An instant classic when it was first broadcast on BBC Two in the United Kingdom in 1980, a big hit in India, where it was shown on the state-run Doordarshan, and a favourite on Whatsapp groups to this day, Yes Minister is the gift that will never stop giving. As governments around the world seemed to turn their backs on their citizens, elected heads of state behaved like imperious emperors of yore and fake news was passed off the real thing, the British political satire proved its relevance – and its ability to split the sides.
Written by Antony Jay and Jonathon Lynn and produced during the Thatcherite years (the former prime minister was reportedly a big fan too), Yes Minister focuses on dimwitted but politically canny minister Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) and his efforts to push policies past his controlling Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Sir Nigel Hawthorne). Appleby is intelligent and manipulative, supercilious towards Hacker and a master of verbal obfuscation. Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds) plays a foil to both men, sometimes contributing his own bit of mayhem.
The tussle between Hacker and Appelby is not unlike the frequent runs-in between Indian public servants and ministers (at least, this was the case in the pre-Narendra Modi era). Appleby’s high-level scuttling and Hacker’s counter-moves continued into the sequel, Yes Prime Minister. Both seasons hold lessons on the true nature of government, the behind-the-scenes actions that influence public policy, and the machinations of power. Perhaps few episodes capture Appelby’s butter-smooth blocking of a committee’s recommendations than the one in which he ties up Hacker’s rivals in political knots with a monologue in which he says a lot and nothing at all. Has anything changed at all?