Monday, August 23, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘Yes, Prime Minister,’ on the Standard Diplomatic ‘Four-Stage Strategy’ for Crisis Responses)

Bernard Woolley [played by Derek Fowlds]: “What if the Prime Minister insists we help them?”

Sir Humphrey Appleby [played by Nigel Hawthorne, pictured]: “Then we follow the four-stage strategy.”

Woolley: “What's that?”

Sir Richard Wharton [played by Donald Pickering]: “Standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis. In stage one, we say nothing is going to happen.”

Sir Humphrey: “Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.”

Sir Richard: “In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there's nothing we can do.”

Sir Humphrey: “Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it's too late now.” — Yes, Prime Minister, Season 1, Episode 6, “A Victory for Democracy,” original air date Feb. 13, 1986, teleplay by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, directed by Sydney Lotterby

Over the past several months, whenever I’ve been able to do so, I’ve tried to carve out a half hour on Friday nights on a local PBS station to catch reruns of the 1980s British comedy Yes, Minister and its sequel, Yes, Prime Minister. Think of it as a transatlantic, male-oriented, less potty-mouthed predecessor of Veep.

The brilliance of the show, seen in the above lines, is its sharp, hilarious dissection of bureaucracy. Though some of its situations are unique to UK politics and government, it’s a delightful surprise to see how much of it translates stateside.

It can be enjoyed by conservatives or liberals alike, because though the policies of government officials may change, their behavior—protecting their turf, covering their rear ends—remains remarkably bipartisan, consistent with how people act in all large organizations.

The show’s co-creator, Antony Jay, described the inspiration for the series: “What I was told by a senior civil servant was that, in their heart of hearts, ministers really respect and admire civil servants and, in their heart of hearts, civil servants really despise ministers.”

His creative partner, Jonathan Lynn, later crossed the Atlantic to direct another political satire, Eddie Murphy’s underrated The Distinguished Gentleman, and the considerably more popular The Whole Nine Yards and My Cousin Vinny.

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