The Bed of Nails (Yes Minister)

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"The Bed of Nails"
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 5
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Peter Whitmore
Original air date 9 December 1982
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Bed of Nails" is the nineteenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 9 December 1982 in which Hacker unwisely accepts the role of 'Transport Supremo' with a view to developing and 'Integrated Transport' policy for the UK. It soon becomes apparent that opposition from various transport interests, the unions and significant also from within the Department for Transport will make implementation impossible and the policy is promptly ditched following a number of carefully calculated 'leaks'.

The episode has been credited with introducing the phrase 'Integrated Transport' which is now widely used within UK transport policy circles and also for describing with some accuracy the dynamics operating within the Department for Transport.

Plot[edit]

The Prime Minister's special advisor, Sir Mark Spencer, meets with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Arnold Robinson, in 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister wants an Integrated Transport Policy, the implementation of which would be a political minefield. It would be popular with the public but an overall vote loser for whoever attempted to implement it. The role had already been declined by the Secretary of State for Transport and in addition, the civil service did not want it to succeed. They therefore propose to create "lots of activity but no actual achievement" and conclude that Jim Hacker is the person to achieve this for them.

Recognising that Hacker's Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby would advise against him accepting the role they bring Hacker in and flatter him with a new title 'Transport Supremo', describing the post as 'an honour' and highlighting all the positive aspects. They outline the PMs aspirations for rationalisation of the road and railway networks to avoid duplication, for a new link should be created between Heathrow airport and the West Coast Main Line, better coordination between the railways and bus services with a single ticket that can be used on both mainline rail and the London Underground and also for combined bus and railway timetables to be published with bus time available within railway stations. They decline to mention any of the problems and pressure him to agree immediately which he does.

Hacker goes back to his office to tell Sir Humphrey and Bernard the good news. Sir Humphrey then outlines the many disadvantages of this new role which, it turns out, has been circulating Whitehall for months. He explains that if a policy favours one sector then it will also infuriate all of the others. If it favours the road service then the Rail Board and unions 'will scream'; if it supports the railways then the Road lobby will 'massacre him' and if it upsets British Airways plans then 'they will call a press conference the same afternoon'.

Sir Humphrey proposes to illustrate this by arranging a meeting for the Minister with three under-secretaries, from the roads division, the rail division and air transport division. At the meeting it is soon clear that there is little scope for agreement until Hacker tells them that he wants to reduce the overall transport budget when there is an implied agreement by the three under-secretaries that this would be met by devastating strike action across all three transport sectors.

Hacker subsequently asks Bernard why these three civil servants appeared to be fighting their own corners instead of supporting the government. The Principal Private Secretary explains that this is how the civil service works: each department is controlled by those that it is supposed to be controlling. By way of example, he explains that comprehensive education was adopted in the United Kingdom as a result of lobbying by the National Union of Teachers who were the most powerful sectional interest and had a long term close relation with the Department of Education. He then explains that this arrangement worked across all government departments.

Hacker now concludes that the task is impossible and asks Sir Humphrey for advice on how to get out of the commitment. Humphrey suggests that a few "local repercussions" of the policy impacting the Prime Minister's own constituency, including local job losses and a local park being developed as a bus station would help. Humphrey then suggests that if a journalist — such as the one he's about to have lunch with — got hold of the document it would have nasty results, and that if they had circulated copies to every department then it would be difficult to track down the source of any leak that might occur. Sir Humphrey has lunch with Peter Maxwell, a journalist from The Times over which he outlines the negative implications of the policy on the constituency and then he 'accidentally' leaves a copy of Hacker's memo for the journalist to retrieve.

A few days later, Hacker has been called back to Number 10, where Sir Mark Spencer informs him of the PM's displeasure after this confidential information had appeared in The Times because of a leak. Furthermore, another report has appeared in the PM's local paper, scotching rumours of any unfortunate side-effects to the policy. However, Sir Mark is adamant that the PM's office "does not leak." Hacker is asked to rethink his proposals.

Sir Humphrey has already prepared a Plan B which is wildly expensive and will upset HM Treasury. The plan proposes a new 'British Transport Authority' with a staff of 80,000 and a budget of £1,000,000,000 per year. They consider leaking this as well. Bernard is worried that there would be a leak inquiry however he is reassured that such inquiries are only ever 'set up' and rarely conclude with anything substantive given that in most cases, most leaks do actually come from 10 Downing Street. As Sir Humphrey remarks, the ship of state is the only one that leaks from the top.

Hacker and Sir Humphrey are brought in to discuss the matter with Sir Mark and Sir Arnold. Each side is confident that they can discover the source of the other's leak, which leads to a stalemate. They agree to send the policy back to the Ministry of Transport and conduct a leak inquiry.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
John Nettleton Sir Arnold Robinson
Nigel Stock Sir Mark Spencer
David Firth Under-Secretary, Air Division
Peter Dennis Under-Secretary, Roads Division
Robert East Under-Secretary, Rail Division
David Rose Peter Maxwell

Quote[edit]

Hacker, Sir Humphrey and Bernard discussing Hacker's appointment as Transport Supremo

