Sir Antony Jay, who has died aged 86, was a writer, broadcaster and director, and co-author, with Jonathan Lynn, of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, the political comedies which kept the nation laughing through the Thatcherite 1980s.
The guiding principle of Yes, Minister, which first aired on BBC2 in 1981, was a gentle satire on a governing system in which elected politicians are outmanoeuvred by their more worldly, unelected officials. The series starred Paul Eddington as Jim Hacker, the hapless, publicity-hungry but risk-averse minister for administrative affairs engaged in constant wrangles with the Civil Service in the form of his Machiavellian permanent secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne). The minister was aided and abetted (sometimes) by his private secretary, Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds.
With such gems as Sir Humphrey’s alarmed response to Hacker’s suggestion of an official enquiry: “A basic rule of government, minister, is never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be,” and Hacker’s perennial aversion to “courageous” decisions, the series became compulsive viewing, not least for the politicians and bureaucrats it satirised, including Margaret Thatcher herself.
Despite not being renowned for her sense of humour, the Prime Minister claimed that Yes, Minister was her favourite programme and once turned up at the BBC studios with her own script. The stars of the show, no admirers, had to be cajoled into acting out a slightly awkward scene, broadcast on the evening news bulletins, in which Mrs Thatcher was seen ordering Hacker and Sir Humphrey to '’abolish economists’’ as a first step toward cutting the budget. '