The Right to Know

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For the legal principle, see right to know.
"The Right to Know"
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 6
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Sydney Lotterby
Original air date 31 March 1980
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Right to Know" is the sixth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 31 March 1980. This was one of a few episodes during the first series which did not end with the trademark phrase "Yes Minister".

Plot[edit]

Sir Humphrey Appleby is in his office, where he is joined by Bernard. Sir Humphrey wishes to know why several "underlings" have attended certain of Jim Hacker's recent meetings. Bernard informs him that their purpose is to brief the Minister on departmental procedure. Sir Humphrey demands that this ceases immediately, as there is a possibility that the Minister may learn something of which his senior officials are unaware and undermine their authority. The Permanent Secretary is concerned that Hacker is starting to run the department — a recipe for chaos and innovation. He states that a minister has just three functions: to act as the department's PR man, to steer its legislation through Parliament, and to fight for its budget. He instructs Bernard to "create activity" in Hacker's diary. Bernard protests that the Minister is at that moment seeing a deputation of environmentalists regarding an endangered colony of badgers. While pleased at this, Sir Humphrey warns Bernard that Principal Private Secretaries may join the badgers as a threatened species if they are unable to occupy their ministers.

Meanwhile, Hacker is doing his best to placate his visitors, who are concerned that new legislation will allow certain areas of the countryside to lose their protected status, in particular the aforementioned badger colony at a place called Hayward's Spinney. After Bernard ushers them out, and Sir Humphrey joins them, Hacker is livid. His announcements to parliament and the press had proclaimed that the legislation would mean "no loss of amenity", and now he has discovered that this is not the case. Sir Humphrey indicates that the actual wording was "no significant loss of amenity", which apparently makes all the difference. He is able to persuade Hacker that Hayward's Spinney is not significant and therefore he should have nothing to worry about. However, Hacker presses the point that he should have been informed. He is surprised by Sir Humphrey's explanation, that "there are some things it is better for a minister not to know." His Permanent Secretary goes on to clarify that Hacker would not have made such a convincing case for the legislation had he been lobbied by the environmentalists beforehand. Nevertheless, the Minister is unimpressed and tells Sir Humphrey that he is about to announce a re-organisation to ensure that it doesn't happen again. Sir Humphrey is incensed and (eventually) tells Hacker that the incumbent minister is not there to run the department; he re-iterates a minister's responsibilities as defined to Bernard earlier. Hacker is not having any of it: he wants access to all departmental paperwork from now on.

The next morning, the Hackers are at breakfast, and the Minister is absorbed in his red boxes, of which there are now more, owing to his recent demands. After an argument with his daughter, Lucy, over the nature of his job, his wife, Annie, points out that his insistence on seeing every document has played right into Sir Humphrey's hands. Hacker has been swamped with everything from minutes of past committees to stationery requisitions. Meanwhile, Lucy has noticed the newspaper report concerning Hayward's Spinney and lambasts her father for allowing the badger colony to be destroyed.

Sir Humphrey meets with his colleague Sir Frederick Stewart, who is equally aghast at Hacker's plan. Bernard arrives with more files with which to keep the Minister occupied, and Sir Humphrey vets them. Bernard confesses that he is worried about keeping the Minister in the dark, and the Permanent Secretaries explain why this is necessary. It is up to the civil service to decide which proposals are put before the Minister, and then "guide" him to its favoured option, in much the same manner as a conjurer "forces" a card to be chosen. There are apparently several expressions that are key to getting a policy accepted or rejected, among which the most damning is to describe something as "courageous".

Later in Hacker's office, Bernard discovers a letter from Lucy Hacker to her father. She is threatening to join the protest at Hayward's Spinney — in the nude. When the Minister finds out, he is alarmed at the potential fallout in the press and instructs Sir Humphrey to kill the story. Lucy phones her father and tells him of her intentions, but it is Sir Humphrey who saves the day. He informs her that there are in fact no badgers in Hayward's Spinney: the story was fed to the press by a hopeful property developer. However, after she is convinced, Hacker asks to see the information. Sir Humphrey refuses, on the grounds that the Minister doesn't really need to know...

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
John Savident Sir Frederick Stewart
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Gerry Cowper Lucy Hacker
Harriet Reynolds Environmentalist
Roger Elliott Environmentalist

Cast notes[edit]

  • This is the only episode in which Hacker's daughter, Lucy (played by Gerry Cowper), appears on screen.

External links[edit]

"The Right to Know" at the Internet Movie Database