One of the most delicious moments in my time working in government was when David Blunkett played the episode of Yes Prime Minister where abolition of the Department for Education is proposed, to senior officials in the department after an away day dinner. The episode may have been based in the early 80s, but it resonated far too close for their comfort in the late 90s. The series set such a high standard that the new stage version clearly had a lot to live up to. It was with that in mind that I finally caught the Chichester Theatre production at Bath last night. And while it lacked the presence of Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, it retained enough of the wit of the original, cleverly updated to today's fiscal crises and global warming obsessions, to entertain for the best part of two hours.
Simon Williams was a creditable Sir Humphrey and Richard McCabe a blokeish Jim Hacker for our times, as they sought to reconcile the sordid requests of a foreign minister from one of the ex-Soviet 'stans with the need for a vast oil-fuelled bailout. With the threat of a civil service act designed to remove many civil servants' perks, Sir Humphrey is persuaded to do the PM's bidding. Parts of the script simply didn't ring true, not least the conversations with the BBC, but Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn ensured that it retained enough fresh and knowing humour to remind us how much we miss such genuinely good and well-observed political comedy. The play has been on the go for a year, but the writing felt sufficiently fresh and relevant to engage the Bath audience last night. Perhaps we could have a short TV series revival for the coalition age?