Yes Minister

Season 2 Episode 1

The Compassionate Society

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Feb 23, 1981 on BBC Two
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Episode Summary

When Jim learns that a brand new hospital still has no medical staff, but hundreds of civil servants working there, he proposes that half of the civil servants be sacked and use the money saved to open wards with medical staff.

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  • The truth about the NHS.

    I love this episode. Partly because it has one of the best puns ever, "the Minister doesn't know his ACAS from his NALGO". Partly because of the memos of NHS bureaucracy that Hacker reads out. But mainly because it isn't afraid to poke fun at the "sacred" NHS. These days politicians and most of the media treat the NHS like it is some kind of utopian dream come true, the envy of the world. How refreshing to have someone come along and remind us it's the country's biggest bureaucracy.

    The plot revolves around a new hospital which employs 500 administrators but no medical staff, and hence treats no patients. When he hears about this, Hacker wants to shut it down and use the money to reopen closed wards of hospitals. Even the union rep thinks it is a lost cause. But not Sir Humphrey. "Isn't that a bit defeatist?" he says. Sir Humphrey's attitude is "those 500 people are seriously over-worked". After all, "the essential work of the hospital still has to go on," as Mrs Rogers (Chief Administrator) says.

    As usual with Yes Minister, it's all about the writing. It all starts with an amusing story of how the DAA has been juggling the official statistics (I know from first hand how exactly true this is). The dialogue is quite superb. I love the permanent secretary's understated line, "we've found at the DHSS that it takes time to get things going... Having patients around would be no help at all." The hospital situation may be a comic exaggeration - at least, one hopes so - but it is brilliantly exploited. Of course, trying to lay off administrative staff in order to treat more patients inevitably provokes immediate industrial action. In the end the situation can only be resolved - in typical Yes Minister style - by a quid pro quo, which somehow trades off an unfavourable enquiry report into the DAA by using empty hospital beds to house Cuban refugees.

    How about the acting? Nigel Hawthorne continues to portray Sir Humphrey perfectly as the pure cynic (especially when he gives his explanation of exactly why the NHS is funded by the government). Paul Eddington has to try out new facial contortions to convey his disbelief at the operations of St Edward's. And during the conversations between Hacker and Sir Humphrey, watch Derek Fowlds: he is obviously enjoying watching the punch up from the sidelines (which is perfectly in character).moreless
John Barron

John Barron

Permanent Secretary to the Health Secretary

Guest Star

Arthur Cox

Arthur Cox

Roy the Driver

Guest Star

Stephen Tate

Stephen Tate

Billy Fraser

Guest Star

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (0)

  • QUOTES (4)

    • Jim Hacker: How are we supposed to govern responsibly if backbenchers get all the facts?

    • Hacker: Couldn't we get the independent enquiry to exonerate the department?
      Humphrey: Do you mean rig it?
      Hacker: No, no, no, no, no. Well, yes.

    • Hacker: The National Health Service, Humphrey, is an advanced case of galloping bureaucracy.
      Humphrey: Oh, certainly not 'galloping'... a gentle canter at the most.

    • Hacker: Fortunately, Bernard, most of our journalists are so incompentent they'd have the gravest difficulty in finding out that today is Wednesday.
      Bernard: Uh, it's actually Thursday, Minister.

  • NOTES (0)


    • Sir Humphrey Appleby: The Minister doesn't know his ACAS from his NALGO.

      This is a pun on the name of two industrial relations bodies:

      ACAS = Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

      NALGO = National Association of Local Government Officers (a 1970s/1980s trades union, subsequently subsumed into Unison).

  • 10:00 pm
    Hannibal The Wrath of the Lamb