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"The Devil You Know" is the twelfth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 23 March 1981.

"The Devil You Know"
Yes Minister episode
Episode no.Series 2
Episode 5
Written byAntony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced byPeter Whitmore
Original air date23 March 1981
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Quality of Life"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes



Jim Hacker is not best pleased. Each government department was to place its own separate order for word processors, and the Minister had persuaded all of them to let his Ministry of Administrative Affairs place a single combined order, thus allowing for British investment in technology. However, an EEC directive from Brussels has put a stop to it and invited the Minister to attend a word-processing conference to find a common approach. He bemoans this to Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard, who are able to offer little except to confirm the state of affairs. Sir Humphrey tells Hacker that such directives are the price the country pays for "trying to pretend" that it is European. The Minister states that he is pro-Europe but anti-Brussels, and suspects that his Permanent Secretary is vice versa. Hacker lambasts Sir Humphrey for his view and reminds him that the European ideal is designed to avoid narrow self-interest. However, Sir Humphrey points out that this was precisely the reason that countries joined it. They continue to debate the pros and cons of the EEC, with the Minister deriding the Brussels "gravy train" and the civil servant defending it. In any case, Sir Humphrey indicates that it was Basil Corbett, one of the British Cabinet, who alerted Brussels to the Minister's plan. Hacker is frank with his vitriol concerning Corbett and for once, Sir Humphrey is in agreement. The Minister wonders why his colleague took this action, and Bernard hands him a newspaper that provides the answer: there are rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle. This makes Hacker extremely worried and he seeks reassurance from his officials that he has been a good minister. They agree that he has "done alright".

Sir Humphrey meets with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Arnold Robinson, to discover the latest news on the reshuffle. Sir Arnold informs him that Brussels' officials have asked if Hacker would be willing to be one of the new EEC Commissioners. The confidential chat is momentarily interrupted by Bernard, whom Sir Humphrey invites to join them. The two mandarins ask him how he would feel about a new minister, should that be the case. Unfortunately for Bernard, he replies that he would be sorry to see Hacker go. Sir Arnold reminds him that the Minister has just started to get a grip on the job, and was therefore perceived to be a nuisance. As far as he is concerned, a reshuffle is to be greatly desired. Sir Humphrey dismisses Bernard and resumes his discussion. Sir Arnold breaks it to him gently that Basil Corbett would be likely to succeed Hacker, should he take the EEC job.

That evening at home with his wife, Annie, Hacker confesses his doubts and insecurities over the impending reshuffle. She does her best to keep him optimistic. Then he receives a phone call from Brussels, informing him of the job offer. He tells Annie that if he accepted it, his political career in Britain would be a failure and he would be reduced to forming his own party to get back in. However, the more he expands on the personal benefits that go with the position, the more interested he is in it.

On his way into the Ministry the next morning, Hacker chats with George, his driver. The Whitehall drivers are usually a reliable source of information but in this instance, George is unable to offer Hacker anything more concrete about his political future, except that, in the drivers' collective opinion, he has "done alright".

Back at the DAA, Hacker asks Bernard for his advice. His Principal Private Secretary tells him that he has heard "nothing, really", other than the fact that the idea to ask the Minister came from Brussels rather than Number 10 and that the Prime Minister has allowed Hacker to be approached on the subject and has sounded out one of his Cabinet colleagues on becoming Hacker's successor. Sir Humphrey joins them and Hacker tells him that he will attend the Brussels word-processing conference in order to take a look at the establishment for himself. However, Sir Humphrey — having now been apprised of the probable replacement — is anxious for him to stay. Their original positions are now effectively reversed: the Minister can see the benefits of Brussels, while Sir Humphrey can now suddenly appreciate all the disadvantages.

Sir Humphrey joins Sir Arnold for lunch. The Cabinet Secretary is implored to block Corbett's appointment to the DAA. The only advice he can offer is for Hacker to have some sort of big success in the next few days, which would bolster his usefulness to the PM and perhaps convince the Minister to stay where he is.

Afterwards, Sir Humphrey once again speaks with Hacker and tries to ascertain his likely decision. However, the Minister is conflicted and can't make up his mind. Sir Humphrey is desperate to keep him at the department and tells him of Sir Arnold's suggestion. They decide to defy the EEC directive and go ahead with Hacker's original plan for the word processors: this would be politically popular. But Hacker still wonders, if he had gone to Brussels, who was to replace him. Up until now, Sir Humphrey has managed to keep this from him, but Bernard inadvertently mentions the name.

Episode castEdit

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
John Nettleton Sir Arnold Robinson
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Arthur Cox George

Connection to real-life eventsEdit

In his published diary for 22 March 1976, then-Cabinet Minister Tony Benn records that he has told the outgoing Prime Minister Harold Wilson that the secret of his resignation had been worked out by the drivers of the Government Car Service when Wilson had made a decision that all former Prime Ministers should get a government car: "Well, the word went round the Government Car Service that the reason you'd done this was because you were going to retire".[1]

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Tony Benn, "Against the Tide: Diaries 1973-76", Hutchinson, 1989, p. 543.