Yes, Minister?

I spent a very pleasant hour during the evening watching an old episode of the classic BBC comedy series, Yes Minister. The series was, as I quickly remembered, a true classic: wonderful acting by Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, genuinely funny themes, and underneath it all some quite serious analysis of how the political system (in this case of the UK) works. The basic themes of the show were that professional politics is almost all vanity and no substance, that civil servants determine actual political events, and that they arrange these to suit their wholly conservative instincts.

But despite what one might think of as a rather cynical outlook on the corridors of power, the series actually showed the affectionate view that its writers had of politics and politicians. There is almost a sense of conspiracy between the writers and the viewer, promoting the idea that the real work of government is done incrementally and rationally, and that the unpredictable big ideas embraced occasionally by politicians are destabilising and foolish.

Political comedy and satire, when done in a subtle manner, can have a profound impact on the practise of government. Yes Minister opened up many eyes to the consequences of the bureaucratisation of government and the ultimate impossibility of accountability when the elite are so pre-occupied with managing information and news.

Good political satire is sadly missing right now. And that is a serious issue, because democracy works better when subjected to criticism by knowing looks rather than always just loud hectoring. The leading actors of Yes Minister are unfortunately both now dead; but maybe an idea for a new political comedy is being pursued somewhere. Certainly, it is worth the effort.

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8 Comments on “Yes, Minister?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Eircom it their goodness enabled the exchange so I can indulge in an orgy of comedy clips some not even known to man. Most of the Comedy is very good indeed and we Irish are on the very highest reaches with Dylan Moran not even on the earth. But one thing that struck me was the strident need to be on the cutting edge. The error last year with A Sachs came mostly from being blind to everything except that need.
    Satire is a different animal, there is very little new in the technique only its target. But as Ireland is so very small, it is an Art that can be done by the very wealthy or the old. It is a constant wonder to me that the Phoenix exists at all and I feel that even them have pulled back on the throttle they do not seem to know what to do with BIFFO and crew.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    Political satire is certainly valuable but it can be hard to do. RTE’s latest effort “Val Falvey TD” seems pretty lame (sorry, Dougal).

  3. Liam Delaney Says:

    Yes Minister was perfect. The BBC show “The Thick of it” has some great moments but doesn’t come close in terms of structure. The nearest thing to the combination of hardhitting satire and humour in Yes Minister are the sketches of Bird and Fortune (both of whom appeared in some YM episodes). There are a number of versions of their “subprime sketch”. The one below is therapeutically funny.

  4. Liam Delaney Says:

    ok, just one more. the depiction of a Conservative MP of the old school – perfection, sheer perfection. “People go in to politics for different reasons. Little dave wants to save the world, that sort of thing, ride his bicycle.”

  5. Liam Delaney Says:

    Next year’s budget

  6. Ciarán Says:

    Gift Grub, on Today FM’s Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show, can occasionally be wonderfully subversive and well-judged. Unfortunately, it suffers from being a daily show; it can be rather hit and miss. Still, they have the occasional rather nice segment, such as the other day when there was an amusing offering featuring prominent members of the main parties turning the air blue in the Dáil.

    For me, though, nothing matches the wonderfully intemperate and hard-hitting Bill Hicks for political comedy. Since he tragically died in the mid-90s, a lot of his material is now a little out of date in specifics, but his view of the absurdities of human nature is as relevant as ever,

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