How Lose Embarrassing Records


‘He handed me the file. Inside was a sheet of paper which read as follows:

‘This file contains the complete set of papers, except for:

(a) a number of secret documents
(b) a few others which are part of still active files
(c) some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967
(d) some records which went astray in the move to London
(e) other records which went astray when the War Office was incorporated into the Ministry of Defence
(f) the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.’

[1967 was, in one sense, a very bad winter. From the Civil Service point of view it was a very good one. All sorts of embarrassing records were lost – Ed.]

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 513

Christmas At The Ministry


‘Humphrey: I wonder if I might crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by-no-means disagreeable obligation which has, over the years, become more or less established practice within government circles as we approach the terminal period of the calendar year, of course, not financial. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Week Fifty-One and submit to you, with all appropriate deference, for your consideration at a convenient juncture, a sincere and sanguine expectation – indeed confidence, indeed one might go so far as to say hope – that the aforementioned period may be, at the end of the day, when all relevant factors have been taken into consideration, susceptible of being deemed to be such as to merit a final verdict of having been by no means unsatisfactory in its overall outcome and, in the final analysis, to give grounds for being judged, on mature reflection, to have been conducive to generating a degree of gratification which will be seen in retrospect to have been significantly higher than the general average.

Hacker: What’s he talking about?

Bernard: Well minister, I think Sir Humphrey wanted to crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by-no-means disagreeable obligation…

Hacker: Alright, alright Bernard. Humphrey…

Humphrey: At the end of the day, when all things…

Hacker: Humphrey…

Humphrey: Minister?

Hacker: Are you saying Happy Christmas?

Humphrey: Yes minister.’

– Jay. A., Lynn. J. (December 27, 1982) Christmas At The Ministry as part of “The Funny Side Of Christmas” on BBC 1

Editors’ Note


‘We believe that these diaries accurately reflect the mind of one of our outstanding national leaders; if the reflection seems clouded it may not be the fault of the mirror. Hacker himself processed events in a variety of ways, and the readers will have to make their own judgement as to whether any given statement represents

(a) what happened
(b) what he believed happened
(c) what he would like to have happened
(d) what he wanted others to believe happened
(e) what he wanted others to believe that he believed happened.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 9

On Women


‘[Later in the week Sir Humphrey Appleby had lunch with Sir Arnold Robinson, the Cabinet Secretary, at the Athenaeum Club. Sir Humphrey, as always, made a note on one of his pieces of memo paper – Ed.]

Arnold’s feelings are the same as mine when it comes to women. But like me – and unlike the Minister – he sees clearly that they are different from us. In the following ways: –

1. Bad for teamwork: they put such strains on a team, by reacting differently from us.

2. Too emotional: they are not rational like us.

3. Can’t be Reprimanded: they either get into a frightful bate or start blubbing.

4. Can be Reprimanded: some of them can be, but are frightfully hard and butch and not in the least bit attractive.

5. Prejudices: they are full of them.

6. Silly Generalisations: they make them.

7. Stereotypes: they think in them.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 361

Sexism at the Office


‘[Sir Arnold Robinson and Sir Humphrey Appleby were plainly quite confident, as we have already seen, that they could sway a sufficient number of Hacker’s Cabinet colleagues to vote against this proposal when it came before them.

The source of their confidence was the practise, current in the 1970s and 1980s, of holding an informal meeting of Permanent Secretaries on Wednesday mornings. This meeting took place in the office of the Cabinet Secretary, had no agenda and was – almost uniquely among Civil Service meetings – unminuted.

Permanent Secretaries would ‘drop in’ and raise any question of mutual interest. This enabled them all to be fully-briefed about any matters that were liable to confront their Ministers in Cabinet, which took place every Thursday morning, i.e. the next day. And it gave them time to give their Ministers encouragement or discouragement as they saw fit on particular issues.

Fortunately Sir Humphrey’s diary reveals what occurred at the Permanent Secretaries’ meeting that fateful Wednesday morning – Ed.]

I informed my colleagues that my Minster is intent on creating a quota of twenty-five per cent women in the open structure, leading to an eventual fifty per cent. Parity, in words.

Initially, my colleagues’ response was that it was an interesting suggestion.

[‘Interesting’ was another Civil Service form of abuse, like ‘novel’ or, worse still, ‘imaginative’ – Ed.]

Arnold set the tone for the proper response. His view was that it is right and proper that men and women be treated fairly and equally. In principle we should all agree, he said, that such targets should be set and goals achieved.

Everyone agreed immediately that we should agree in principle to such an excellent idea, that is was right and proper to set such targets and achieve such goals.

Arnold then canvassed several of my colleagues in turn, to see if they could implement this excellent proposal in their departments.

Bill [Sir William Carter, Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Ed.] said that he was in full agreement, naturally. He believes that the Civil Service must institute some positive discrimination in favour of women. But regretfully he felt obliged to point out that it cannot happen in the FCO for obvious reasons. Clearly we cannot post women ambassadors to Iran, or any of the Muslim countries, for instance. Generally speaking most of the Third World countries are not as advanced as we are in connection with women’s rights – and as we have to send our diplomats to new postings every three years, and entertain many Islamic VIPs in this country, the proposal would definitely not work for the FCO. Nonetheless he wished to make it clear that he applauded the principle.

