending Hacker there. Hacker notes that while it's prestigious, it would be the end of his top flight political career.
    • The threat of becoming a European Commissioner in "The Devil You Know" puts a different spin on this, since while it is like all the others basically a graveyard for British political/government careers, it is if nothing else a hugely well-compensated and luxurious one, to the point where Hacker is sorely tempted to take it.
    • As a cruel and ironic reassignment, Hacker transfers the Foreign Office Liaison, who'd been deliberately disregarding Hacker's instructions regarding Britain's Middle East policy (because of the Foreign Office's own pro-Arab, anti-Israeli leanings) to a very important and prestigious ambassadorial role in the very significant embassy based in... Tel Aviv.
  • Revival: As a stage show in 2011.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The Department of Administrative Affairs was inspired by the Department of Economic Affairs, a short-lived ministry in the first government of British PM Harold Wilson, which had been basically created so as to give a senior politician a job. Like the DAA, the DEA often found it hard to justify why it existed in the first place, although for different reasons: the DAA's problem is that, in the interests of making government more efficient it sometimes has to create more government jobs and offices, thereby at least making it look like it's making government less efficient (which is bad politically), whereas the DEA's rather larger problem was that there was already a vast and much older government department in charge of economic affairs: Her Majesty's Treasury. The DEA lasted for six years until a succession of increasingly useless ministers caused it to be wound up.
  • Running Gag:
    • The fact that Hacker's studied at the LSE don't compare to the Oxbridge education of Sir Humphrey.
    • When referring to the Prime Minister, Hacker has a tendency to nervously raise his eyes and point upwards as if he's describing a celestial being.
    • If someone is watching the news, expect to hear something about the pound taking a hit.
  • Saying Too Much: In "A Conflict of Interest", Sir Humphrey tries to prevent Hacker from appointing a reformer to the position of Chairman of the Bank of England in order to prevent a massive scandal that would destroy Hacker's government. For once, Humphrey is genuinely looking out for Hacker's best interests with no hidden agenda, but when Hacker finds himself in yet another awkward situation thanks to Humphrey, he furiously confronts Humphrey, leading to this exchange:
    Hacker: I don't understand it, Humphrey. What's your game? Why should you be adamant that I allow another cover-up? What's in it for you?
    Humphrey: [Urgent] Nothing, Prime Minister! I assure you, I have no private ulterior motive. I'm trying to protect you from yourself. I'm entirely on your side.
    Dorothy: How can we believe that?
    Humphrey: Because this time it's true! [Hacker raises an eyebrow; Humphrey realises what he's said] I mean... this time I'm particularly on your side.
  • Scary Science Words: This causes a massive problem for Jim Hacker in "The Greasy Pole". He is put in charge of approving the plan for a factory to produce Metadioxin which would greatly revamp the British chemical industry. Unfortunately whilst perfectly safe, the mere fact the substance's name is similar to the infamous toxic Dioxin compound (most notoriously associated with the Seveso disaster in 1976, which was still in recent memory at the time of the episode) causes massive public concern, with Jim fearing the tabloids exploiting the public's ignorance to accuse him of poisoning children if he goes ahead, and the more respectable papers to lambast him for ruining such a good business opportunity if he doesn't. Attempts to reassure even his fellow committee members go nowhere, as despite having the independent report assuring its "a completely inert compound", none of them (not even Sir Humphrey) know enough about chemistry to understand it and instead panic over the meaning of the technical terms.
  • Self-Deprecation: The Permanent Secretaries talking about merging department responsibilities:
    Arts and Television together? What do they got to do with each other?
  • Self-Insert Fic: Possibly the only time the author of a Self-Insert Fic performed alongside the stars. Helps if you're Margaret Thatcher.
  • Separated by a Common Language: While making arrangements for a state funeral for Hacker's predecessor, Bernard states that delegations from the English-speaking nations won't be needing simultaneous interpreters. He then has to specify that the United States is generally considered an English-speaking nation.
  • Servile Snarker: Guess who?
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Sir Humphrey speaks in an overly long and complex fashion in order to flummox his political masters and thus maintain the Civil Service status quo — however, he's so used to speaking in such a fashion that at times he appears almost incapable of speaking clearly even when he genuinely wants to make himself clearly understood. At very least, he's reluctant to do so to an almost instinctive degree; a short answer could generally be dragged out of him and usually formed the punchline to a joke. For instance, here's how Humphrey confesses his sins:
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but, not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
    James Hacker: I beg your pardon?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: It was... I.
