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The Writing on the Wall (Yes Minister)

"The Writing on the Wall" is the fifth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 24 March 1980.

"The Writing on the Wall"
Yes Minister episode
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 5
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Sydney Lotterby
Original air date 24 March 1980
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Big Brother"
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"The Right to Know"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes



Jim Hacker is engaged in a verbal battle with his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (with contributions from Bernard, his Principal Private Secretary) regarding the third draft of a policy review relating to overmanning in the civil service. Hacker seeks a phased reduction of around 200,000 staff and, despite Sir Humphrey's assertions to the contrary, he is unhappy that this is the translation of the "totally unintelligible" report that he has received. Hacker is concerned that Sir Humphrey does not share his views on the matter and presses him for a straight "yes or no" answer. Sir Humphrey gives his usual ambiguous reply, which vexes the Minister.

Sometime later, Sir Humphrey invites Bernard for an informal chat. He has not yet seen the Minister's redraft of the policy review and wonders why. At first, Bernard is tightlipped, reminding Sir Humphrey that he is the Minister's Principal Private Secretary. His superior does not like this approach and points out that ministers come and go, whereas Bernard would be hoping for a long career in the civil service. Bernard takes the hint and asks Sir Humphrey if he had a duty to inform him if — to take a purely hypothetical example — a minister and his political advisors had decided to redraft a report between them and then submit it to committee at the last moment, before it could be amended by anyone else. Sir Humphrey tells him that he should not, particularly if such information was given in confidence. However, he is now sufficiently pleased to offer Bernard a drink.

Sir Humphrey confronts Hacker over the report and firmly requests that he be allowed to see the Minister's draft. At first Hacker brushes him off but eventually comes clean and informs him that he is happy with his own version and the report needs no further amendment. He tells Sir Humphrey that he has done nothing but stand in his way ever since he came into office and he is now determined to push this through. His Permanent Secretary remains implacably opposed and when Hacker demands a simple explanation, Sir Humphrey is uncharacteristically blunt, telling him, "If you're going to do this damn silly thing, don't do it in this damn silly way."

While the Minister is in a Cabinet meeting, Sir Humphrey and his colleague Sir Frederick Stewart wait outside. Also there is Daniel Hughes, the Prime Minister's senior policy advisor. He lets slip to the two civil servants that the PM has decided to take on the overmanning problem himself and is favourable to the abolition of the Department of Administrative Affairs.

Now Hacker and Sir Humphrey are of one mind and agree that they are appalled. They know they have to work together to save their careers, and try to formulate a plan. They enlist the help of Frank Weisel, Hacker's political advisor, and ask him to mobilise the backbench MPs, but he is pessimistic. Bernard then brings up the controversial policy of the Europass: the introduction of a Europe-wide identity card, which is set to be the last piece of legislation supervised by the DAA. Sir Humphrey explains that no other department wanted to handle it and expands on the reasons for Britain going into the Common Market. (Apparently because the civil service was opposed to it — on the grounds that a disunited Europe has always worked in the past, and if they were on the inside, they stood a better chance of disrupting it.) Hacker is paranoid that he has only been chosen for the job so the PM can be certain that he needs to be removed. He, Weisel and Sir Humphrey decide to visit Martin, the Foreign Secretary.

They learn that the Prime Minister is in the running for the Napoleon Prize, which is awarded for making the greatest contribution to European unity. However, he doesn't want any mention of the Europass before the ceremony for fear of rocking the boat. When they are joined by Daniel Hughes, Hacker obliquely threatens to table a question in the House of Commons, asking the PM to make an unequivocal commitment to the policy — which would infuriate either the British or the rest of Europe, depending on his answer — unless the plan to dismantle the DAA is abolished.

Episode castEdit

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Daniel Moynihan Daniel Hughes
Tenniel Evans Martin
John Savident Sir Frederick Stewart
Neil Fitzwiliam Frank Weisel

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit