‘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.’
Antony Jay, who created the superb BBC comedy ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘Yes Prime Minister’ series has died.
A lot of folk – including, according legend, then-British Prime Minister Margeret Thatcher, regarded it as a documentary. When it started being shown on TV in New Zealand I was at polytech and boarding with the family of a top New Zealand public servant. I don’t think he ever called it a documentary (and he had worked in the British civil service before coming here) but it was about the only programme he watched and I was left with the distinct impression it struck a very strong chord.
‘Open government, Prime Minister. Freedom of information. We should always tell the press freely and frankly anything that they could easily find out some other way.’
It was also a reminder, in its way, of a more robust political culture than New Zealand has. Many of the episodes were based on either current events or on real previous events recorded in various boat-rocking memoirs by former ministers or by officials.
This excerpt is taken from an episode based on the Westland row which saw Michael Heseltine walk out of Thatcher’s cabinet. Sir Humphrey’s speech at the end is magnificent.
New Zealand doesn’t have much of that. In recent times, Ruth Richardson’s autobiography came closest. Simon Carr’s ‘The Dark Art of Politics’ had some insights into working for Jim Bolger and then for the Act Party in the mid-1990s but there was a sense he could have told much, much more.
This episode, about memoirs of a former PM, could have been about almost any former UK minister, probably from the Harold Wilson governments as those administrations unleashed a library of bilious memoirs.
It’s also brilliantly played, especially by Eddington.