Yes Minister - Series One  [DVD]
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All seven episodes of the classic BBC sitcom. In 'Open Government', the Rt Hon Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington), newly appointed Minister for Administrative Affairs, finds his idealism challenged from the start. 'The Official Visit' has Jim receiving an African President who turns out to be a friend from his university days. 'The Economy Drive' sees Jim attempt to initiate an economy drive within the Civil Service. 'Big Brother' finds Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne) concerned about a new National Integrated Database. 'The Writing on the Wall' has Jim consider the introduction of identity cards. 'The Right to Know' sees Sir Humphrey bothered by the controversy surrounding an endangered badger colony. Finally, in 'Jobs for the Boys', Jim seeks help from a banker when a pet project seems near to collapse.
The first series of the elegant sitcom-cum-farce-cum-sophisticated political satire Yes Minister, setting off Paul Eddington's Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs, against Nigel Hawthorne's discreetly obstructive civil servant Sir Humphrey. Series One features the pilot episode, "Open Government", curious in that it contains different and distinctly inferior opening and closing credits to the rest of the series. You also sense that Mrs Hacker was originally intended to have a larger role, with comedy focussing on the clash between political and domestic commitments, until the writers wisely decided to focus on the stand-off between Jim and Sir Humphrey, with Derek Fowlds' mousy private secretary Bernard making occasional interjections.
While the series doesn't quite come fully to light--Sir Humphrey is at times a little too sinister for sitcom consumption--all the classic features quickly show up. Hacker's occasional Churchillian bombast, followed by panicky blank double-takes when flummoxed, Sir Humphrey's unflappable verbosity as he brings the dead weight of civil service bureaucracy to bear against Hacker's naively optimistic schemes for open government, Quangos and slashing red tape in episodes like "The Economy Drive". Ironic, that when this was first screened in the 80s, it was during the rampages of early Thatcherism in which Government had never been less like the ineffectual politicking satirised here.
On the DVD: Full screen, no special features except scene selection and straightforward text profiles of the principal actors here. --David Stubbs
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The first season, which first aired in 1980 during the Thatcher years, follows the government career of James Hacker, MP, newly appointed Minister to the political career “graveyard” Department of Administrative Affairs. Enthusiastic, fundamentally honest and well-meaning, he looks forward to finally being able to fix the endemically wasteful and bureaucracy-bound government machinery. He immediately clashes with his smooth but manipulative Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, whose agenda is invariably the opposite of what the Minister wants, and who very quickly shows him that ministers are nothing more than temporary and replaceable figure-heads, while the real power resides within the civil service hierarchy.
Hacker's Private Secretary Bernard Woolley is a charming fellow caught in the middle, always trying to balance his loyal duty to his current Minister with his permanent position within the departmental structure. The fact that he's prone to bungling, often speaks before thinking, and is addicted to mixed metaphors all add to the comedic value of his persona. Other supporting characters within the government are equally excellent, while Jim Hacker's wife plays a balancing role, often reminding him of his core ethical principles and thus heightening his conflicts of interest.
It's amazing how well these vignettes have aged. The games of partisan politics and the intrigues of civil servant interference in the running of government have not changed a bit, if anything some of these storylines have proved prophetic. Ultimately, it's all about that impossible balancing act of doing the right thing, in the face of innumerable obstacles. Very often, the ethical choice threatens to unleash a Pandora's box of disastrous consequences, rendering the Minister putty in the hands of the diabolically clever Sir Humphrey, who most of the time succeeds in foiling Hacker's best efforts, closing each episode with a smug, “Yes Minister”.
The acting is absolutely brilliant. I especially love Nigel Hawthorne who was a past master at making each diverse character he played his own. His portrayal of Sir Humphrey Appleby, serpent-sleek, Machiavellian in his scheming, but ultimately fallible and occasionally vulnerable to defeat, is absolute classic. His part also required remarkable feats of mental agility for the exceedingly long and intricate soliloquies of which there was at least one per episode. Paul Eddington also delivers an unforgettable performance as the swayable, flip-flopping political animal who, despite his basically good intentions, seldom finds any solid backbone to carry through his plan. But when he does, we all cheer and delight in Sir Appleby's discomfiture. Derek Fowlds is delightfully meek and bendable, sailing serenely through the daily conflict of his position, and frequently getting into a muddle from which either Appleby or Hacker have to rescue him.
There are hundreds of quotable lines that have become classics of ridiculous or sublime reasoning, but since we have just started watching from the beginning again, I particularly like this description of one of Hacker's university pals: “He's the sort of person who follows you into a revolving door and comes out first.”
A first-rate and highly insightful social commentary on politics, government, expediency and the human psyche, reminding us of what even the most upstanding character is capable of when sufficient pressure is applied. Picture quality is not great, but consistent with the source material of that period. I have since bought the complete box set of the five seasons of “Yes Minister” and “Yes Prime Minster” but this was my first DVD purchase of the series, which includes the first seven episodes.
Excellent performances from all the actors and every plot has its parrallels in todays politics. A must buy for lovers of political satire.
Full of great lines and superb acting. I'll watch it again and again and...
Anyone who has dealt with Government will recognise his experiences.
Unfortunately the technical quality is not the best, the print quality looks like VHS and no subtitles means you could lose some of the humour as it is entirely verbal.
Still a must add to any collection of classic comedies.I look forward to the rest of the series being made available on DVD.
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