The man behind Yes, Prime Minister thinks The Thick Of It has had its day, whereas his political comedy – which returns to the small screen in January – is timeless.
“I think [The Thick Of It] was very time-specific to a period with Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell,” said Jonathan Lynn, who co-wrote the original 80s series and the forthcoming remake with writing partner Antony Jay. “I think it was ridiculing the characters and basically saying that these are terrible people doing terrible things and that’s why they’re funny, and I do find it funny.
“We’re doing something completely different,” Lynn continued. “We feel that we’re in some way explaining our system of government to the public. Essentially… what happens in our shows has happened or could happen and we feel that if we were either Jim or Sir Humphrey or Bernard we would behave the way they do.
“So our humour is about the system, and we’ve always done our best to make the characters – as opposed to sometimes what they have to do – very agreeable. So we have a very different approach to the whole subject matter.”
Lynn was speaking at a preview screening of the long-awaited new series of Yes, Prime Minister last night. Actor David Haig – who plays hapless Prime Minister Jim Hacker – also revealed he’s been channelling Basil Fawlty.
“I’ve been accused or occasionally minimally admired for basing him on a hotel owner in a famous sitcom,” said Haig, obliquely. He denied looking to Boris Johnson for inspiration, as he’s hinted previously; but admitted his character and the Mayor of London share certain characteristics.
“I certainly didn’t base it on him but there is something about that BJ character that incorporates incredible political shrewdness with apparently inept doltishness, and the two combined are very powerful as a political mix.”
Haig’s co-star Henry Goodman – who has stepped into the shoes of crafty civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby – joked: “David tried on the blonde wig but it didn’t work.”
A Jeremy Paxman-esque presenter also makes an appearance in the opening instalment – the first new episode in 25 years. The remake, which will be broadcast on UKTV classic comedy channel Gold, reunites the original writers Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay and grapples with such topical hot potatoes as a fragile coalition, calamitous European conference and a Scottish independence referendum.
The screening attracted politicians and civil servants past and present, including Conservative MP Nigel Evans, former private secretary Lord Robin Butler, former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, former senior advisor Lord Donoughue and former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell, as well as former ITN political editor John Sergeant.
Yes, Prime Minister began life as Yes, Minister in 1980, starring the late Paul Eddington as the Right Honorable James “Jim” Hacker MP, and the late Nigel Hawthorne as the civil servant who foils his every move, Sir Humphrey Appleby. The comedy ran for five series (during which Hacker was promoted to Prime Minister) and was enormously popular – even Margaret Thatcher declared it her favourite show.
In 2010, Yes, Prime Minister was revived as a stage play, which starred David Haig and Henry Goodman and is still enjoying a successful run in the West End.
The new series of Yes, Prime Minister will broadcast on Gold in mid-January