Is resurrecting Yes, Prime Minister really a good idea?

Tom Cole wants to like the revived sitcom - but he's not sure he will...

John Cleese once said that he and Connie Booth decided against making more than two series of Fawlty Towers because they “just knew that if we made more, it wouldn’t be as good.”

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The erstwhile Basil encapsulated the problem of making a follow-up when he asked: “When you do something that is generally accepted as very good, how do you top it?”

And this, I venture to suggest, is the headache now facing writers Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, who’ve been signed up to resurrect Yes, Prime Minister for digital TV channel Gold.

While it’s usually a cause for celebration when a favourite sitcom gets given a new lease of life, I’m not so sure in the case of Yes, Prime Minister.

For one thing, the writers have never seemed keen on the idea of resurrecting the show since it’s been off air, having confessed to running out of steam.

Interviewed for the TV special Comedy Connections: Yes Minister about the decision to end the series, Jay said: “We’d done all the things that were really fun” and Lynn concurred, saying: “People expected it to be sensationally funny and interesting every week, so we thought we’d quit while we were ahead.”

And while the political climate of the country has changed since Yes, Prime Minister last went out in 1988, this isn’t reason enough, in my opinion, to try to resurrect the show.

You see, Yes, Prime Minister wasn’t a reactive programme – instead, it satirised and exposed the eccentric structures, rules and habits of government instead of the issues of the day.

In fact, Lynn says something similar on his website: “The reason that the series is still so up to date after about twenty years is that nothing fundamentally changes. That’s really the point of the series, too.

“Although our series was perceived as highly topical at the time, the episodes were frequently written months or even more than a year before being recorded and broadcast. Topicality is an illusion.”

And, most importantly, there’s the question of casting. A lot of Yes, Prime Minister’s appeal lies in the performances of its leading actors, Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne, who gave pitch-perfect turns as Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby respectively.

Both men are long dead and Derek Fowlds, who played Hacker’s PPS, Bernard Woolley, is now in his 70s, meaning (rather obviously) that a reunion of the original cast won’t be on the cards for the new series.

Now, this might not necessarily seem insurmountable but I went along to see the stage show of Yes, Prime Minister when it opened in Chichester in 2010 and, as fine actors as David Haig and Henry Goodman are, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the chemistry between Hawthorne and Eddington or, for that matter, the style of their performances.

Even Lynn has gone on record highlighting the difficulties of recasting the show. In a post on his web page, he says: “I’m not sure that it’s worth remaking the series with new actors especially as the original actors were superb.” In fact, I’d go further than Lynn and suggest that Eddington and Hawthorne made the roles their own.

So what’s to be gained from making a new series of the show? Well, unless there exists a pair of actors with both the talent and the chemistry to re-create (or redefine) the relationship between Humphrey and Hacker and a series’ worth of inspiration for the writers, precious little. 

Yes Minister and its sequel were so good that anything produced under the title Yes, Prime Minister that can’t or doesn’t meet the show’s almost impossibly high standards will be a huge disappointment, not just for us viewers, but for Jay and Lynn, too. 

I want to like the new Yes, Prime Minister. I really do. But I’m just not sure that I will…

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What do you think? Am I being unnecessarily pessimistic, or is this resurrection a pretty dodgy proposal after all? Post a comment and let us know…