Around 26 years after the last episode of Yes, Prime Minister aired, it is back, with the same writing team but a different cast — Henry Goodman replaces the peerless Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey and David Haig is the bumbling PM Jim Hacker in place of the much underrated Paul Eddington, both the original actors sadly no longer with us.
To revisit Margaret Thatcher’s favourite comedy is, as Sir Humphrey might himself say, a courageous decision. So does the familiar format of verbal jousting between an incompetent but cynical politician and his intellectually superior but equally cynical permanent secretary, work in 2013?
At this point, like an embattled minister standing at the dispatch box, I must declare an interest. I not only loved the first series of Yes, Minister three decades ago, I watched some of the shows being shot at BBC TV Centre at the invitation of my uncle, Jonathan Lynn — Yes, Prime Minister’s co-writer along with Anthony Jay, and the director of the current series.
It is true that the TV climate has changed. Yes, Prime Minister offers a return to a gentler era of comedy that some feel may look dated next to the brutal satire of The Thick of It.
But this is a formula which never dates — the eternal struggle between the man who thinks he is in charge and his more capable and powerful underling. The format has evolved though. This series, adapted from the hit stage show, offers for the first time a storyline that runs across the six episodes, concerning an offer from the oil-rich country of Kumranistan of a £10-million loan which could save the financially crippled Euro zone – but with some eye-watering conditions attached.
Goodman is wonderfully oleaginous as Sir Humphrey, and Haig offers a slightly more histrionic version of Hacker. The writing remains razor sharp. “Power abhors a vacuum” declares Sir Humphrey’s private secretary Bernard Woolley (Chris Larkin).
“Yes, and we are currently led by one,” replies Sir Humphrey.”