Author(s): McCann Graham
The behind-the-scenes story of one of the most successful and admired sitcoms of the 1980s
In 1977 the BBC commissioned a new satirical sitcom set in Whitehall. Production of its first series was stalled, however, by the death throes of Jim Callaghan's Labour government and the 'Winter of Discontent'; Auntie being unwilling to broadcast such an overtly political comedy until after the general election of 1979.
That Yes Minister should have been delayed by the very events that helped bring Margaret Thatcher to power is, perhaps, fitting. Over three series from 1980 - and two more as Yes, Prime Minister until 1988 - the show mercilessly lampooned the vanity, self-interest and incompetence of our so-called public servants, making its hapless minister Jim Hacker and his scheming Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey two of the most memorable characters British comedy has ever produced. The new prime minister professed it her favourite television programme - a 'textbook' on the State in inaction - and millions of British viewers agreed.
In the years since Yes Minister has become a national treasure: Sir Humphrey's slippery circumlocutions have entered the lexicon, regularly quoted by political commentators, and the series' cynical vision of government seems as credible now as it did thirty years ago.
Much of this success can be credited to its writers, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, who drew on their contacts in Westminster to rework genuine political folly as situation comedy. Storylines that seemed absurd to the public were often rooted in actual events - so much so that they occasionally attracted the scrutiny of Whitehall mandarins.
In A Very Courageous Decision acclaimed entertainment historian Graham McCann goes in search of the real political fiascos that inspired Yes Minister. Drawing on fresh interviews with cast, crew, politicians and admirers, he reveals how a subversive satire captured the mood of its time to become one of the most cherished sitcoms of Thatcher's Britain.