A Very Courageous Decision: The Inside Story of Yes Minister, by Graham McCann
Aurum Press (2014), Hardcover, 384 pages
There are very few comedic television shows which have had such an impact on the social and political real world as the BBC comedy Yes Minister, and its subsequent successor Yes, Prime Minister, which during their relatively short run between 1980 and 1984, and 1986 and 1988 respectively, shook up the public image of politicians and civil servants as no other comedy program has ever done. The legacy of the show, apart from memories of a brilliantly witty, superbly written and acted series, is that any revelations of government bungling or civil service shenanigans, immediately evokes calls of “Yes, Minister”, and it will be immediately and implicitly understood by the public at large, even among those who have never actually seen the shows. McCann’s carefully written and detailed book is both the story of how the show came to be, and its blossoming impact on the viewing public and the politico-social world. McCann starts with the early careers of writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, two very different individuals, one fervently left-wing, the other equally as vehemently right of centre, who came to evolve a idea for a series revolving around a career civil servant, a newly elected minister, and his private secretary. The story of the early evolution of the series from idea to screenplay to casted series to production is covered closely and in immaculate detail. McCann is highly experienced in writing books of this nature, having previously penned similar books about Open All Hours and Fawlty Towers, and the book is meticulously and absorbingly written, with comments from all the people involved in the production, including actors and crew. particularly interesting is the way in the which the charactters of Sir Humphrey Appleby, Jim Hacker and Bernard Woolley evolved through the skill of the actors playing them. McCann goes on to cover the whole of the two series, and the subsequent revivals on the stage and screen, as well as demonstrating the massive impact it had on British politics, with MPs embracing the show, and queuing up to give their best wisecracks about it at question time. No less a fan than the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher, all but demanded the chance to appear in a skit about the show. This is a terrific book, by turns absorbing, funny, sentimental, occasionally sad and informative. This is certainly one of the better books I have ever read in this genre. Highly recommended.