Book Review – The Complete Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay

First published, 1989

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Now, you may recall that I recently read my first novelisation in 20-odd years – the book of the film, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino (which I’ve never seen). Well, it got me thinking: it might be an idea to read the book of a film or series I actually know. So, off I went to Amazon and I couldn’t stop myself from clicking on this, The Complete Yes Prime Minister.

Taking the form of transcribed recordings, diary entries, private letters and explanatory footnotes, as well as a few news headlines from the series, it is a romp through the first year in office of well-meaning, slightly-baffled, fictional Prime Minister, Jim Hacker and his civil service advisors: the loquacious and long-winded smoothie, Sir Humphrey Appleby, and kindly, service-translator, Bernard Wooley.

Having arrived at 10 Downing Street, Jim wants to maintain his popularity (no mean feat) in order to ensure his re-election, all the while learning that real power is not all it’s cracked up to be, and trying to understand the double-speak of high office.

When I was growing up, Yes Minister and its sequel, Yes Prime Minister were repeated with some regularity on TV. Arguably a lot of the concepts and asides were far beyond me (I was about seven or eight years old), but I remember loving the way Sir Humphrey would explain something in terribly lofty language and the most beautiful speaking voice heard anywhere (Nigel Hawthorne was quite something), and Jim (the equally wonderful Paul Eddington) would be just as perplexed as I was.

Many of us remember the “Probably” speech with much affection. It, and many other memorable moments are faithfully recreated here. I was delighted to find myself reading on my sofa in Somerset and hearing the actors’ voices in my head.

A couple of typos but not enough to mar the reading of this tremendous book.

“Humphrey’s enthusiasm for Trident knows no bounds. ‘But don’t you see, Prime Minister – with Trident we could obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe!’

“I don’t want to obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe. I told him so. He nodded impatiently. He knew that. He thought I was missing the point. ‘It has to be an effective deterrent, Prime Minister.’

“‘But it’s a bluff,’ I told him. ‘I probably wouldn’t use it.’

“’They don’t KNOW that you probably wouldn’t use it,’ he argued.

“’They probably do,’ I said.

“He was forced to agree. ‘Yes… they PROBABLY know that you probably wouldn’t. But they can’t CERTAINLY know.’

“He’s right about that. But they don’t have to certainly know. ‘They PROBABLY certainly know that I probably wouldn’t,’ I said.

“‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘but even thought they PROBABLY certainly know that you probably wouldn’t, they don’t CERTAINLY know that although you PROBABLY wouldn’t, there is NO PROBABILITY that you certainly would.’

“Bernard was taking careful minutes. It’s lucky he does shorthand and was able to reconstruct this conversation for me in writing by the end of the day.”
16% in, Chapter Two – The Grand Design, The Complete Yes Prime Minister by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay