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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 (1980-1988) is a British Sitcom 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, in which Jim Hacker became PM. 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 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 Britain's Best Sitcom, the show has quite a legacy. Humphrey the cat, the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office from 1989 to 1997, was named for Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Any modern commentary on the civil service will almost certainly reference the series; a BBC look at Cabinet Secretaries through history was entitled "The Real Sir Humphrey", and interviews with the living office holders show they are intimately aware of the series' finest moments, and "Yes Ministerism" is even used to describe when civil servants are said to be controlling matters, and even in 2012 creating a "mock interview in the name of Sir Humphrey Appleby as a doyen of Whitehall" (voiced by Michael Simkins from the stage version).


The Thick of It is a sort of Spiritual Successor.

This show provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • Adorkable: Bernard and his "Gosh." and "Crikey." and occasionally speaking at length about etymology.
  • 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 Permanant 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 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.
  • 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, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, Bernard.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: In "Official Secrets", Prime Minister Hacker's predecessor is writing his memoirs, which will be very embarrassing for Hacker, when, in the next episode ("A Diplomatic Incident") he suddenly drops dead from a heart attack. When Hacker learns the news, and just before he remembers that he's supposed to act with dignified shock and grief, for a moment he has the biggest, happiest grin we've ever seen on his face.
  • 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) Oh 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.
  • 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, with an unusual mid-series name change.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bad Boss: It's stated in the series and especially the books that Hacker and the then Prime Minister had a somewhat adversarial relationship (Hacker having run a rival contender's in-party campaign for nomination as Prime Minister – and while they lost to the PM, he still holds a grudge). Indeed, it's stated that the reason Hacker was appointed to the Department of Administrative Affairs when he'd been the Shadow Agriculture Minister for seven years was because the DAA was considered 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 Eddington, Hawthorne and Fowlds. Whatever political discussions do occur are either good natured, in keeping with the humour of the show or just kept down to a minimum. You get the odd exception, but considering how heated political discussions can get, it's actually quite refreshing.
    • It helps that the satire is focused on the political machine, with the actual politics being fairly incidental to the thrust of the episode. The series avoids stating which party Jim Hacker belongs to, and there are never any scenes from in the House of Commons.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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" Is Such an Ugly Word: Sir Humphrey is usually adamant, that he is not resorting to dirty tricks. Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness ensues.
    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?
  • 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?
    Woolley: "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.
  • Bulungi: Buranda, referred to on the show as a TPLAC: "Tinpot Little African Country".
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: In "The Bishop's Gambit", Humphrey and the Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office watch a news report about a British nurse held prisoner in an Islamic country, who the plot of the episode revolves around. Just before Humphrey turns the TV off, the newsreader is heard saying "The pound had another bad day..."
  • 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: Nearly every episode ends with someone saying "Yes, Minister" (or "Yes, Prime Minister" in Yes, Prime Minister)
    • "Oh, very droll, _____."
    • Similarly, Sir Humphrey's and Sir Arnold's "thin end of the wedge."
    • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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 something of similar dignity, and will not be performing your regular duties until cleared, 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".
  • 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.
  • 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 the 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).
  • 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".
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Yes, Prime Minister was written to have Hacker sitting down most of the scenes and shot so as to help conceal the fact that Eddington was suffering from skin cancer.
  • 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?
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first episode, filmed before a full series was commissioned, features very different opening and closing credits to the rest of the series, with somewhat more realistic line drawings of Eddington, Hawthorne, and Fowlds (as well as Diane Hoddinott as Annie Hacker, 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.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: What is Sir Humphrey's nickname? "Humpy".
  • 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.
  • 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 dull financial crime by using the numerical designations of the laws being violated.
  • 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.
  • Eye Take: Humphrey's reaction whenever Hacker has a particularly ambitious, unexpected, and ill-advised idea.
  • Face Palm: Sir Humphrey does a horrified double face-palm in "Big Brother", when Hacker goes ahead with announcing his plans for database safeguards on live TV.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: "Quad Erat Demonstrandum."
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Sir Humphrey and Hacker, whilst both giving lip service to the good of Britain are both patently in it for their own ends, and the benefit of the Civil Service or the Party respectively. Hacker is slightly more sympathetic, as he actually possesses a conscience, but ignores it when it becomes politically inconvenient, as opposed to Humphrey, who 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 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 scenario 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 Humphrey.
    Humphrey: That was not a compliment!
  • 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 indiscrete 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 similarly pointless but incredibly well-compensated job with the European Union; apparently, there is a point where the quality of the gravy train makes being kicked upstairs worth it.
  • 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 "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.
  • 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.
  • Metaphorgotten: Bernard often pulls a thread on Hacker's metaphors, unravelling or derailing them completely.
  • Napoleon Delusion: When Hacker finds out that he's to be Prime Minister, his first reaction is silent incredulity, then fear, then awe, until finally he squares his jaw, sticks his hand inside his jacket and stares off heroically into the middle distance, as this trope. 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.
