The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

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In praise of Sir Humphrey Appleby
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rakspatel wrote in mycroft_brolly

Photo credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1280016/Sir-Humphrey-alive-Epping.html
Yes, Minister: Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne in the centre), along with Bernard Wooley (Derek Fowlds on the left), would use verbose language to bamboozle minister James Hacker (Paul Eddington on the right) in the BBC comedy.

This post is dedicated to all my past and present colleagues in the Civil Service, in particular the Senior Civil Servants, the Directors, the Director Generals and the Permanent Secretaries.

A recent question posed over on GLEE @ PwC, the inclusive business network for gays, lesbians and everyone else, was the following:
As a child, what was your first dream career or job?
For me personally, it was an easy answer. I wanted to be Sir Humphrey Appleby - and yes, I was a very sad, very geeky and slightly weird child!

I grew up watching Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, with my family and we all thoroughly enjoyed the weekly machinations of Sir Humphrey Appleby, as he plotted and manoeuvred, so that by the end of each half hour episode he had completely managed to pull the wool over Jim Hacker's eyes and got his own way. I therefore decided at a very early age that my lifelong ambition would be to be Sir Humphrey Appleby, and head up the Home Civil Service, walking the corridors of power at Westminster.

At the GLEE networking event that I recently attended I was shocked to find that some of the younger members of the network, who were in their twenties, had never even heard of Sir Humphrey. How could this be? For me, Sir Humphrey was a genius, a legend, a cultural icon. I decided that it was about time I banged the drum for Sir Humphrey so that the younger generation a) knew who he was and b) acknowledged and recognised his genius!

The obvious question is ... why did I want to be Sir Humphrey? I am going to give an honest answer.

I wanted power; I wanted to run the country. I LOVED Sir Humphrey because of his Machiavellian machinations, his ability to manipulate people, his ability to deceive and dissemble, and his power games. I LOVED his use (or, to be more accurate, his abuse!) of the English language; the way he could concoct the most convoluted sentences, where by the time he reached the end of the sentence you had forgotten the beginning and the point he was making; his use of the longest and most complex words in the English dictionary; and his general smarminess! He also seemed to have an amazing lifestyle, swanning around the corridors of power in Westminster, hanging out and drinking at all the best private clubs in London, and going to all the best parties and events. To cut a long story short, I was DESPERATE to be Sir Humphrey!

Unfortunately, this particular dream went up in flames in Summer last year during the London Riots! However, many of my closest friends still work in the Civil Service, some of them at quite exalted levels, and so I console myself with the thought that one of them, one day, will make it to Cabinet Secretary or Permanent Secretary ie Sir Humphrey, and then they can live this lifestyle, and I can achieve my lifelong career ambition vicariously through them!

Cut and pasted from Wikipedia:

Sir Humphrey Appleby, GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon), is a fictional character from the British television series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. He was played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne. In Yes Minister, he is the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Administrative Affairs (a fictional department of the British government). In the last episode of Yes, Minister, "Party Games", he becomes Cabinet Secretary, the position he retains during Yes, Prime Minister.

Sir Humphrey is a master of obfuscation and manipulation, often making long-winded statements such as:
"In view of the somewhat nebulous and inexplicit nature of your remit, and the arguably marginal and peripheral nature of your influence within the central deliberations and decisions within the political process, there could be a case for restructuring their action priorities in such a way as to eliminate your liquidation from their immediate agenda."
He is committed to maintaining the status quo for the country in general and for the Civil Service in particular, and will stop at nothing to do so — whether that means baffling his opponents with technical jargon, strategically appointing allies to supposedly impartial boards, or setting up an interdepartmental committee to smother his Minister's proposals in red tape.

Throughout the series, he serves as Permanent Secretary under the ministry of Jim Hacker at the Department of Administrative Affairs; he is appointed Cabinet Secretary shortly before Hacker's elevation to the role of Prime Minister.

Sir Humphrey represents, in many ways, the perfect technocrat. He is pompous, arrogant, elitist and regards his less-well-educated minister with some contempt. He frequently uses both his mastery of the English language and even his superb grasp of Latin and Greek grammar to perplex his political master and to obscure relevant issues under discussion.

He genuinely believes that the Civil Service knows what the average person needs and is the most qualified body to run the country, the joke being that not only is Sir Humphrey, as a high-ranking Oxford-educated Civil Servant, quite out of touch with the average person but also that the Civil Service identifies whatever is 'best for Britain' as being 'best for the Civil Service'. Jim Hacker, on the other hand, tends to regard what is best for Britain as being whatever is best for his political party or his own chances of re-election. As a result, Sir Humphrey and Hacker often clash.

Sir Humphrey enjoys the finer things in life, and is regularly seen drinking sherry and dining at fine establishments, often with his fellow civil servant Sir Arnold Robinson, who was Cabinet Secretary throughout Yes Minister. Sir Humphrey is also on the board of governors of the National Theatre and attends many of the gala nights of the Royal Opera House. His interests also extend to cricket, art and theatre.

The BBC Websites for Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/yesminister/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/yesprimeminister/

You can buy Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister on Amazon here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Complete-Yes-Minister-Collectors/dp/B0002XOZRO/ref=sr_1_2?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1334801848&sr=1-2
http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Complete-Yes-Minister-Prime/dp/B000HXDM0U/ref=sr_1_1?s=dvd&ie=UTF8&qid=1334801941&sr=1-1

Let us give it up for Sir Humphrey!


Photo credit: http://www.yes-minister.com/tribute_nigel.htm

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I too adored Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey running rings around his Minister. The programme was perfect political satire, with such clever writing and so well cast. Had rather the opposite effect on me however – making me quite certain that I never EVER wanted to engage in such things for real. Guess I just knew early on that I possessed neither the requisite wit nor vocabulary. :-)

Well, this is what one of my ex-Home Office colleagues has just emailed to me as a reply to this piece:

"I still find it stunning that anyone would want to be Sir Humphrey at such a young age (or indeed at all) but you have always been an original!"

"The programme was perfect political satire, with such clever writing and so well cast." Agree totally.

I have neither the wit nor the vocab either; however, I never let small things like that stop me when I have my heart and mind set on something!

Anyway, you SO DO have the wit AND the vocab!

My lexical adroitness is ameliorating. Possibly. :-)

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