    • Very rarely, if it's absolutely imperative that he make a shatteringly blunt point, and after having exhausted all other linguistic tricks, Sir Humphrey will resort to direct language to show that he is dead serious. Memorably, after all other forms of persuasion have failed, he kindly but firmly tells the absolutely, unbendably resolute Hacker (who is dead-set on a course of action that will help absolutely no-one): "If you insist on doing this damn silly thing, don't do it in this damn silly way." Hacker is stopped dead in his tracks.
    • In the Hacker Diaries, the fictional diaries of Jim Hacker and novelization of the series, it is stated that he lived out the last of his days in a home for the elderly deranged when "advancing years, without in any way impairing his verbal fluency, disengaged the operation of his mind from the content of his speech."
  • Shadow Government: Regardless of who occupies 10 Downing at any given time, the actual business of governing the United Kingdom is done by the Civil Service, represented on the show by Sir Humphrey Appleby, who ably arranges things so that the Civil Service's interests are always maintained while any attempts to change the United Kingdom go nowhere.
  • Shout-Out: In Episode 1, when Hacker is wondering what, if any, cabinet job he's going to be offered, he asks out loud "What have I got?", and Annie Hacker snarks "Rhythm?" This is a reference to George Gershwin's song "I Got Rhythm", which would have been part of the cultural baggage of people of their generation, but forty years later it's arguably an example of Small Reference Pools.
    • Humphrey's line "The prime minister giveth, and the prime minister taketh away; blesséd be the name of the prime minister" is a parody of the second half of Job 1:21.
    • Humphrey's quote above in Analogy Backfire is from Meditation XVII of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne.
    • In "The Compassionate Society", when Humphrey is using the threat of industrial action to pressure Hacker into not firing non-medical hospital staff, he sings to himself a few lines of "I Shall Not Be Moved", an African-American spiritual which became popular in the civil rights era as a protest song.
  • Shown Their Work: The writers were inspired by a variety of sources, including sources inside government, published material and contemporary news stories. The writers also met several leading senior civil servants under the auspices of the Royal Institute of Public Administration, a think-tank for the public service sector, which led to the development of some plot lines.
    • In a programme screened by The BBC in early 2004, paying tribute to the series, it was revealed that Jay and Lynn had drawn on information provided by two insiders from the governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, namely Marcia Williams and Bernard Donoughue. The published diaries of Richard Crossman also provided inspiration. In particular the first of these describe his battles with "the Dame", his Permanent Secretary, the formidable Baroness Sharp, the first woman in Britain to hold the position.
    • "The Moral Dimension", in which Hacker and his staff engage in the scheme of secretly consuming alcohol on a trade mission to the fictional Islamic state of Qumran, was based on a real incident that took place in Pakistan, involving Callaghan and Donoughue, the latter of whom informed Jay and Lynn about the incident. Jay says that "I can't tell you where, I can't tell you when and I can't tell you who was involved; all I can tell you is that we knew that it had actually happened. That's why it was so funny. We couldn't think up things as funny as the real things that had happened."
    • Fusing inspiration and invention, Lynn and Jay worked on the story "for anything from three days to two weeks," and only took "four mornings to write all the dialogue. After we wrote the episode, we would show it to some secret sources, always including somebody who was an expert on the subject in question. They would usually give us extra information which, because it was true, was usually funnier than anything we might have thought up."
    • Designers Valerie Warrender and Gloria Clayton were given access to the Cabinet Rooms and the State Drawing Rooms. For security purposes, the arrangements of the rooms were altered, and the views from the windows were never shown, to conceal the layout of the buildings.
  • 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.
    • About the only time he fully embraces this trope is in "Party Games", where he blatantly lies to the public about the true nature of the sausage problem, so as to make himself look noble and principled enough to be a credible candidate for PM. When Bernard points out that he'll be telling the press things that aren't true, Hacker brushes this off.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty far to the cynical side of things, although the show is not entirely cynical
  • Slippery Slope Fallacy: One of the reasons Humphrey sometimes opposes his Minister. If Hacker's proposed policy proves to work on a small scale, then sooner or later someone will want to implement it on a larger scale, and on things that will impact the perks or operations of the civil service as a whole. The phrase "The thin end of the wedge" sees a lot of use, primarily from senior members of the Civil Service.
  • 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."
  • Smart People Know Latin: Both Sir Humphrey and Bernard were classically educated, and both therefore speak fluent Latin. Bernard is prone to interjecting with pedantic asides on Latin and Greek grammar, while Sir Humphrey agrees with Hacker that Latin is useless because "I can't even call on it in a conversation with the Prime Minister of Great Britain"note .
  • Smug Snake: Sir Frank Gordon, Permanent Secretary of the Treasury, who is twice as smug as Sir Humphrey and clearly wants his job (or, at least, his role as Head of the Civil Service), but lacks Sir Humphrey's keen manipulative skills.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: In "Man Overboard", Humphrey uses a non-swearing version of this to let Dudley the Employment Secretary realise that, due to existing administrative practices, his alleged intervention in an earlier cabinet discussion does not appear as part of the official record of the discussion and that he is, therefore, royally screwed:
    Dudley: Prime Minister, why was my request for a further discussion and your reply not minuted?
    [Hacker looks inquiringly at Humphrey]
    Humphrey: Prime Minister, it is characteristic of all committee discussions and decisions that every member has a vivid recollection of them and that every member’s recollection of them differs violently from every other member's recollection. Consequently, we accept the convention that the official decisions are those, and only those, which have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials, from which it emerges with an elegant inevitability that any decision which has been officially reached will have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials and any decision which is not recorded in the minutes has not been officially reached even if one or more members believe they can recollect it, so in this particular case, if the decision had been officially reached it would have been officially recorded in the minutes by the officials. And it isn’t so it wasn’t.
    • Also the classically educated, loquacious Bernard using the word 'tits'.
  • Soviet Superscience: In "The Grand Design", Sir Humphrey scares Hacker out of cancelling Trident nuclear defence:
    Sir Humphrey: The Soviets might develop a ballistic missile defence system which could intercept Polaris.
    Hacker: By when?
    Sir Humphrey: In strategic terms, any day now.
    Hacker: By what year precisely?
    Sir Humphrey: 2020 - but that's sooner than you think!
  • Speech-Centric Work
  • State Visit: "A Diplomatic Incident" involves Jim Hacker's predecessor as Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland dying. Thus Jim happily arranges a state funeral for him, specifically to give a cover for him to forge multiple diplomatic agreements with the visiting officials and dignitaries. However, problems emerge with the visiting French President who plans to stage an international incident by giving the Queen a gift he knows will be rejected (namely a puppy, thus breaching the UK's quarantine laws) thus humiliating them and giving the French the advantage in the upcoming channel tunnel negotiations. Jim is only saved by the President getting too arrogant and also trying to humiliate the British for rejecting his offer to have French policemen guard the embassy (Jim declining on the grounds that other nations would want the same privilege, and many would insist on carrying guns) by staging a bomb plot which intelligence manages to uncover, linking back to France.
  • The Stateroom Sketch: Done with a really small rail carriage and an endless series of visitors, one of whom is very fat (in this case Jumbo, Humphrey's counterpart at the Foreign Office).
  • Status Quo Is God:
    • It's 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."
    • 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.
  • Studio Audience: The show was very deliberately recorded in front of a live studio audiencenote .
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Due to the gap between the recording of the pilot episode and the full series, John Nettleton ended up being unavailable to play Sir Arnold Robinson, leading to his role for the rest of the first season being taken over by Sir Frederick "Jumbo" Stewart, played by John Savident. When it came to the second season, however, Savident wasn't available, but Nettleton was, leading to Sir Arnold returning and holding the role of Humphrey's direct superior for the remainder of Yes, Minister, and continuing to make occasional appearances in Yes, Prime Minister.
  • 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?
    • When Hacker wants to make a ministerial broadcast, he can't decide whether to wear his glasses (which would make him look authoritative) or not (which would make him look honest). He suggests a third option (starting with them off, and then putting them on) but that is rejected as making him look indecisive. Bernard facetiously suggests a fourth option: a monocle.
  • Take That!: According to Sir Humphrey, the architect of the Royal National Theatre (Sir Denys Lasdun, if you're interested) was given a knighthood purely so that people would stop saying that the Theatre looked like a carpet warehouse. For further reference, the theatre is a famous example of Brutalist architecture, an infamously austere and functional style commonly associated with post-war cheap high-rise estates and shopping centres.
    • Years after the show ended, and indeed long after the deaths of Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn wrote in 2016 a final ''Yes Minister'' sketch in which Sir Humphrey greets a new minister responsible for the legal aspects of Brexit. Sir Humphrey's attitude makes it clear that he does not have a very high opinion of the whole thing.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Jim and Humphrey rarely get along, but on the few occasions when they actually manage to agree on what their department's policy should be, they make an incredibly effective team.
