Saturday, 25 February 2012

Yes, Minister

The Bed of Nails

For Christmas, Mrs fbb gave fbb a full set of DVDs for the "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" series of  TV comedies.
They present an all-too-true view of the continual battles between Jim Hacker, Minister for Administrative Affairs, and his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby.
In this particular episode the Cabinet Secretary (John Nettleton) and the Prime Minister's Chief Special Adviser (Nigel Stock, of Holmes' Dr Watson fame) ...
... are seeking to find a suitable candidate to implement the PM's plan for Integrated Transport.

The Cabinet Secretary wants "Lots of activity but no actual achievement," thus the hapless Hacker is manoeuvered into accepting the job of "Transport Supremo". Of course, all the civil servants involved, including Hacker's Sir Humphrey, realise that a better job title would be "Transport Muggins."

When Jim Hacker makes his proud announcement back in his own office, the conversation goes something like this ...
Hacker : I have some good news, Humphrey. The Prime Minster has appointed me as his Transport Supremo.

Humphrey : Indeed, Minister. Now what was the good news?

A meeting is arranged by the manipulative Appleby, attended by the Under Secretaries of the offices that handle the roads, the railways and buses, and the air industries.
Of course they each speak vehemently for the supremacy of their bit of the Department of Transport and equally vehemently of the political pitfalls of failing to develop rail or road or air, as appropriate for their department. Hacker slowly realises that he has, indeed, been asked to lie on a political "Bed of Nails". See "Recently Published Research Shows ..." (read again). It is clear that implementing an Integrated Transport policy is beyond the political will and ability of any minister.

"Omnibus" is, of course, a Latin word meaning "for all". This aphorism from Virgil is in Greek:-

  timeo Danaos et dona ferentes  

One of the running jokes throughout the series is Jim Hacker's lack of a classical education; he went to the LSE, London School of Economics, and was thus intellectually despised because of the academic snobbery of the senior civil servants. When discussing the appointment of their chosen "Transport Supremo" or, more correctly, "Transport Muggins", the Cabinet Secretary [CS] reminds the Special Adviser [SA] of the phrase:-

CS :  "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes", as they say. But Sir Humphrey would quote it in English, roughly translated as "Beware Greeks bringing gifts"; as Hacker (with a slight sneer) was at the LSE.

SA : (offended) So was I.

CS : Oh, (and with forceful emphasis) I am so sorry.

Tomorrow we shall reveal the dénoument, and, perhaps, see how real life mirrored this highly amusing episode. And the "star" of the non fiction production is none other that "Two Jags" ...

... John Prescott.
 Next Blog : due Sunday February 26th 

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