Ian [ Sir Ian Simpson, Permanent Secretary of the Home Office – Ed.] said that he was enthusiastically in favour of the principle. He believes we all could benefit from the feminine touch. Furthermore, women are actually better at handling some problems than men. He had no doubt about this. Regretfully, however, an exception would have to be made in the case of the Home Office: women are not the right people to run prisons, or the police. And quite probably, they wouldn’t want to do it anyway.

We all agreed this was probably so.

Peter [Sir Peter Wainwright, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Defence – Ed.] said that, alas! the same applied to Defence. Women are hardly the people to control all those admirals and generals. Nor is it a practical possibility. To place a women at the Head of Security.

I observed that M. Would have to become F. This provoked a gratifying degree of merriment around the table.

Arnold, speaking as for us all, agreed that Defence must clearly be a man’s world. Like industry. And Employment, with all those trade union barons to cope with.

John [Sir John Mckendrick, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Security – Ed.] took an even more positive line. He was happy to inform us that women are already well represented near the top of the DHSS, which has two of the four women Dep. Secs. currently in Whitehall. Neither of them is in line for Permanent Secretary, obviously, as they are Deputy Chief Medical Officers (and in that case they may not be suitable for other reasons). Furthermore, constitute eighty per cent of the typing grades, so he was delighted to be able to tell us that his Department was doing too badly by them. He added that, in principle, he was in favour of them going to the very top.

Arnold summed up all the views expressed: the feeling of the meeting was – unquestionably – that in principle we were all thoroughly in favour of equal rights for the ladies. It is just that there are special problems in individual departments.

I raised again the question of the quota and stated that I was against it. Everyone immediately supported me. There was a feeling that it was not on and a bad idea – in fact a typical politician’s idea.

I gave my view: namely, that we must always have the right to promote the best man for the job, regardless of sex.

Furthermore – and I made it clear that I was speaking as an ardent feminist myself – I pointed out that the problem lay in recruiting the right sort of women. Married women with families tend to drop out because, in all honesty, they cannot give their work their fully-minded attention. And unmarried women with no children are not fully rounded people with a thorough understanding of life.

There was general agreement that family life was essential and that it was hard for spinsters to be fully-rounded individuals.

I summed up my remarks by saying that, in practise, it is rarely possible to find a fully-rounded married women with a happy home and three children who is prepared to devote her whole life, day and night, to a Government Department. It’s Catch-22 – or, rather, Catch-22, subparagraph (a). This remark produced more gratifying merriment from my colleagues.

Arnold had allowed considerable time for this discussion, which indicates the importance that he attached to the problem. He concluded the matter by asking everyone present to ensure that all of their respective Ministers oppose the quota idea in Cabinet by seeing that each Minister’s attention is drawn to each Department’s own special circumstances. But he also asked all present to be sure to recommend the principle of equal opportunities at every level.

Through the chair, I made one final point my Minister sees the promotion of women as one means of achieving greater diversity at the top of the Service. I asked all of my colleagues to stress, when briefing their Ministers, that quite frankly one could not find a more diverse collection of people than us.

It was unanimously agreed that we constitute a real cross-section of the nation.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 367-370

My Wife Indeed


‘If women were able to be good Permanent Secretaries, there would be more of them, wouldn’t there? Stands to reason.’

I’ve never before heard a reply that so totally begs the question. ‘No Humphrey!’ I began, wondering where to begin. But on he went. ‘I’m no anti-feminist. I love women. Some of my best friends are women. My wife, indeed.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 360

Five Standard Excuses


‘He suggested that we choose one the civil service’s five standard excuses. Humphrey must be quite anxious about the situation if he’s prepared to reveal his techniques to me so openly.
I made notes. I have called each excuse by the by the name of a famous example of its use.

1. The Anthony Blunt excuse
There is a perfectly satisfactory explanation for everything, but security prevents its disclosure

2. The Comprehensive School excuse
It’s only gone wrong because of heavy cuts in staff and budget which have stretched supervisory resources beyond the limit

3. The Concord excuse
It was a worthwhile experiment now abandoned, but not before it provided much valuable data and considerable employment

4. The Munich Argreement excuse
It occurred before important facts were known, and cannot happen again.
(The important facts in question were that Hitler wanted to conquer Europe. This was actually known; but not to the Foreign Office, of course)

5. The Charge of the Light Brigade excuse
It was an unfortunate lapse by an individual which has now been dealt with under internal disciplinary procedures

According to Sir Humphrey, these excuses have covered everything so far. Even wars. Small wars, anyway.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 338

Equal Opportunities


‘If women were able to be good Permanent Secretaries, there would be more of them, wouldn’t there? Stands to reason.’

I’ve never before heard a reply that so totally begs the question. ‘No Humphrey!’ I began, wondering where to begin. But on he went. ‘I’m no anti-feminist. I love women. Some of my best friends are women. My wife, indeed.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1981. The Complete Yes Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1991) p. 360