Sir Humphrey on the couch: a timely exploration of the values that underpin good government

10 August 2017 | by Catherine Pepinster


For people of a certain age, their opinion of Westminster and Whitehall is shaped by the 1980s TV series Yes, Minister. It features a hapless minister, Jim Hacker, and his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby. The plots turn on the power tussles between the pair: Hacker frets about the Prime Minister’s approval and the voters’ opinions; Sir Humphrey’s Machia­vellian manoeuvres are all about protecting his department’s staffing and budget.

So convinced are viewers of the programme’s realism that “Sir Humphrey” has become a colloquialism for any top civil service brass, while Mrs Thatcher, Prime Minister when it was first shown, endorsed it as a closely observed portrayal of what really goes on in the corridors of power. s



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