It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 40 years since co-creators, Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn wrote the unbelievably brilliant British comedy, Yes Minister, and that it is more relevant today than when it first originated. Long praised for being accurate as well as funny, Lynn and Jay created brilliance out of a simple idea consisting of, as the writers put it, three elderly men sitting around talking about government while basing it on the premise that real power was held by civil servants rather than ministers.
For further proof that life does imitate art or vice versa, Yes Minister co-creator Jonathan Lynn has written a new stage play featuring Jim Hacker and Humphrey Appleby some 40+ years after the series premiered in February 1980 on BBC2.
I’m Sorry, Prime Minister, I Can’t Quite Remember will run at the Barn Theatre in Cirencester from 25th September to 4th November 2023 showing how former PM Jim Hacker and Cabinet Secretary Humphrey Appleby are “faring in their old age and in the woke era”, miles away from Whitehall.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Lynn revealed why it’s time to bring YM back after 40+ years with Hacker working at Oxford university. As one can all-too-easily envision, he is ousted as its Master after one too many gaffes. The storyline continues as “He has declared himself in favor of keeping the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel College and opined that the British did more good than harm in India. Tended to by Sophie, his care worker, a thirtysomething black woman who once studied English at the college, he calls in Humphrey from his retirement home to save him from cancellation”
Commenting on his new work, Lynn said, “I wanted to write the final chapter about Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby, now in their 80s, discarded, ignored, watching today’s world with utter bewilderment. An elegiac play about old age and loss – loss of power, loss of influence, loss of friends, loss of family. The only play I’ve ever seen on this theme is King Lear. This will be funnier.”
The original series was actually written in 1979 before a very pivotal election in the UK between Margaret Thatcher and James Callaghan. As the story goes, the BBC seemed quite concerned that the series would premiere during the election and touch on an issue that could sway the vote one way or another. The BBC decided to delay the series premiere until after the Thatcher victory and the series premiered on BBC2 in 1980.
While no parties were ever mentioned, the series follows a general election in which the incumbent party is defeated by the party that Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) MP belongs. The Prime Minister then appoints Hacker as the new Minister of Administrative Affairs. His first day on the job, Hacker meets his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Sir Nigel Hawthorne) and his Principal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds).
If you ever doubt that the series is more relevant today than it was four decades ago, just have a listen as Sir Humphrey waxes eloquently on the ‘proper function of Government’. You’ll quickly see just how much truth there is in comedy and Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay have created the perfect truth.
Alongside Fawlty Towers, Yes Minister is one of the primary examples of British comedy perfection. The combination of the writing that was absolutely brilliant and the greatness that was Paul Eddington, Sir Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds has made this a classic for years to come and one that, in the age of remakes, I hope will never be re-made.
Reflecting on the success of their original program, Lynn commented: “It had none of the ingredients of a successful TV show – three middle-aged men sitting around talking about government. It was about the relation between politicians and the civil service. No action, no sex, virtually no women. We thought we’d be attacked on all sides of the political spectrum, but the opposite happened.”
Thankfully, the masterful work of Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay made it past BBC commissioners and continues to live on better today than ever. Happy 43rd, Yes Minister!