Hacker: Furthermore, Sir Mark thinks there may be votes in it, and if so, I don't intend to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Sir Humphrey: I put it to you, Minister that you are looking a Trojan Horse in the mouth.
Hacker: You mean, if I look closely at this gift horse, I would find it's full of Trojans?
Bernard: If you had looked the Trojan Horse in the mouth, Minister, you would have found Greeks inside.
Odd look from Hacker... Bernard: Well, the point is it was the Greeks who gave the Trojan Horse to the Trojans, so technically, it wasn't a Trojan Horse at all, it was a Greek Horse. Hence the tag timeo Danaos et dona ferentes which you will recall, is usually and somewhat inaccurately translated as Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Or doubtless, you would have recalled, had you not attended the LSE.
Hacker: Yes well I'm sure Greek tags are all right in their way, but can we stick to the point, please?
Bernard: Sorry. Sorry, Greek tags?
Hacker: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. I suppose the EEC equivalent would be Beware of Greeks bearing an olive oil surplus!
Sir Humphrey: Excellent, Minister!
Bernard: Ah. Oh. Well, the point is minister, that just as the Trojan Horse was in fact Greek, what you describe as a Greek tag is in fact Latin. It's obvious, really: the Greeks would never suggest bewaring of themselves, if one could use such a participle, 'bewaring', that is. And it's clearly Latin, not because timeo ends in -o, because the Greek first person also ends in -o. Though actually, there is a Greek word τιμαω, meaning 'I honour'. But the -os ending is a nominative singular termination of the second declension in Greek, and an accusative plural in Latin, of course. Though actually 'Danaos' is not only the Greek for Greek, its also the Latin for Greek, it's very interesting really...

Reality[edit]

It is considered to be a good representation of some of the dynamics operating within the Department of Transport.[1] A research paper published by Parliament in 2010 reflected on the question of how much policy is made by the minister and how much influence the civil service quoting from 'A Bed of Nails'.[2]

The sketch is often credited in the UK professional community as being the source of the term 'integrated transport'. A 'Commission for Integrated Transport' was established in 1998 to to provide independent advice to Government on the implementation of integrated transport policy, to monitor developments across transport, environment, health and other sectors and to review progress towards meeting our objectives[3] (this was abolished in the 2010 spending review).[4] In 2008 the passenger transport authorities in a number of major UK conurbations were renamed integrated transport authorities.[5] By 2010 the Department for Transport had an 'Integrated Transport Economics and Appraisal' unit which included in its remit to develop a strategic National Transport Model for use by the Department in the assessment of a range of transport policy options. The Model uses data on how people travel according to their circumstances and where they live. It takes into account the choices available and the use people make of the different modes of transport - car, rail, bus, walk and cycle.[6]

New Labour's first transport white paper A New Deal for Transport: Better for everyone in 1997 led to the formation of Transport Direct which established an information system to Deliver an integrated and comprehensive information service for all travel modes and mode combinations and also to Develop integrated information and ticket sales for journeys involving more than one mode of transport. The first aim was achieved in 2004, but a comprehensive national ticketing system was not. The Integrated Transport Smartcard Organisation was established in 2001 to develop and maintain the relevant data standards for electronic ticketing.[7] Some regional systems are in use and Oystercard does allow travel on mainline rail and London Underground in the London area. In 2010 the new government announced that it would introduce a national smart card ticketing system to make multi-modal journeys easy and seamless by 2014.[8]

In 2010 Heathrow Airport is still not connected to the West Coast Main Line. A link from the airport to High Speed 2 was considered but was discounted for cost reasons.

Trivia[edit]

  • Robert East, who portrayed the Under-Secretary for the Rail Division, also played Peter Gascoigne (Hacker's Home Affairs Private Secretary) in the Yes, Prime Minister episode "A Diplomatic Incident". It is assumed that they are the same person.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Special report: You simply couldn't make it up, Minister". Fleet News. 
  2. ^ "Transport policy in 2010: a rough guide". 
  3. ^ "Commission for Integrated Transport". "The Commission for Integrated Transport (CfIT) is an independent body advising the Government on integrated transport policy. CfIT takes a broad view of integrated transport policy and its interface with wider Government objectives for economic prosperity, environmental protection, health and social inclusion. Physical integration - the principle of ensuring transport modes operate in conjunction with one another, is just one vital element of the bigger transport picture. The Commission provides expert advice supported by independent research. CfIT was established in the 1998 Integrated Transport White Paper 'to provide independent advice to Government on the implementation of integrated transport policy, to monitor developments across transport, environment, health and other sectors and to review progress towards meeting our objectives'." 
  4. ^ "CSR: Government kills off Commission for Integrated Transport". Road Transport. 
  5. ^ "Local Transport Bill". Parliament. 
  6. ^ "Integrated Transport Economics and Appraisal". Department for Transport. "Our aims are to ensure that decisions on transport policy are made in the light of the best possible advice on their impacts, and to ensure that investment in all modes of transport and their management meets the Department's policy objective to seek good value for money... We are developing a strategic National Transport Model for use by the Department in the assessment of a range of transport policy options. The Model uses data on how people travel according to their circumstances and where they live. It takes into account the choices available and the use people make of the different modes of transport - car, rail, bus, walk and cycle. The Model relates the way people travel to cost, time and convenience of each alternative. It can therefore help to predict how improvements in public transport or in roads influence the modes people use and the impact of these improvements on congestion and emissions" 
  7. ^ "About". ITSO. 
  8. ^ "Local Transport White Paper – Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon: Making Sustainable Transport Happen". 

External links[edit]

"The Bed of Nails" at the Internet Movie Database