Yes, Minister

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w:Yes, Minister and its sequel Yes, Prime Minister are British television shows that were broadcast between 1980 and 1988.

On the Military and Military intelligence

Bernard Woolley: That's why that torpedo landed on Sandwich golf course.
Jim Hacker: I didn't read about that in the paper.
Bernard Woolley: Well of course not! There was a cover-up: The members just found a new bunker on the seventh fairway the next morning.

Jim Hacker: Still, if we could get the Americans to strengthen their conventional forces.
Bernard Woolley: That wouldn't do any good.
Jim Hacker: Why not?
Bernard Woolley: Well apparently the American troops in Europe are always so drug ridden they don't know what side they're on anyway. And, during the last NATO exercise the American troops dispersed and picnicked in the woods with lady soldiers.
Jim Hacker: What about the other European armies?
Bernard Woolley: Oh they're alright, on weekdays anyway.
Jim Hacker: Weekdays?
Bernard Woolley: The Dutch, Danish and Belgian armies go home on the weekends.
Jim Hacker: So if the Russians are going to invade we'd prefer them to do it between Monday and Friday. Is this widely known?
Bernard Woolley: Well if I know it I'm sure the Russians do. The Kremlin always gets NATO defence secrets before they filter down to us at Number 10.

On Equality

Sir Humphrey: Minister if you are going to promote women just because they're the best person for the job you're going to provoke a lot of resentment throughout the whole of the civil service!

On government policy and the Government

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.

[Quoting an article in the Express about the fact that Inland Revenue has more employees than the Royal Navy]
Frank Weisel: Perhaps the government thinks that a tax is the best form of defence.

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.

Sir Humphrey: ...There has to be somewhere to carry on government even if everything else stops.
Jim Hacker: Why?
Sir Humphrey: [Sounding shocked] Well government doesn't stop just because the whole country's been destroyed! [More calmly] Annihilation’s bad enough without anarchy to make things even worse.
Jim Hacker: [Cynically] We'd have a lot of rebellious cinders.

[Sir Arnold Robinson and Sir Mark Spencer are discussing appointing a Transport Supremo. Sir Mark doubts that Hacker is suitable]
Sir Arnold Robinson (Cabinet Secretary): It calls for a particular combination of talents: lots of activity but no actual achievement.
Sir Mark Spencer (Chief Special Advisor to the Prime Minister): I see. Then Hacker is the man.

On the Press

Jim Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers:
  • The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;
  • The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;
  • The Times is read by people who actually do run the country;
  • The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;
  • The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;
  • The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;
  • And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read the Sun?
Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.

Sir Humphrey: Didn't you read the Financial Times this morning?
Sir Desmond Glazebrook: Never do.
Sir Humphrey: Well, you're a banker, surely you read the Financial Times?
Sir Desmond: Can't understand it. Full of economic theory.
Sir Humphrey: Why do you buy it?
Sir Desmond: Oh, you know, it's part of the uniform.

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: [Shocked] You mean by terrorists?
Sir Humphrey: [Condescendingly] By the BBC, Bernard.

Sir Humphrey: The ship of state, Bernard, is the only ship that leaks from the top.

Jim Hacker: So I want you to retract that suppression story.
Derek Burnham [newspaper editor]: I don't see how I can.
Hacker: Well of course you can! You're the editor, aren't you?
Burnham: Yes, but an editor isn't like a general commanding an army, he's just the ringmaster of a circus. I mean I can book the acts but I can't tell the acrobats which way to jump!

On subsidy

Sir Humphrey: [Calmly] Bernard, subsidy is for art...for culture. [Voice suddenly rises almost furiously] It is not to be given to what the people want! It is for what the people don't want but ought to have!

On the Civil Service

Sir Humphrey: [In a very disturbed and worried voice after Sir Arnold has suggested reducing the size of the civil service to reduce the amount of civil service pay so a pay rise can be snuck through] Real reductions in the size of the service?! It'd be the end of civilization as we know it!

Sir Arnold: Appalling! The next thing you'd have is politicians removing civil service on the grounds of incompetence, that would be the thin end of the wedge... We'd lose dozens of our chaps.

Jim Hacker: Humphrey, the National Health Service is an advanced case of galloping bureaucracy!
Sir Humphrey: Oh no minister... Certainly not galloping; a gentle canter at the most.