    • 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 practising 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.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: In "A Victory for Democracy", a rare triumph for Hacker when he prevents a Carribbean island from being invaded, 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.
  • Not So Different: In "Power to the People", Sir Humphrey, pillar of the establishment, demonstrates to the militant socialist Agnes Moorhouse that their views on democracy aren't that far apart at all. 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.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Premise of series (with special award given for civil service). Exemplified by Humphrey's admission that there are often complications:
    Hacker: Humphrey, can you ever give me a straight answer? A plain "yes" or "no"?
    Sir Humphrey: Well... yes and no.
  • Oh, Crap!: Hacker goes on television and announces not only that the data protection safeguards Sir Humphrey has been blocking will be introduced, but that Sir Humphrey has staked his reputation on it. Sir Humphrey is watching the broadcast, and his expression is a picture.
  • 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).
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 500 admin 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 that he ends up bellowing "HUMPHREY! THERE ARE NO! PATIENTS!" at him.
  • 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 Muslim country based on a Gulf Arab state — in fact, the scene where Hacker and his staff secretly consume alcohol was based on a real-life incident that happened on a British diplomatic visit to Pakistan.
    • In "The Bishop's Gambit" a British nurse was sentenced to several lashes for possessing a bottle of whiskey, which provokes a miniature crisis as the government does not want to push too hard as the Qumranis are described as great friends of Britain, letting them know what the Soviets were up to in Iraq, allowing listening posts to be set up for Britain's use, and even sabotaging Opec agreements for them.
    • Another possible Qurac in "A Victory for Democracy" is "The People's Democratic Republic of East Yemen" (as well as its twin, West Yemen), although the name suggests that it is rather a Marxist dictatorship than an emirate or a theocracy, though at the time of production there was, in fact, a "People's Democratic Republic of Yemen" which was a Marxist/Socialist state and was to the south of "Yemen Arab Republic."
  • Reassigned to Antarctica:
    • Bernard (and occasionally Sir Humphrey) is occasionally threatened with reassignment to the Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea — not that Hacker would send him there (not having the power to do so), but Humphrey's inevitable Fate if they cannot jointly avert various impending crises.
    • The most common threat is being sent Oop North. One episode resolves around a mass reassignment of defence personnel there, uniting every senior officer and civil servant who wanted to be near Harrods and Wimbledon against it. Bernard reacts in horror at being even a head of department in Lossiemouth. He thought it was a kind of dog food.
    • Hacker's worry about being assigned to Northern Ireland is not an example of this, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was and is based in London, but the post was regarded as one of the most troublesome in the cabinet and one of the few which carried a significant risk of assassination, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.
    • In "The Bishop's Gambit" it's revealed that the bishopric of Truro is a similar position for the Church of England; because it's 'very remote' it's where they like to send their more troublesome or irritating bishops (such as those who are either utterly incompetent or actually vocally believe in God).
    • 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.
  • Revival: As a stage show in 2011.
  • Ripped from the Headlines/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.
  • Running Gag: The fact that Hacker's studies at the LSE don't compare to the Oxbridge education of Sir Humphrey.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Pretty far to the cynical side of things, although the show is not entirely cynical
  • 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.
  • Soviet Superscience: In "The Grand Design", Sir Humphrey scare 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
  • 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 .
  • Take a Third Option: In "Party Games," Hacker becomes the kingmaker in the battle to select his party's new leader (and therefore Prime Minister), and his decision pretty much comes down to whether he'd prefer to be the next Chancellor of the Exchequer or the next Foreign Secretary. Bernard persuades him that neither of those is really that desirable, and persuades him to take the third option — become the Prime Minister himself. Also played with when Hacker, initially believing the 'third option' Bernard is pushing him towards is Home Secretary, makes it clear that even he's aware that that option isn't worth it:
    Hacker: Home Secretary? Responsible for all the muggings, jailbreaks and race riots?
  • Tender Tears: Hacker, apparently, as he starts crying in "Party Games" when he believes Humphrey is telling him that he's dying, and then wears an embarrassed Tearful Smile once the misunderstanding is cleared up. (It's more hilarious than it sounds.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Unfettered: Sir Humphrey. He is, as Hacker puts it, a "moral vacuum", and freely admits he is unconcerned with anything but the continued operation of the government and its policies, whoever and whatever they may be.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Depends on whether you think Sir Humphrey's the villain, but whenever something comes up that he didn't anticipate his default response is panicked, spluttering incoherence.
    • This can lead into Woobie territory on occasion: by the end of "The Key", Sir Humphrey has been forced to eat Humble Pie and begs Hacker, on the verge of tears, to let him have his key back.
    • According to annotations in the published 'memoirs', Humphrey did end up going completely mad in his old age. It's implied that Hacker was the main cause.
  • 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.
  • Westminster Chimes: The Theme Song is based on this motif.
  • Whitehall and No. 10 Downing St.
  • 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!"
  • 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.

The novelisations also provide examples of:

  • Downer Ending: In contrast to the TV series, due to the order of events being changed around. The last episode of Yes, Prime Minister, "A Tangled Web" ended with Hacker gaining leverage over Humphrey, in the form of a tape recording of him admitting to a simple partial solution to unemployment that no politicians have the balls to take any action on. The last chapter of the novelisation, "The National Education Service" ends not only with Hacker's plan for the Department of Education falling apart, but with this:
    My plans were turning to dust. Like all my plans. Suddenly I saw, with a real clarity that I'd never enjoyed before, that although I might win the occasional policy victory, or make some reforms, or be indulged with a few scraps from the table, nothing fundamental was ever ever going to change.
  • 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 arrogantly flaunted 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.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The books are presented as being derived from the private tapes of Hacker, Appleby's memos released under the 30-year rule, and after-the-fact interviews with Woolley and minor characters. The "editors' notes" also act as a kind of Framing Device.
  • 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.
  • "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."


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Yes Prime Minister


Yes Minister

Yes, even an overly verbose government procedural is allowed to have a Christmas episode once in a while.

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