  • 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.)
  • Think of the Children!: In "The National Education Service", Sir Humphrey is genuinely considering whether he should just let Hacker's education reform pass, because it was in the best interest of children. Sir Arnold puts him back in line, quite bluntly stating: "Nevermind the children!".
  • This Just In!: In "Party Games", the previous Prime Minister's retirement is announced on a TV newsflash.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: At the end of almost every episode.
  • 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.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Hacker begins the series as a careerist who wants to be in Cabinet, but he still has a strong idealistic streak and he wants to take firm stances on moral issues and policies he agrees or disagrees with. Gradually, however, his fears and concerns with votes and his job becomes and more his driving motivation, and by the time of the final season of Yes, Prime Minister he's stooped to undermining members of his own Cabinet and passing off their policies as his own, as well as suppressing news stories purely because they embarrass him and even lying about ever ordering such a thing, all the while insisting that it's just in the national interest because anything that is good for him is the national interest. In the first episode he is determined to uphold his Party's manifesto promise of Open Government, by the last episode he is bullying a civil servant into lying to protect Hacker's reputation after Hacker (unknowingly) lied to the House.
  • 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 Spın̈al 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.
    • In the very first episode, Hacker knows that Humphrey will be concealing important information from him by putting it at the bottom of the pile of papers in his red box, so that's where he looks for it first.note  This was a habit of King George VI: he always opened his red boxes upside down, because he suspected that the information the government least wanted him to know would be at the bottom of the pile.
  • 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.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Hacker tries to parody Humphrey's Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness by leaving a marginal note in a document that he knows that Humphrey will read, indicating his disdain for it: "Round Objects", i.e. "Balls". This backfires on him when Bernard informs him later on that Humphrey has replied to this comment with a query: "Who is Round and to what does he object?"
  • Verbal Tic: Whenever Hacker is in a situation where he starts to feel like he's really important, he starts talking... in the distinctive sing-song manner... of Winston Churchill, and uses Churchillian phrases like "our great island story".
  • Vice President Who?: Once he becomes PM, Hacker is horrified at the thought of being hosted by the American Vice President rather than the President, seeing it as a deliberate snub.
  • 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.
  • The Watson: Jim Hacker's personal private secretary Bernard, to whom Sir Humphrey is often obliged to explain how things really work in the civil service. Hacker also frequently has to explain to Bernard how things work from the political side of things. In other instances, Bernard has to explain to Hacker how things really work — often in order to help Hacker attempt to win the day.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: Narrowly prevented in 'The Devil You Know', when Sir Humphrey realises that a cabinet reshuffle could result in a far worse replacement for Hacker.
  • Westminster Chimes: The Theme Song is based on this motif.
  • Wicked Cultured: Sir Humphrey, if one thinks him wicked. Certainly he is enough of an antagonist-figure to rule out his being a Gentleman and a Scholar.
  • With Due Respect: Lampshaded
    "With due respect, Minister..."
    "That means without respect!"
  • Woken Up at an Ungodly Hour: In the episode "Big Brother", as Jim Hacker is working through the night, he telephones a sleeping Humphrey to ask about a trivial matter, egged on by his wife. In this call, he forgets to ask the question he had intended, just after hanging up. His wife tells him to wait ten minutes before calling back again.
  • Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Sir Humphrey's plan to get Hacker to doubt his initial appointment to the Bank of England in "A Conflict of Interest" (a man who he believes would expose their cover up of a serious banking scandal) is to express full and unwavering support of the appointment. "After all, it is necessary to get behind someone before you can stab them in the back."
  • Work Com
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: "The Tangled Web" shows us that, much as Humphrey might be an expert in political manipulation, he isn't media-savvy at all and doesn't realise that ending an interview isn't the same as switching off the microphone. After his compromising off-the-record chatter gets back to Number 10, Hacker - who has much more experience dealing with the media - is amazed that Humphrey should have fallen for such a basic trick.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The so-called "Rhodesia solution" from "The Whiskey Priest":-
    Bernard: I was just wondering, Minister, if we might not use the Rhodesia solution?
    Humphrey: [beat] Bernard, you excel yourself! Of course, Minister, the Rhodesia solution!
    Hacker: What are you talking about?
    Humphrey: Oil sanctions, remember? A member of the government was told about the way British companies were sanction-busting.