On foreign policy

Sir Humphrey: But with Trident we could obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.
Jim Hacker: I don't want to obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe.
Sir Humphrey: It's a deterrent.
Jim Hacker: It's a bluff. I probably wouldn't use it.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but they don't know that you probably wouldn't.
Jim Hacker: They probably do.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn't. But they can't certainly know.
Jim Hacker: They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn't.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn't, they don't certainly know that, although you probably wouldn't, there is no probability that you certainly would! (bangs fist on table twice, once with "certainly", once with "would")

Jim Hacker: [on an upcoming vote in the UN on the actions of Israeli in retaliating to a PLO attack] I gather we're planning to vote against Israel in the UN tonight.
Foreign Secretary: Yes Prime Minister.
Jim Hacker: Why?
Foreign Secretary: They bombed the PLO.
Jim Hacker: But the PLO bombed Israel!
Foreign Secretary: Yes but the Israelis dropped more bombs than the PLO did!!

Jim Hacker: Napoleon prize?
Bill (Foreign Secretary): Yes it's a NATO award given once every five years, big ceremony in Brussels, gold medal, £100 000. The PM's the front runner this time, it's for the statesman who's made the biggest contribution to European unity.
Sir Humphrey: Since Napoleon, that is if you don't count Hitler.

Sir Humphrey: Then there's the excuse we use for the Munich agreement: It occurred before certain important facts were known and couldn't possibly happen again.
Jim Hacker: What important facts?
Sir Humphrey: That Hitler wanted to conquer Europe.
Jim Hacker: I thought everyone knew that.
Sir Humphrey: Not the foreign office.

Sir Humphrey: Bernard, what is the purpose of our defence policy?
Bernard Woolley: To defend Britain.
Sir Humphrey: No, Bernard. It is to make people believe Britain is defended.
Bernard Woolley: The Russians?
Sir Humphrey: Not the Russians, the British! The Russians know it is not.

Sir Humphrey: Minister, Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last 500 years: to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Germans and Italians. Divide and rule, you see. Why should we change now when it's worked so well?
Jim Hacker: That's all ancient history, surely.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, and current policy. We had to break the whole thing [the EEC] up, so we had to get inside. We tried to break it up from the outside, but that wouldn't work. Now that we're inside we can make a complete pig's breakfast of the whole thing: set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch. The Foreign Office is terribly pleased, it's just like old times.
Jim Hacker: But if that's true, why is the foreign office pushing for higher membership?
Sir Humphrey: I'd have thought that was obvious. The more members an organization has, the more arguments it can stir up. The more futile and impotent it becomes.
Jim Hacker: What appalling cynicism.
Sir Humphrey: Yes... We call it diplomacy, Minister.

Jim Hacker: Europe is a community of nations, dedicated towards one goal.
Sir Humphrey: Oh, ha ha ha.
Jim Hacker: May we share the joke, Humphrey?
Sir Humphrey: Oh Minister, let's look at this objectively. It's a game played for national interests, it always was. Why do you suppose we went into it?
Jim Hacker: To strengthen the brotherhood of Free Western nations.
Sir Humphrey: Oh really. We went in to screw the French by splitting them off from the Germans.
Jim Hacker: So why did the French go into it then?
Sir Humphrey: Well, to protect their inefficient farmers from commercial competition.
Jim Hacker: That certainly doesn't apply to the Germans.
Sir Humphrey: No no, they went in to cleanse themselves of genocide and apply for readmission to the human race.
Jim Hacker: I never heard such appalling cynicism. At least the small nations didn't go into it for selfish reasons.
Sir Humphrey: Oh really? Luxembourg is in it for the perks; the capital of the EEC, all that foreign money pouring in.
Jim Hacker: Very sensible central location.
Sir Humphrey: With the administration in Brussels and the Parliament in Strasbourg? Minister, it's like having the House of Commons in Swindon and the Civil Service in Kettering!

Jim Hacker: Humphrey, do you think it is a good idea to issue a statement? [as a response to the planned speech of the President of Buranda urging the Scots and Irish to fight against English oppression]
Sir Humphrey: Well, Minister, in practical terms we have the usual six options: One, do nothing. Two, issue a statement deploring the speech. Three, lodge an official protest. Four, cut off aid. Five, break off diplomatic relations. And six, declare war.
Jim Hacker: Which should be it?
Sir Humphrey: Well, if we do nothing we implicitly agree with the speech. Two, if we issue a statement we'll just look foolish. Three, if we lodge a protest it'll be ignored. Four, we can't cut off aid because we don't give them any. Five, if we break off diplomatic relations we can't negotiate the oil rig contracts. And six, if we declare war it might just look as though we were over-reacting.

Sir Humphrey: Don't you believe that Great Britain should have the best?
Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.
Sir Humphrey: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident - it's lovely, it's elegant, it's beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say?
Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don't need it.
Sir Humphrey: [Begrudgingly and exasperated] Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.

Jim Hacker: Who knows Foreign Office secrets apart from the Foreign Office?
Bernard Woolley: Oh that's easy: Only the Kremlin.


