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Friday, November 10, 2006

Film & Television: A Day Late and a Dollar Short, part 2

Continuing my selection of political entertainment, my next selection also comes from British television. Nominated twice for a Best Comedy Series Bafta (how it failed to win is beyond me) and beloved on both sides of the globe… at least it is loved here by those who know of it.

You might think, “This is one of his political favorites and it’s a television comedy series… how is that possible?” You might think audiences would fall off their seats from boredom or that they would tune out due to complexity. Not so. It is easily understood, even as a show centered on British politics. It isn’t too high brow at all, either.

“Yes, Minister” and “Yes, Prime Minister”
[Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?
Bernard Woolley: Er, I might be.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes or no?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Of course, after all you've said you can't say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions.

[survey two]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take arms against their will?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription?
Bernard Woolley: Yes. [does a double-take]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.

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Sir Humphrey: Bernard, Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Then they can't tell anyone. Like secret agents, they could be captured and tortured.
Bernard: You mean by terrorists?
Sir Humphrey: By the BBC, Bernard.

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Sir Humphrey: My job is to carry out government policy.
Jim Hacker: Even if you think it is wrong?
Sir Humphrey: Well, almost all government policy is wrong, but...frightfully well carried out.

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Jim Hacker: Are you saying that winking at corruption is government policy?
Sir Humphrey: No, no, Minister. It could never be government policy. That is unthinkable. Only government practice.

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Sir Humphrey Appleby: Prime Minister, in government, a clarification is not to make things clear. It's to put oneself in the clear.

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Sir Humphrey: "Taxation isn't about what you need. …the Treasury doesn't work out what they need to spend and then think how to raise the money. …They pitch for as much as they think they can get away with and then think what to spend it on."

The series is known for usually giving Sir Humphrey, member of the Civil Service and foil to the Minister James Hacker, long and word descriptions with important sounding governmental and political jargon… just what you’d expect a bureaucrat to say.

The essence of the show is that James Hacker (possibly a conservative Tory politician) becomes appointed to the Ministry of Administrative Affairs when his party wins the national election. Hacker and the party want changes in the government… streamline, cut waste, limit the bureaucracy, make the government to servant of the people, and so on. The position comes with two civil servants, one senior and one junior, do apparently do his bidding… however, it becomes obvious that the Civil Service appoints members to politicians to prevent them from doing anything that might upset the bureaucratic status-quo.

If you enjoy The Screwtape Letters you’re likely to enjoy these series… Sir Humphrey is Screwtape to Bernard’s Wormwood. However, Hacker is rarely the unfortunate mortal tempted by Bernard… that typically comes from Humphrey’s machinations. In fact, even Hacker manages to put Humphrey in his place now and again.

One interesting point, while a number of the situations appear to be clever writing and inventive imaginations more than a few plots came from actual events from inside the British government.

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