The three excellent actors, Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne and Derek Fowlds, in those two long running (several if not many years) mini series, are absolutely flabbergasting.
The subject is simple. Jim Hacker, a Member of Parliament, becomes minister and later he will become prime minister. Banal. But what is less banal is the encounter of this newly appointment minister and later prime minister with the permanent secretary of his ministry first, Sir Humphrey, and cabinet secretary later when Jim Hacker moves to 10 Downing Street.
Sir Humphrey, a knighted civil servant, is the most beautiful exemplar of the civil service functionaries: red tape, corporatism, elitism, systematic maneuvers and manipulations of ministers, prime ministers and other political officials to make them do what they, the civil servants, want them, the ministers and prime ministers, to do on any subject.
And the subjects evoked in these numerous episodes of this political saga are quite evocative of corruption and aristocratism if not feudalism, and at the same time marvelously funny. It is true Bernard, the private secretary of Jim Hacker, a civil servant too but with a corrosive sense of black humor, is always there for a side remark that is superbly funny, like when the French President is trying to smuggle a dog into Great Britain in his diplomatic luggage, suitcase, briefcase or whatever. And Bernard to suggest a "doggy bag".
At the same time this wit, this humor, this brilliant never ending linguistic, situational and existential irony, sarcasm or fun deals with fundamental problems.
First of all the dictatorship of the civil service. The top civil servants are paid more than the ministers and prime ministers they serve and as such, as much as out of a feudal tradition, they are knighted and pretend to really manage the country in any way possible. This red tape defending privileges and rejecting the people into some kind of distant mist is a real problem in any democracy where politicians change but civil servants do not.
Then education, real estate speculation, military expenditures and waste, foreign shady business if not plain behind the scene affairs, terrorism, the health service, the press and its passive or active manipulation or being manipulated in all directions possible, the blackmail of the ministers by the civil service or of the civil servants by the ministers, religion, universities, culture and so many other real concrete problems turned into a farce by the civil service and turned into a grotesque episode of political bravery by the politicians.
This political satire and these caustic misrepresenting burlesque parodies of real life are a masterpiece in the field and is duly signed BBC. That kind of burlesque is no longer possible anywhere in the world with that finesse, that bright expertise and it is able to shame any other attempt from anywhere in the world because it is absolutely flippant and foolish but on subjects that are hefty and heavy and the moral of the story is not just fun but it is also ethics, ethical behavior and how it is possible to mend that frozen system into some thawing action.
There is one limit and apparently only one: the queen and the crown and the royal family, royalty (but of course not royalties) and the monarchy are not supposed even to be evoked in any funny way. The rare mentions of the crown are always to remind us this crown is the standard by which ethics should be measured, the model for all politicians, the norm of all action.
Of course the Queen is in no way present, even as a picture in these episodes, and her only appearances is a few times as a stamp on a letter, and no close-up view of it, of course not.
Enjoy that marvelous buffoonery that is as light as air and as deep as the sea.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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