Sir Humphrey: Unfortunately, although the answer was indeed clear, simple, and straightforward, there is some difficulty in justifying assigning to it the fourth of the epithets you applied to the statement, inasmuch as the precise correlation between the information you communicated, and the facts insofar as they can be determined and demonstrated is such as to cause epistemological problems, of sufficient magnitude as to lay upon the logical and semantic resources of the English language a heavier burden than they can reasonably be expected to bear.
Jim Hacker: Epistemological, what are you talking about?
Sir Humphrey: You told a lie.
Jim Hacker: A lie?
Sir Humphrey: A lie.
Jim Hacker: What do you mean, I told a lie?
Sir Humphrey: I mean you ... lied. Yes I know, this is a difficult concept to get across to a politician. You ... ah yes, you did not tell the truth.
Jim Hacker: You mean we are tapping Hugh Halafax's telephones?
Sir Humphrey: We were.
Jim Hacker: We were? When did we stop?
Sir Humphrey: [checks his watch] Seventeen minutes ago.
Jim Hacker: You can't call that lying.
Sir Humphrey: I see. [pause] What would you call the opposite of telling the truth?
Jim Hacker: I...I didn't mean to mislead them! I wouldn't knowingly mislead the House.

Bernard: The fact that you needed to know was not known at the time that the now known need to know was known, therefore those that needed to advise and inform the Home Secretary perhaps felt the information he needed as to whether to inform the highest authority of the known information was not yet known and therefore there was no authority for the authority to be informed because the need to know was not, at that time, known or needed.


Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister I must express in the strongest possible terms my profound opposition to the newly instituted practice which imposes severe and intolerable restrictions on the ingress and egress of senior members of the hierarchy and will, in all probability, should the current deplorable innovation be perpetuated, precipitate a progressive constriction of the channels of communication, culminating in a condition of organisational atrophy and administrative paralysis, which will render effectively impossible the coherent and co-ordinated discharge of the function of government within Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!
Jim Hacker: You mean you've lost your key?

Bernard: It's one of those irregularly declining words. I have an independent mind, you are an eccentric, he’s round the twist.

Bernard: It's another of those irregular verbs. I hold confidential briefings, you leak, he's been charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.

Sir Humphrey: Gratitude is merely a lively expectation of favours to come.

Sir Humphrey: The identity of the official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent discussion is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, but not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.
Jim Hacker: I beg your pardon?
Sir Humphrey: It was…I.

[Bernard Woolley lets his pedantry get the better of him.]
Jim Hacker: Sir Mark thinks there might be votes in it, and I do not intend to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Sir Humphrey: I put it to you, Minister, that you are looking a Trojan horse in the mouth.
Jim Hacker: You mean if we look closely at this gift horse, we'll find it's full of Trojans?
Bernard: Um, if you had looked the Trojan Horse in the mouth, Minister, you would have found Greeks inside. Well, the point is that it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan horse to the Trojans, so technically it wasn't a Trojan horse at all, it was a Greek horse. Hence the tag "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", which, you will recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as "beware of Greeks bearing gifts", or doubtless you would have recalled, had you not attended the LSE.
Jim Hacker: Yes, well I'm sure Greek tags are all very well in their way, but can we stick to the point?
Bernard: Sorry, sorry, Greek tags?
Jim Hacker: "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." I suppose the EEC equivalent would be "Beware of Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus".
Sir Humphrey: Excellent, Minister.
Bernard: No, well, the point is, Minister, that just as the Trojan horse was in fact Greek, what you describe as a Greek tag is in fact Latin. It's obvious really: the Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one can use such a participle, bewaring that is, and it's clearly Latin, not because 'timeo' ends in '-o', because the Greek first person also ends in '-o' - although actually there is a Greek word 'timēo', meaning 'I honour' - but the '-os' ending is a nominative singular termination of a second declension in Greek, and accusative plural in Latin, of course, although actually 'Danaos' is not only the Greek for 'Greek' it's also the Latin for 'Greek'. It's very interesting, really.

[Hacker has just had a stormy cabinet meeting over a sudden financial crisis]
Jim Hacker: Bernard, Humphrey should have seen this coming and warned me.
Bernard: I don't think Sir Humphrey understands economics, Prime Minister; he did read Classics, you know.
Hacker: What about Sir Frank? He's head of the Treasury!
Bernard: Well I'm afraid he's at an even greater disadvantage in understanding economics: he's an economist.

Jim Hacker: My daughter Lucy wishes to spend her vacation at a kibbutz. Or perhaps I should say, as she goes to the University of Sussex, another kibbutz.

Sir Humphrey: Knowledge only means complicity in guilt. Ignorance has a certain dignity.

Sir Humphrey: A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

See also

External links

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