It is not uncommon for writers of britcoms to supplement a successful television series with a text-based adaptation, and such is indeed what writers Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay have done with Yes Minister (and its sequel, Yes Prime Minister). It is uncommon, however, to find such a good one.
Every bit as erudite and witty as the series upon which it is based, The Complete Yes Minister (originally published in 1984 and subtitled The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister), is ostensibly by the Right Hon. James Hacker MP (with Lynn and Jay serving merely as humble editors!). The year is 2019–and no this is NOT science fiction! Although Hacker kept a daily diary of his experiences and opinions whilst in office in the 1980s, the subsequent passage of time has resulted in the expiration of the Thirty-Year Rule. What this means is that the editors (who are writing from Hacker College, Oxford, by the way!) now conveniently have access to (and are able to publish) copies of all the memos and minutes written by Sir Humphrey Appleby (amongst others)–copies of which are included in the book, thereby providing us with a perspective other than Hacker’s rather narrow (and, at least initially, innocent) one.
The book commences (as one would expect!) with the “Editors’ Note.” Lynn and Jay elaborate on the problems they encountered in editing the Diaries and how these were dealt with. Nevertheless, they admit it falls to us ultimately to decide for ourselves whether Hacker’s account represents: “(a) what happened, (b) what he believed happened, (c) what he would like to have happened, (d) what he wanted others to believe happened, or (e) what he wanted others to believe that he believed happened”! The editors also include a note of thanks to Sir Humphrey (whose last days were spent in St. Dympna’s Hospital for the Elderly Deranged!) for information gleaned from conversations which were held with him “before the advancing years, without in any way impairing his verbal fluency, disengaged the operation of his mind from the content of his speech.”
The Diaries themselves are divided into twenty-one chapters (one chapter per episode) with 20 to 30 pages each (there are 514 pages in all). Of course there is dialogue (from Hacker’s recollection), but the Diaries comprise so much more. The inclusion of copies of memos, letters, interviews, newspaper clippings, entries from Sir Humphrey’s own diary, not to mention the recollections of Sir Bernard Woolley (from conversations with the editors) make for a far more dynamic, fun book than if the writers had merely presented us with the series’ scripts. The format also allows for so much of Hacker’s thoughts to be included–much of which we as viewers were never privy to. Finally, the Diaries are liberally annotated by the editors with helpful, humorously phrased bits of background information often pertaining to government workings or terminology–bits that are additional to the television series.
Of course, it is being a fan of the television series and having watched it with such enjoyment that makes this book (a UK publication) such a gem as we picture Hacker, Sir Humphrey, etc., in our mind’s eye. But it is so creatively written, with all the original wit (and more), that it’s a superb book in its own right–one which I’d recommend to anyone looking for an intelligent, hilariously witty, pun-filled book–one that also happens to offer a wealth of insight into the inner workings of the parliamentary system of government. For those, however, for whom this richly witty, intelligent series is a favourite, this book (together with it’s sequel) really is a must-have, and I recommend it every bit as highly as the superb series upon which it is based!
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Yes Prime Minister is that rarest of books. It is based on a TV show, itself hilarious, and yet manages to be even better than the show. Whereas the show descends into slapstick and exaggerated humour at times, the book does not miss a step. The plots are wonderfully woven, the characters all superbly crafted and uniformly shallow and the writing is impeccable – there are never two words when one will do, and the characters will stay with you long after the first (of many) reading(s). I suspect in years to come, when some distance can be put between the book and it’s times, it will be recognised as one of the all time comedy classics. Buy it now!
The complete Yes, Minister & Yes, Prime Minister series is absolutely brilliant!! The inner workings of the Civil Service are brought to light in a form that is both humourous and witty. This is genre-defining political satire, and reading the book and watching the shows have provided me with hours of immense pleasure, as well as insight into what really goes on in the corridors of power.