When Jonathan Lynn and I started writing Yes, Minister back at the end of the 1970s, we had no idea whether the television audience would find it funny. We did, however, think they might be interested in a series that took them behind the scenes of government – there had never been a TV comedy series set in Whitehall.
So from the very first episode we tried to make sure that all the details were as authentic as we could make them; obviously we included lots of things that never happened, but nothing that couldn’t happen. Our hope was that even if people didn’t laugh, they would still be interested enough to switch on again next week.
This brought an unexpected benefit. We discovered that the further you delved into the realities of government, the funnier it all became. Who could invent a plot in which a schizophrenic clambered over the walls of Buckingham Palace, climbed into the Queen’s bedroom, and cadged a cigarette off her? Impossible – until Michael Fagan did exactly that in 1982.
And even when it turned out that the British television audience got the joke, we didn’t expect it to go any further. Well, possibly to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, who had similar political systems, but that was about it.
Except that it wasn’t. In the end, 80 different countries took it, some such as Holland and India translating the scripts and producing their own versions. We even found, from Peter Ustinov, that Samizdat copies were circulating rapidly (and illegally) in Soviet Russia.