A Conflict of Interest

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"A Conflict of Interest"
Episode no. Series 2
Episode 4
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Sydney Lotterby
Original air date 31 December 1987
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"A Diplomatic Incident"
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"Power to the People"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"A Conflict of Interest" is the twelfth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 31 December 1987.

Plot[edit]

Jim Hacker is vexed at his lack of popularity within the press, and particularly at rumours of a scandal in the City. Sir Humphrey Appleby advises him not to act unless the rumours become fact, and Bernard counsels that the Prime Minister spends too much time worrying about what the newspapers say. Hacker responds that with a party conference coming up, he has little choice but to worry.

Sir Humphrey lunches with his old friend Sir Desmond Glazebrook, the Chairman of Bartlett's Bank, who admits that the reports from the City are true. A major bank named Phillips Berenson is about to become insolvent because of dishonest activities by its directors. Furthermore, Sir Desmond states that his own bank has lent to Phillips Berenson (as they seemed "decent chaps") and stands to lose a great amount. He suggests that the Bank of England intervenes to bail them out at the taxpayers' expense, and, seeing as a new Governor is about to be appointed, he asks Sir Humphrey if pressure can be brought to bear on the PM to select the right man for the job — i.e. someone in whose interests it will be to assist in the cover-up.

The problem is that the favourite for the post is Alexander Jameson who is known for his scrupulous honesty and integrity, which has earned him the sobriquet "Mr Clean". Sir Desmond is concerned that if Jameson is appointed he will expose the facts behind Phillips Berenson and other potential scandals which could cause a loss in confidence in the City and an economic collapse.

Hacker goes over his party conference speech with Dorothy Wainwright, his political advisor, and is gloomy that there is no good news in it. While trying to come up with a more optimistic and sustaining speech, they discuss Phillips Berenson and the PM remarks that City scandals always look bad for the government. He decides to appoint Jameson as Governor in order to clean the City up and will announce it at the party conference. He sends Bernard to fetch Sir Humphrey.

Bernard arrives at the Cabinet Office and relays the PM's message. He tells Sir Humphrey that Hacker is keen to appoint Jameson to the governorship. Sir Humphrey indicates that his appointment would be "appalling" and it is his firm intention to change the PM's mind. He gives Bernard a quick lesson on how to achieve this: express full support for the candidate (i.e. Jameson), pointing out all his qualities, but over-praising him to the point that the P.M. will be concerned since it could undermine his own perceived qualities. As Sir Humphrey points out, "It is necessary to get behind someone before you can stab them in the back."

Sir Humphrey joins Hacker in the Cabinet Room. The PM tells him of his worry that the Phillips Berenson scandal may overshadow his conference speech, and that he has therefore chosen Jameson for the Bank of England governorship. Sir Humphrey is wildly enthusiastic and, by lavishing effusive praise on Jameson, eventually succeeds in making the PM doubt the appointment.

Sir Frank Gordon, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, hears of Sir Humphrey's praises for Jameson and correctly interpretes them as "rubbishing". He makes it clear to the Cabinet Secretary that Jameson is seen as the best choice for sorting out the City. Sir Humphrey explains that if Jameson gets the position there is bound to be an inquiry into Phillips Berenson, which could lead to a loss of confidence, a falling pound — and possibly the government with it. When Sir Frank tells Sir Humphrey that it's a Cabinet Office problem, he is told that Phillips Berenson was supposed to have been supervised by Bank of England investigators, who are provided by the Treasury — therefore ultimately making it a difficulty for Sir Frank.

Meanwhile, Dorothy has obtained a confidential auditor's report on Phillips Berenson and it bears out everyone's suspicions. She presents it to the PM just before he hears Sir Desmond Glazebrook's views on the Bank of England post. Dorothy points out that he is someone who would stand to gain from a cover-up, though Glazebrook is such an idiot that he is last person anyone in their right mind would have as Governor. Sir Desmond joins them and Hacker doesn't mention the report during the interview, but is interested in how much the banker will admit. Sir Desmond is typically oblique but does hint very strongly — albeit with a series of very mixed metaphors — that he is interested in the position of Governor himself, as "it needs to be someone the chaps trust" — i.e. someone trustworthy enough to sweep the whole scandal under the carpet.

Later, Hacker is preparing to make his conference speech, when he is interrupted by Sir Humphrey, who has the Burandan High Commissioner with him. The latter is concerned that the appointment of Jameson will lead to an inquiry. The PM responds that all it will reveal is that 60% of Phillips Berenson's money went to "three foreigners of doubtful repute". However, it transpires that two of the recipients in question were the President of Buranda and the Chairman of the Burandan Enterprise Corporation.

If these facts are made public, the High Commissioner warns that he and others will twist them in such a way that it will seem like a racial move rather than an exposure of corruption and will lead to Britain being expelled from the Commonwealth. Furthermore, Buranda will cancel several important deals and sell all its British government stock, thus creating a run on the pound.

Once the diplomat has left, Hacker practically accuses Sir Humphrey of causing this trouble and is bewildered as to the Cabinet Secretary's wish for a cover-up. Sir Humphrey assures him that he has no ulterior motive ("this time") and recommends Sir Desmond Glazebrook as Governor of the Bank of England. In return, Sir Humphrey guarantees an immediate cut in interest rates, which Hacker can announce in his speech. Such a cut might cause problems with the economy, but Hacker should get a "standing inflation... a standing ovation."

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Richard Vernon Sir Desmond Glazebrook
Deborah Norton Dorothy Wainwright
Peter Cellier Sir Frank Gordon
Louis Mahoney Burandan High Commissioner
Miranda Forbes Secretary

Cast notes[edit]

Quote[edit]

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press, I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; the Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; the Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and the The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?
Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.

External links[edit]

"A Conflict of Interest" at the Internet Movie Database