Hello again, Prime Minister

TWO of the best-loved characters in British television and stage comedy make a welcome return to the theatre in I’m Sorry, Prime Minister, I Can’t Quite Remember, by Jonathan Lynn, who co-wrote the original series with the late Antony Jay. The new play is at the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, from 25th September until 4th November.

The leading roles of Sir Humphrey Appleby and Jim Hacker are being played by Clive Francis and Chris Bianchi, replacing the originally announced Martin Jarvis, who had to withdraw for personal reasons. The production will be going on to Theatre Royal Bath from 14th to 18th November, and the Arts Theatre, Cambridge. Popular Bristol actor Chris Bianchi plays the High Court judge Sir David Knell.

This final chapter of the series sees Hacker and Sir Humphrey in old age, facing up to life after their exit from public service. Holed up in his home at Hacker College, Oxford, Jim finds himself, as ever, in the midst of a set of problems mainly of his own making. Unsure of how to cope, he calls on his old and not-so-loyal Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby. What ensues carries all the hallmark comedy of this classic partnership as well as being a touching portrait of two old sparring partners trying desperately to figure out the modern world and work out what their place is in it. In doing so they discover friendship and empathy, as well as learning a few hard lessons about life.

Jonathan Lynn says: “I was deeply saddened when Martin left the cast – I think he would have given an exceptional performance as Jim Hacker. I often wonder what Tony Jay would have said in this situation… probably, ‘You’d better get on with it, and I’ll send you a case of your favourite claret.’ I always thought of Tony as the guardian of Sir Humphrey’s soul, while I was the keeper of Jim’s.

The original Yes, Minister was a political satire written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Comprising three seven-episode series, it was first transmitted on BBC2 from 1980 to 1984. A sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, ran for 16 episodes from 1986 to 1988. A hugely successful stage play entitled Yes, Prime Minister, was premiered at Chichester Festival Theatre in May 2010. The production transferred to the West End where it played at three different theatres and also toured the UK twice to great acclaim.

Set principally in the private office of a British cabinet minister in the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in Whitehall, Yes, Minister follows the ministerial career of Jim Hacker, played by Paul Eddington. His various struggles to formulate and enact policy or effect departmental changes are opposed by the Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Nigel Hawthorne. The series won several BAFTAs and in 2004 was voted sixth in the Britain’s Best Sitcom poll. It was the favourite television programme of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Pictured: Jonathan Lynn, Clive Francis and Chris Bianchi.