Essay, Research Paper
The British comedy Yes Minister is a brilliant satire in which the characters are creatively manipulated to form a humorous program. It deals with the wheeling and dealing of political life behind the scenes and attempts to expose its true nature. Although the series is set within the British political scene, it deals with political games and clashes between politicians and the civil service that could be found almost anywhere in the world.
Yes Minister started airing in 1980 on BBC 2 with each episode running for about 30 minutes. With its astounding success it ran for six years until Jim Hacker finally became what he always dreamt of throughout the course of the series: Prime Minister. At this point the BBC started a new series called Yes Prime Minister. The series is still shown on television today and people continue to enjoy the satirical British humour.
In the third season of Yes Minister and for the first time on 11 November 1982, two years into the series, ran an episode called Equal Opportunities. As its title suggests it encompasses the issues to do with Equal Employment Opportunities, focusing on the Civil Services and their attitudes towards women in the workforce. As in other episodes of Yes Minister, Equal Opportunities aims to educate and summon change, while simultaneously entertaining the audience it is targeted towards.
Clever incorporation of a variety of different types of humour creates a jovial fa?ade for the underlying issues. In Equal Opportunities it has allowed the exploration of each sexes emotions and thoughts towards each other in the workforce.
A twist of irony occurs when Sarah announces that she is leaving the civil services. She explains to Jim Hacker that she wants a job that will appreciate her as a person and where she personally can achieve things and therefore has accepted a job at a merchant bank. She is absolutely not charmed by the fact that she would be part of a 25% quota and does not appreciate being patronised:
“Quite honestly, Minister, I want a job where I don’t spend endless hours circulating information that isn’t relevant, about subjects that don’t matter to people who aren’t interested. I want a job where there is achievement rather than merely activity. I am tired of pushing paper. I want to be able to point to something and say: ‘I did that.’”
Sarcasm is used to cunningly say what is really meant without saying it straight out. What it does say straight out often defiantly contradicts its true meaning:
“We must, in my view, always have the right to promote the best man for the job, regardless of sex.”
Sir Humphrey makes out that he’s being fair but by calling everyone ‘man’ and then saying ‘regardless of sex’ it appears as a contradiction.
The use of dialogue allows the viewer a deeper insight into the characters involved in the show. While the male characters in Yes Minister deny being sexist and claim to be
looking out for the best interests of women in the workforce, it is obvious through their use of sexist dialogue that this is not the case. Terms such as ‘feminist touch’ and ‘dear lady’ are frequently used when referring to women throughout the script. Sir Humphrey often uses circumlocution to confuse the issues. Euphemisms are used by many of the Public Servants involved to get around an issue or to make the issue sound better than what it really is:
“‘…a pause to regroup, a lull in which to reassess the situation and discuss alternative strategies, a space of time for the mature reflection and deliberation.’
‘Yes, you mean drop the whole scheme.’”
Attitudes of people who work in the Public Services are cross-examined and mocked. It is shown that many of the people within the Public Services are lazy, only care about their own success, and believe that advancements happen as a matter of turn:
“Minister! It takes time to do things!”
This plays on the fact that because so many people in the Services are caught up doing useless things or are so slow and lazy, it takes a long time to achieve anything major. Jim Hacker mentions Alexander the Great ruling at a very young age, and Sir Humphrey remarks that Alexander the Great would have been a very bad civil servant.
Two kinds of people are particularly characterised in Yes Minister. The first is Sir Humphrey, a sexist chauvinistic male. Sir Humphrey is particularly attacked in this episode of Yes Minister because his attitudes and opinions are the type that make Equal Employment Opportunities an issue in the first place.
The second is Hacker who is only concerned with personal success and achievements. He wants people to look at his life and say, ‘Wow, that guy was amazing… look what he did.’ The only time principles came into play was where it could help him benefit somehow:
“‘You mean you are actually going to do something out of pure principles?’
‘Yes, principles make good vote winners.’”
The three main characters James (or Jim) Hacker MP, Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Wooley are in each of the episodes of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. Since most of the script and viewing time is devoted to them they have been carefully selected for the roles. They act out the script making it spring alive, working as a team to achieve the desired outcome: humour.
Although the program is not as relevant to today’s society as it was when it was first released, many of the issues still hold true. When it was first released Yes Minister was an extremely bold satire as the issues of Equal Employment Opportunity were still relatively unmentioned. Now, in the 90’s there has been much focus on Equal Employment Opportunity and women’s rights and gradually women have been gaining an equal stance in the workforce.
Yes Minister has earned its notoriety and fame as a satirical comedy. Its combination of hilarious script and implied themes achieves a victorious blend of wit and relevance to its audience. For the time Yes Minister has been showing on television it has attracted a large following of spectators which it has entertained time and time again. Its popularity has made it an all-time favourite and after 19 years of having been on air it continues to be shown around the world.