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"Big Brother" is the fourth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 17 March 1980. This is one of only three episodes in the first series not to end with the phrase "Yes Minister".

"Big Brother"
Yes Minister episode
Episode no.Series 1
Episode 4
Written byAntony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced bySydney Lotterby
Original air date17 March 1980
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Economy Drive"
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"The Writing on
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes


Jim Hacker is being interviewed by Robert McKenzie for the TV current affairs programme Topic. The Minister would be happier if the line of questioning concerned cuts in bureaucracy, but McKenzie wishes to discuss the new National Integrated Database: the detailed personal records of every United Kingdom subject, which will be held on computer by the government. He presses Hacker on the implications regarding personal privacy, and his interviewee finds himself unable to answer and resorts to stonewalling.

Hacker watches the recording in his office with Sir Humphrey Appleby, Bernard and his political advisor, Frank Weisel. The latter is not impressed with Hacker's performance and congratulates Sir Humphrey on getting him "perfectly house-trained". Sir Humphrey protests that he simply carries out the wishes of his "master" and will entertain no further questioning from Weisel. As he leaves, it comes to light that Hacker has two conflicting appointments in his diary for the next day: one a civil service function in Swansea and the other a by-election meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne. Both sides press upon him the importance of keeping each engagement. At first indecisive, Hacker eventually chooses to do both and requests suitable travel arrangements.

When Hacker gets home, he greets his wife, Annie, and finds her packing suitcases. It's the Hackers' wedding anniversary the next day, and Annie had been promised a trip to Paris. Hacker has completely forgotten and tells Annie about his "double-booking". She insists that he cancels both appointments, so he phones Bernard to do so. By the end of the conversation, it becomes clear that his trip to Swansea and Newcastle is still on. Hacker confesses to his wife that he is depressed by the amount of work he is expected to do and the fact that he is perceived as a civil service spokesman. Annie urges him to get a grip on the job and be more decisive — as he was when he was the editor of Reform.

When Hacker next meets Sir Humphrey, he demands that certain safeguards in respect of the National Database be enacted immediately. He wants all citizens to be allowed to see their own files and legislation to prevent unauthorised access. Sir Humphrey is concerned that implementing such complex regulations will take a long time. Hacker points out that the database has been in development since his predecessor's time and that any difficulties must have already been discussed. However, Sir Humphrey's lips are sealed regarding any past conversations. Bernard enters with news of another TV programme, World in Focus, on which the Minister has been invited to talk about the database once more. Again conflicted, Hacker eventually decides to take part.

Later, Hacker chances upon Tom Sargent, his predecessor as Minister for Administrative Affairs, and sits down for a chat. Sargent enlightens Hacker as to the nature of Sir Humphrey's stalling technique. This comprises a five-stage plan that will ensure that nothing is achieved at any time between general elections, while also swamping his Minister with paperwork, thus affecting the desired state of "creative inertia". He specifically tells Hacker to look in the bottom of his fifth red box that evening to find Sir Humphrey's reasons for not proceeding with the proposed safeguards for the National Integrated Database.

That night, Hacker does indeed discover the memo in question and, at Annie's urging, rings Sir Humphrey to tell him — despite it being 2am. He also has in his possession Tom Sargent's original draft proposals.

The next morning, Hacker discusses the proposed safeguards with Sir Humphrey and is careful to mark down each of his predicted resistance methods as he uses them. Nevertheless, the Permanent Secretary is stubborn in his refusal to co-operate. As Bernard enters with Hacker's "announced" diary arrangements, he unknowingly gives his Minister a second line of attack.

As a horrified Sir Humphrey watches on TV, Hacker uses his appearance on World in Focus to inform the nation that the safeguards to the database will definitely be in place and that Sir Humphrey has staked his reputation on it.

The next morning, Sir Humphrey (who claims to have been working all night) presents Hacker with a list of his desired recommendations. The Minister then delivers his coup de grâce and surprises Sir Humphrey with Tom Sargent's completely identical set of proposals from the previous government.

Episode castEdit

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Robert Urquhart Tom Sargent
Robert McKenzie Himself
Frederick Jaeger Godfrey Finch
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Neil Fitzwiliam Frank Weisel
Andrew Lane Topic Floor Manager
Sheila Ferris Topic Director
Matthew Roberton Topic Crew Man

External linksEdit