A Diplomatic Incident
|"A Diplomatic Incident"|
|Yes, Prime Minister episode|
|Episode no.||Series 2
|Written by||Antony Jay
|Produced by||Sydney Lotterby|
|Original air date||17 December 1987|
Jim Hacker is joined by Sir Humphrey Appleby, to discuss the forthcoming public ceremony for the start of work on the Channel Tunnel. It seems that there are certain stumbling blocks regarding border placement and jurisdiction. The Prime Minister is all for handling the negotiations himself, until Sir Humphrey provides him with a raft of legal problems that will need sorting—and in all probability will involve the British side making some concessions. Hacker then decides that such things are better left to the Foreign Secretary. Then, talk turns to the final chapter of Hacker’s predecessor’s memoirs, which is to detail Hacker’s accession to Number 10. The former PM would like to inspect the relevant government papers, but Hacker is not so sure as his predecessor has been less than complimentary about him. Hacker calls him “treacherous, malevolent, and vile.” Then Bernard takes a phone call: the former PM has just died of a heart attack. Hacker’s joyful reaction is swiftly transformed to solemnity, and a state funeral must now be arranged.
Later in the Cabinet Room, Hacker is musing over the likely potential for his own popularity with the voters by hosting the funeral, to which senior politicians will be invited from all over the world. Then Bernard arrives with some disturbing news. The President of France will be bringing with him the gift of a Labrador puppy in reciprocation for a similar offering made by The Queen during her last state visit to France. However, the PM’s officials know that the French are well aware of British quarantine laws and that they are seeking to create a diplomatic incident to gain an upper hand in the Channel Tunnel negotiations. Hacker mobilises both the Foreign and Home Offices while Sir Humphrey co-ordinates things from the Cabinet Office.
The French ambassador arrives for a chat with the PM. He is wondering if the two countries’ leaders can use the funeral as an opportunity to discuss their political differences, but Hacker says this may not be possible on the basis that he will be hosting a great number of VIPs, whilst also realising that the French may see his apparent eagerness to reach agreement as a sign of weakness. The ambassador also asks if his embassy can be guarded by French police for the duration of the President’s visit. Again the PM declines to make an exception. They then address the subject of the puppy, and the ambassador points out that not only would the President be personally affronted if the Queen rejects it, but his wife—who has set her heart on the gift—would also be deeply upset. Hacker implores the ambassador to ask the President “not to bring that bitch with him” (referring to the puppy, before realising his faux pas that this might be construed as an insult to the French First Lady).
That evening in his flat, Hacker explains to Annie, his wife, that this will be a summit in all but name: “a working funeral.” It has the potential for some serious diplomacy, with none of the expectations that arise from a summit conference. To that end, the service will contain lots of music, in order that discussions can take place among the leaders present.
As arrangements gather pace, Bernard and his staff field a mass of phone calls from various departments. The PM calls him into the Cabinet Room for an update on the puppy. However, Sir Humphrey rushes in with news of a bomb that has been discovered in the French embassy. Because of this, the President will now be travelling to the funeral by car in secret, using his plane as a decoy, which could allow him to smuggle the puppy into the UK by road and bypass quarantine. Once inside the embassy, it will be on French soil.
At the Downing Street reception, Sir Humphrey reveals to the PM that the French are willing to drop the matter of the puppy and are willing to concede a 50–50 split of sovereignty within the Channel Tunnel, but only if all the signs and menus are in French before English. Then the Police Commissioner provides Hacker with news that the bomb at the embassy was planted by the French themselves in order to test British security. The PM confronts the French president over the matter, who protests that his government is always ignorant of its security agency’s activities. However, Hacker now has the advantage and gains the compromise he wanted over the Channel Tunnel. He instructs Sir Humphrey to draft a communiqué for release after the funeral, and the mandarin responds, “Mais oui, Prime Minister.”
|Paul Eddington||Jim Hacker|
|Nigel Hawthorne||Sir Humphrey Appleby|
|Derek Fowlds||Bernard Woolley|
|Diana Hoddinott||Annie Hacker|
|Christopher Benjamin||French Ambassador|
|Nicholas Courtney||Police Commissioner|
|Robert East||Peter Gascoigne|
|Bill Bailey||US Vice President|
|Alan Downer||French President|
|Raymond Brody||Arab diplomat|
|David King||Russian Ambassador|
|William Lawford||M. Berenger|
Connection to real life events
When the cabinet papers from 1984 were made public in January 2014, it was revealed that a French security officer had smuggled two canisters of high explosive into the French Embassy in London, in advance of a state visit by President Mitterrand, intending to test whether British security would detect them. The two small containers of high explosive were discovered in the grounds of the Ambassador's residence, and more explosives were discovered in the Grosvenor House Hotel where the security officer was staying. The British government was infuriated (the incident happened a few days after the Brighton hotel bombing) but decided not to publicise it.
- "French planted bomb in London embassy to test security for state visit". The Times. 3 January 2014. p. 26.
- Bowcott, Owen (3 January 2014). "French bomb in London in 1984 left Margaret Thatcher 'astonished'". The Guardian.