The Middle-Class Rip-Off

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"The Middle-Class Rip-Off"
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 7
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Peter Whitmore
Original air date 23 December 1982
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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"The Whisky Priest"
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Middle-Class Rip-Off" is the twenty-first episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 23 December 1982.

Plot[edit]

Jim Hacker is in his constituency watching his local football team, Aston Wanderers. After the match he goes for a drink in the boardroom. Two of the club's officials tell him of its financial difficulties: it will soon be calling in the receiver. They press him to try and assist them, pointing out the number of votes that may be in it. Despite his concern, he tells them that as a minister he can't intervene in a local matter. However, one of the officials is chairman of the council's Arts and Leisure Committee. He mentions that money is being spent on a nearby art gallery that is in a state of disrepair, and that they keep getting offers for the site. Hacker suggests they sell the art gallery and save the football club, which is feasible, subject to a planning inquiry. They go to visit the Corn Exchange Art Gallery, a Grade 2 listed building, which Hacker nevertheless describes as "hideous".

Back in London, Sir Humphrey Appleby, Hacker's Permanent Secretary, has got wind of his plan and is taking an interest — despite it being a constituency matter. While he is in the Minister's office, awaiting his arrival, he discusses it with Bernard. Sir Humphrey is passionately opposed to the idea of taking money from the arts and using it to subsidise a commercial operation such as a football club. The Minister arrives, and immediately senses that all is not well: he goes into a mild panic when Sir Humphrey announces that there is a reshuffle in the offing. However, this is to be a departmental reorganisation (a "real reshuffle"), possibly meaning extra responsibilities. Then he raises the issue of the Corn Exchange Art Gallery. With several weak arguments, Sir Humphrey seeks to convince Hacker not to proceed before finally telling him that it is a matter of principle. He once again explains his view, but Hacker can see no difference between art and football — except that a lot more people are interested in the latter. The Minister opines to Sir Humphrey that art is only subsidised for people like him: the educated middle classes, who enjoy theatre, opera and ballet. Sir Humphrey counters that facilities such as the Royal Opera House would not exist were it not for subsidy. Hacker regards this as a very good case in point, citing non-British productions, seats that the public can't afford or even book, and a gift of £9.5 million per year. Sir Humphrey has to leave early and can no longer continue with the "appalling discussion". He lets slip that he is actually going to a gala performance of The Flying Dutchman in Covent Garden along with other Permanent Secretaries (much to Hacker's glee). The Minister allows him to depart, not wishing to make him late for his "works' outing".

During the interval at the Royal Opera House, Sir Humphrey visits the bar and chats with Sir Ian Whitworth, Permanent Secretary of the Department of the Environment. Sir Humphrey wishes him to oversee the planning inquiry relating to Hacker's project and lay down some "informal guidelines". When Sir Ian asks why he wants it fixed, his colleague informs him and he is equally aghast at the proposal, which he sees as "simply subsidising self-indulgence."

The next day, Hacker is in his office with Bernard. The Principal Private Secretary announces the Minister's forthcoming diary appointments, which comprise meetings with a number of public bodies to which Bernard refers as the "arts and architecture mafia", all of them opposed to the demolition of the art gallery. Sir Humphrey has asked them to visit, but Hacker is unconcerned, and is determined to support his "excellent scheme". Next, Bernard asks the Minister to approve a regulatory amendment that is couched in such oblique, cabbalistic civil service language that Hacker calls it "piddling gobbledegook". It transpires that it will enable local councillors to claim a bigger allowance for attending council meetings. Bernard then tells Hacker of Sir Humphrey's talk with Sir Ian the previous evening, and warns him about the "guidelines" that will be laid down for the planning inquiry. Hacker believes all such inquiries to be impartial, but as Bernard remarks, "Railway trains are impartial too, but if you lay down the lines for them that's the way they go." The Minister protests and, after learning how planning inspectors are appointed, decides to lay down some guidelines himself.

At lunch, Sir Humphrey is at table with Sir Ian, along with Sir Arnold Robinson, the Cabinet Secretary. It transpires that Hacker has indeed been busy and their chosen planning inspector has now been replaced. However, Sir Humphrey has an idea. If they add Minister for the Arts to Hacker's portfolio in the upcoming departmental reorganisation, he can hardly close down an art gallery as his first action.

Hacker is about to have a meeting with his constituency's councillors about the proposal, but Sir Humphrey is on his way. He bursts in to bring the Minister news of his new responsibilities, and Hacker is pleasantly surprised. However, he pauses for thought when Sir Humphrey reminds him of the implications regarding the football club. Hacker quickly concludes that the art gallery is worth saving after all, but the councillors are waiting outside. Bernard ushers them in and Hacker struggles to explain that he can no longer give his approval. The councillors are unimpressed and accuse him of going back on his word. However, Bernard saves the day by drawing the Minister's attention to the regulation he signed earlier regarding councillors' attendance allowances. Hacker tells them frankly that they must choose between one and the other. This now puts things in a different light, and the councillors come up with an alternative plan to raise the money by closing down a local school and selling the land, leaving the meeting happy at the outcome. After they leave, Sir Humphrey too makes his excuses: it is another gala performance. Now Hacker asks if he can come too, and the Permanent Secretary is delighted.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
John Nettleton Sir Arnold Robinson
John Barron Sir Ian Whitworth
Patrick O'Connell Brian Wilkinson
Derek Benfield Aston Wanderers Board Member

Cast notes[edit]

  • The Permanent Secretary (Department of the Environment) played by John Barron in this episode is called Sir Ian Whitworth, whereas in "The Compassionate Society", the same actor portrayed Sir Ian Whitchurch, Permanent Secretary of the DHSS. It is unclear whether they are two different characters or the result of an error by the writers, given that (even if the difference in surnames could be forgiven) Permanent Secretaries very rarely, if ever, move departments.

External links[edit]