It is high time this outstanding britcom (plus its sequel, Yes Prime Minister) was released in its entirety on DVD, but it was well worth the wait for the BBC has done an outstanding job. It contains all twenty-one 30-minute episodes (which ran from 1980 through 1982) in a beautifully packaged four-disc set. The quality of the picture is very crisp and clear for a 20-year-old production (I know I’VE never seen it look so good!), and the DVD extras are a real treat.
This is an intelligent, extremely well-written series–a satire of the inner workings of government. Sources within the government provided the writers with all the fodder they needed, and it is highly accurate in its depiction of the corruption, politics, red tape, and manipulation that forms an integral part of the administration of government (ANY government, mind you–which is what gives this series such universal appeal). Indeed, Margaret Thatcher, herself a fan of the series, referred to it as being a “closely observed portrayal of what goes on in the corridors of power.”
The series opens with Jim Hacker (played by the late Paul Eddington (Good Neighbours), who sadly died of skin cancer in 1995 at age 68), who has just won the parliamentary seat for his riding (his party has won the election), being appointed as the new Minister of Administrative Affairs. Now that he’s in a position of power (or so he thinks!), Hacker has high hopes for making some positive changes–things like instituting an open government policy, linking honours to economies for civil servants, and so on. But he’s thwarted at every corner by he who wields the real power–the cunning, quick-witted, hilariously verbose and extremely manipulative civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby–the DAA’s Permanent Secretary (the late Nigel Hawthorne (The Madness of King George, Mapp & Lucia)). Lastly is Hacker’s Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley (Derek Fowlds (Heartbeat)). Bernard is a likeable, pun-loving, unassuming character with conflicting loyalties. He is himself a civil servant, and though there are times when he’d like to assist Hacker in achieving his goals, he must exercise extreme caution in doing so lest Sir Humphrey find out!
DVD EXTRAS include a splendid 42-minute profile of the late Nigel Hawthorne who, having battled cancer of the pancreas for eighteen months, sadly died on Boxing Day 2001. He was 72. The profile was filmed over four months in 1999, during the period when Hawthorne was preparing to play King Lear for the RSC. The series provides a brief bio with photos and snippets of other productions in which he’s been involved. Derek Fowlds, Helen Mirren (his co-star in The Madness of King George), Jimmy Perry & David Croft (writers of Dad’s Army), and Trevor Bentham (Hawthorne’s partner of 22 years) all provide contributions, but the vast majority are from Hawthorne himself. He touches on many of the themes which are elaborated on in his splendid autobiography entitled “Straight Face”–things like his uneasy relationship with his father and his homosexuality. The final features are “A Short History of Yes Minister” (1999) which features Fowlds, Hawthorne, and series’ co-writer Jonathan Lynn (it’s only 5 minutes but very informative); and a brief 3 1/2 minute interview with Jonathan Lynn from 1981. Lastly are text-based bios of the main and many supporting actors.
This lovely collection set is truly a must-have for fans of the series. It is a unique, extraordinary britcom (a personal favourite of mine!)–one that is sure to appeal to anyone who enjoys the best in British comedy. I would also, however, recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone simply looking for an intelligent, brilliantly written, and impeccably acted series–British or otherwise. Highly, HIGHLY recommended!
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Though done in the 80′s Yes Minister is as fresh and funny as it was 20 years ago! What makes this series great is there isn’t a weakness to be found. Nigel Hawthorne is Brilliant as Sir Humprhey and Paul Eddington as the bewildered yet good-intentoned MP James Hacker. Casting was perfect for these roles.
At the same time, the supporting cast was mostly overlooked, including the “3rd lead” Derek Fowlds who plays Bernard, the MP’s undersecretary who seems torn in allegiance between Civil Service and his MP. While the first season also had some great moments outside of Parliament, later series removed the emphasis on Jim Hacker’s home life, which served well early on, but could of weighted down the series as it grew.
Another strength is that the series had no real political affiliation. It didn’t matter the issue, it found a way to have fun with it and cause mayhem.
Often Imitated, Never Duplicated. This is the gold standard for Political Comedy.
On the DVD specifics, do enjoy the special on Nigel Hawthorne on the 4th disk. I just hope that they can put together a similar tribute to Paul Eddington on the release of Yes Prime Minister.
I love Fawlty Towers, but for my money Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister is the funniest sitcom I have ever seen. While most of the humor is political in nature, you don’t have to be a C-Span junkie to get all the jokes. You also don’t need a background it the British political system (though it helps) as political corruption is universal. Indeed, this show was a worldwide hit and is being aired somewhere right now!
The U.S. video tapes for this series only included the first seven episodes of this series, so many of us will be seeing 14 “new” episodes! If you have those video tapes or have seen this show on public television, what are you waiting for? The video is of high quality and there are no gotchas; it’s a wonderful set I’ll keep mine for the rest of my life. If you are an anglophile who enjoys the likes of “To the Manor Born” or the Ian Richardson “House of Cards” trilogy (soon to be released on DVD as well), you will more than likely enjoy this set too. For the rest of you who have never seen this show, just know that it is an incredibly witty (though never silly) look into a well-meaning minister’s (Paul Eddington) attempts to reform the civil service and an incredibly clever director of the civil service’s (Sir Nigel Hawthorne) attempts to prevent any reforms. Don’t let the subject matter fool you, it is never dull and will have you laughing throughout.
While there is a lengthy segment on Sir Nigel Hawthorne including an interview conducted shortly before his fatal condition was diagnosed, I wish there had been commentary on at least one of the episodes from the writers or producers (or even Derek Fowlds, who sadly is the only major surviving member of the cast) just to get a insider feel for the show. No matter; the quality of the video a great and the content is, of course, first rate.
I’ve checked with the BBC and the “missing” one hour “Party Games” episode, which came as a Christmas special the year after the final Yes Minister was aired, will be included on “Yes Prime Minister – The Complete Collection” scheduled for late August 2003. As this is the episode where Hacker ascends to Prime Minister and as it has never been released in the U.S., this is great news.