    Hacker: What did he do?
    Bernard: He told the Prime Minister.
    Hacker: What did he do?
    Humphrey: He told the Prime Minister in such a way that the Prime Minister didn't hear him.
    Hacker: What, d'you mean I should mumble it or something in the division lobby?
    Humphrey: No, Minister, you write a note.
    Hacker: In very faint pencil? Please, be practical.
    Humphrey: No, Minister, it's awfully obvious; you write a note which is susceptible to misinterpretation.
    Hacker: Oh, I see. "Dear Prime Minister, it has come to my attention that the Italian Red Terrorists are getting hold of British top secret bomb-making equipment" — how do you misinterpret that?
    Humphrey: You can't.
    Hacker: Well, exactly.
    Humphrey: So you don't write that. You use a more circumspect style, and you avoid any mention of bombs or terrorists or any of that sort of thing.
    Hacker: Wouldn't that be rather difficult? Is that what it's all about?
    Humphrey: You say — Bernard, write this down — "My attention has been drawn, on a personal basis, to information which suggests the possibility of certain irregularities under Section..." [snaps fingers]
    Bernard: Section 1 of the Import, Export and Customs Powers Defense Act 1939 C.
    Humphrey: Thank you, Bernard. You then go on to suggest that somebody else should do something about it. "Prima facie evidence suggests that there could be a case for further investigation; to establish whether or not, inquiries should be put in hand." And then you smudge it all over. "Nevertheless, it should be stressed that available information is limited, and relevant facts could be difficult to establish with any degree of certainty."
    Hacker: I see.
    Humphrey: Then, if there were an inquiry, you'd be in the clear, and everybody would understand that the busy PM might not have grasped the full implications of such a letter.
    Hacker: They certainly would; that's most unclear.
    Humphrey: Thank you, Minister. Then you arrange for the letter to arrive at Number 10 on the day the PM leaves for an overseas summit, so there's also doubt about whether it was the PM or the acting PM who read the note. And so the whole thing is written off as a breakdown in communications, everybody's in the clear, and everybody can get on with their business.
    Bernard: Including the Red Terrorists.
    Humphrey: Exactly.

The novelisations also provide examples of:

  • Direct Line to the Author: 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.
  • 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.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Discussed in the entry for "The National Education Service". Bernard notes that Sir Humphrey could have avoided all the trouble if he had just stuck to his argument about the changing needs of education in Britain. Instead, he got hung up on winning the argument for its own sake and made a key tactical error by arrogantly flaunting his own classical education in a way calculated to make Hacker feel stupid, thus strengthening Hacker's resolve to push through and beat him out of resentment.
  • Hypocrite:
    • In the chapter dealing with the events of "The Right To Know", Hacker's daughter furiously lambasts him for his disinterest in the fate of a badger colony that will lose protected status thanks to his department, and accuses him of believing in the ends justifying the means when he tries to defend himself. In his diary, Hacker notes that his daughter happens to be a Trotskyite, and as such can hardly take the high road when it comes to ideologies espousing that the ends justify the means.
    • The chapter related to "The Smoke Screen" sees Hacker get rather self-righteous concerning Humphrey's rather callous and amoral approach to government policy on cigarette smoking during their debate over whether or not to implement Dr Thorne's proposed reforms. The editors note that Hacker is also being rather hypocritical, given that his own diaries make it clear that he also has no intention of implementing Thorne's plans and is merely using them as leverage to achieve cuts he wants elsewhere.
  • Namesake Institution: The introductions are signed "Hacker College, Oxford", an institution presumably named in Hacker's honour.
  • Two First Names: Considered a warning sign by Sir Bernard (as he is now):
    Secondly, I have always had an instinctive distrust of people whose Christian names and surnames are reversible.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Dr. Cartwright is a mid-ranking civil servant in the DAA who plays a significant role in two episodes, both times making trouble for Sir Humphrey bey giving Hacker unbiased advice or accurate information. He never appears or is mentioned again, so Humphrey presumably managed to get him pushed out of the department.
  • "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."
    • A later tie-in book describes Sir Bernard's tenure as head of the Civil Service as unsuccessful because he was too conciliatory: "He came, he saw, he concurred."


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Yes Prime Minister


Yes Prime Minister

The series once again demonstrates the respect politicians have for the institution of 'recently dead'.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (12 votes)

Example of:

Main / NeverSpeakIllOfTheDead

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