Yes, Prime Minister

by Kieran Healy on September 12, 2003

I’ve just discovered that complete versions of both Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are available on DVD. On to the wish list they go. And I recommend you follow those links and buy them yourself, too.

Question for discussion: Compare and contrast the political culture that gave us this series to the one that produced The West Wing.

The Yes Minister website throws up a classic dialog from the show on the value of opinion polls. Read on for details.

Sir Humphrey: “You know what happens: nice young lady comes up to you. Obviously you want to create a good impression, you don’t want to look a fool, do you? So she starts asking you some questions: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Do you think there is a lack of discipline in our Comprehensive schools?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Do you think they respond to a challenge?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Would you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?”
Bernard Woolley: “Oh…well, I suppose I might be.”
Sir Humphrey: “Yes or no?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Of course you would, Bernard. After all you told you can’t say no to that. So they don’t mention the first five questions and they publish the last one.”
Bernard Woolley: “Is that really what they do?”
Sir Humphrey: “Well, not the reputable ones no, but there aren’t many of those. So alternatively the young lady can get the opposite result.”
Bernard Woolley: “How?”
Sir Humphrey: “Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Are you worried about the growth of armaments?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Do you think there is a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Do you think it is wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes”
Sir Humphrey: “Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?”
Bernard Woolley: “Yes!”
Sir Humphrey: “There you are, you see Bernard. The perfect balanced sample.”



Ophelia Benson 09.12.03 at 5:26 pm

Dang, what an interesting question, comparing the cultures that produced Yes Minister and West Wing.

I suppose one difference is that anti-intellectualism is so deeply ingrained in US culture that WW has to exaggerate the articulacy and wit of its characters beyond plausibility to make its point. It is not so in the UK, so part of the joke on YM is the way Sir Humphrey and his colleagues in the civil service use their brains and Oxbridge educations to obstruct as much as possible.


Elina 09.12.03 at 6:13 pm

The question has to be asked why these DVDs aren’t available on, given that it’s a British sit-com.

The US is clearly more civilised than we Europeans had dared hope ;.)


Mark 09.12.03 at 6:31 pm

Elina – You must have made a Typo – DVD search “yes minister” returns 4 entries.


elina 09.12.03 at 7:52 pm

Yes Mark, but none of them the complete series. I hope you’re not just trying to dampen down my pro-americanism!


greg 09.12.03 at 10:36 pm

I suppose one difference is that anti-intellectualism is so deeply ingrained in US culture that WW has to exaggerate the articulacy and wit of its characters beyond plausibility to make its point.

I would chalk that up more to Aaron Sorkin’s writing style than anything else. Sports Night had similarly stylized dialogue. Sure, the characters don’t talk like “real people”, but I kinda look at it as Mamet-esque and leave it at that.


Ophelia benson 09.12.03 at 11:14 pm

Greg, well, you may be right. Only the assignment was to compare cultures, so…I was reaching.

Nevertheless I think there may be something in it. It’s harder to take the value of being thoughtful and clever for granted in the US than it is in the UK, so there’s a temptation to hammer the point.


Michael Comiskey 09.13.03 at 4:24 pm


I just checked and found all 3 series of Yes Minister. All 3 are complete.

Series 1: ASIN B00005M6OI cat no. BBCDVD1047
Series 2: ASIN B00006G9VL cat no. BBCDVD1120
Series 3: ASIN B0000AISI5 cat no. BBCDVD1188

(Series 3 is not released for a couple of weeks).

I bought series 1 and 2 some months ago from HMV. They made for great viewing this summer, even more so when compared to the language used by the witnesses in the Hutton Inquiry.

I bought my girlfriend the companion books to series 1 and 2, which are worth reading, as they are not just the scripts. They are cast as extracts from official files, memoirs and newspapers of the day. She enjoyed them immensely.


Elina 09.13.03 at 4:44 pm

Very good Michael. I have them all on video as it happens. I was just alarmed that in the UK you could not get, in one easy package, all the Yes Minster episodes and all the Yes PM episodes as you can on and at a much cheaper price.


dsquared 09.15.03 at 8:43 am

“Complete” is not quite true here; I understand that my favourite episode (dealing with how Hacker and Sir Humphrey deal with the terrible prospect of a visit to a dry Arab country by arranging to smuggle booze in diplomatic bags) has been redacted as it relied to a significant extent on humourous conventions no longer considered acceptable in these more sensitive times.


Nabakov 09.15.03 at 3:16 pm

If what you say is true, D2, then I’m appalled, and retreating to the secure communications room to consult further about this with General Haig…and the teachers.

Returning to look at the original post (in Black & White), the obvious difference between ‘Yes Minister/PM’ and ‘The West Wing’ is of course the difference between the Westminster and US systems – where one has an apolitcial and professional civil service up to PUS level and the other sees even post office jobs as political appointee opportunities – hence the varying kinds of conflicts in each show – ‘Spy vs Spy’ in ‘Yes M/PM’ vs the “the world’s pouring in on us while we can’t get laid” in ‘The West Wing’.

At least that’s how it used to be. You couldn’t do anything working off the same central ‘Yes Minister’ premise now under a Blair Government.

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