Cross-Posted at Desicritics.org (my first post there)
A young man (I am speaking of ‘young’ in political sense) becomes a minister after years working for the party. When he takes charge of the department, he is faced with the Civil Service, wielding The Red Tape, who try to stop him from converting his dreams (of Open Governance) into reality. He almost falls prey to the system in his naivety, before fighting back with the (hidden) help of his trusted Private Secretary. In the process, he gets the coveted job of Prime Minister due (in true tradition of heroes) to a lucky chance and some conniving protagonists. Due partly to his increased standing in and understanding of The System, helped in part by his trusted Secretary and some mistakes on part of the protagonists, he is finally able to emerge triumphant.
Does that sound like a typical Bollywood (or even in some cases Hollywood), angry-young-man-within-the-system story to you? Then let me give you the names of principle characters: The (not so) young hero(?) of the story is known as Rt. Hon. Jim Hacker, his trusted (and often confused) Private Secretary is Bernard Woolley (later Sir) and the principle protagonist representing The System, The Red Tape (in short, The Civil Service) is Sir Humphrey Appleby.
Now, some people might have guessed from this what I am talking about. Yes, I am talking about the British comedy series, “Yes, Minister” which later turned into “Yes, Prime Minister”.
The story of “Yes, Minister” starts with Jim Hacker becoming minister for Department of Administrative Affairs (which is basically department of civil servants governing civil servants in other departments). Sir Humphrey Appleby is the Permanent Secretary of the department, and hence responsible for the running of the department. In his opinion, given any minister’s inclination to remain “popular” among populace and the fact that any minister is normally active for less than a year (first ½ years learning the working of department, last year preparing for coming elections, not counting department changes) it is upto civil servants to run the department (and hence, country).
Bernard Woolley is the rising star in the civil service, and hence to check if he can handle pressure, he is appointed as the Principle Private Secretary to the minister. His role is to be loyal to the minister, while remaining loyal to the civil service (and his boss, Sir Humphrey) of which he is a part. In short, when Jim Hacker once asks him with whom he stands in a moment of conflict between civil service and the minister, he answers, “my job is to make sure such a condition does not occur”.
But, unfortunately for him, the condition occurs frequently, right from the start of the minister’s (and later Prime Minister’s) term. Minister’s policies to become popular are almost always contrary to smooth running of the department (as is commented by Sir Humphrey), and Bernard is always left confused by his boss’ attitude towards minister and the information as shared with minister.
At the start, Jim Hacker is a wily political operator, but completely ignorant in being a “minister” (as Sir Humphrey comments when asked by him once what he does not know, “I don’t know where to start, minister”). Hence, he often makes a policy decision, which results in some heartburn to the Permanent Secretary, which results in considerable confusion to the Principle Private Secretary as to his role in helping the minister and keeping the information from his as dictated by his civil service boss. The tightrope walking often leaves him feeling disoriented, the condition not helped by his pedagogical approach to correct usage of terms conflicting with the minister’s often use of mixed metaphors. This results more than often in Sir Humphrey getting his own way, running circles around the minister with his smooth use of “civilese” (the language used by civil servants all over the world)
Later in the story though, Jim Hacker starts getting hang of the civilese (he gets to know what exactly I meant when a particular policy is “interesting” as against to “courageous”, and who is on our side, Foreign Office or White House), and is shocked to find that he is “housetrained”. But then, he uses his newfound knowledge of the “mysterious” workings of the civil service to turn some events his own way. Bernard also gets adept at making up “hypothetical” situations which helps him keeping conversations between him and the minister as confidential as the conversations between him and Sir Humphrey, while being able to pass complete information. And Sir Humphrey is often left saying “Yes, Minister” (“Yes, Prime Minister” is more frequently used in this case) to minister’s making a final policy decision.
The typical british humour comes from Sir Humphrey’s use of “Baily school” language (“…the individual in question is…, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.” means “it was… I”), Jim Hacker’s use of mixed metaphors (“When a country is going downhill, it is time for someone to get into the driving seat, and put his foot on the accelerator.”) and Bernard’s attempts to correct Jim Hacker (“I think you mean brakes”) and get the understanding of the system from Sir Humphrey.
Of course, the series are also converted into books, which have some more opportunities for humour, as they are written as edited diaries of Jim Hacker. Hence, all the narrative is from Hacker’s point of view, while the conversations between other characters take place as either direct conversations or (more fun) as a series of “notes” from one character to other.
All in all, pick up any book, or start watching any episode, and don’t blame me if Sir Humphrey has you convinced that “[winking at corruption] could never be government policy. That is unthinkable. Only government practice.”
And hence, we have no doubt in awarding this series with “The Amye Award“…
Quote of The Day:
Jim Hacker: “Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Humphrey is not God, okay.”
Bernard Woolley: “Will you tell him or shall I?”