A Real Partnership

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"A Real Partnership"
Yes, Prime Minister episode
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 5
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Sydney Lotterby
Original air date 6 February 1986
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

“A Real Partnership” is the fifth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 6 February 1986.


Jim Hacker goes back to his apartment above 10 Downing Street after a Cabinet meeting that has not gone well. He explains to Annie, his wife, that there is a financial crisis looming and every department must cut expenditure. Furthermore, he is about to receive a deputation of MPs to whom he has promised a pay rise—and he has no sympathy for them.

Later, Hacker is in the Cabinet Room and berates Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Cabinet Secretary, for the late circulation of papers relating to the last meeting. Sir Humphrey points out that this was in fact the responsibility of Sir Frank Gordon, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. He adds that the Treasury generally takes the view that if urgent action is needed on the economy, then the Cabinet shouldn’t have too much time to think about it. However, the PM insists on the relevant papers being available 48 hours in advance from now on, and Sir Humphrey leaves to speak with Sir Frank. Hacker remarks on Sir Humphrey’s loyalty in the matter, which is uncharacteristic of civil service officials, who normally stick together. Bernard suggests that it may be to do with the PM’s recent idea to transfer Sir Humphrey’s duties as Head of the Home Civil Service to Sir Frank.

In the Cabinet Office, Sir Humphrey informs Sir Frank of the PM’s displeasure, but assures the Permanent Secretary that he defended him gallantly. Sir Frank then brings up a new problem: the MPs’ pay rise must be denied owing to the financial crisis, but the pay review for the civil service is also about to be brought forward. They agree that their unselfish proposal must be put in just before the next Cabinet meeting to minimise any scrutiny by the MPs. However, the pair are at loggerheads when Sir Frank recommends that they present it jointly. Sir Humphrey emphatically refuses, but persuades his colleague that he will back his findings when the time comes. They also agree that they can’t let the Cabinet adjudicate on the matter, and Sir Humphrey has an “impartial committee” lined up, of which the chairman is a renowned idiot who will follow Sir Humphrey's lead.

The night before the next Cabinet meeting, Hacker receives Sir Frank’s proposal, and is wise to his intentions. He meets with Sir Humphrey, who argues that if the civil service remuneration is not implemented, then low morale could lead to public sector strike action. The PM counters that neither backbench MPs nor the Cabinet will wear it. The mandarin advises that the Cabinet should look at it in principle, before referring it to an “independent group of assessors”.

Back in the Cabinet Office, Sir Frank shares his salary recommendations with Sir Humphrey. For Under-Secretaries and above, they amount to an increase of 43%. This has been carefully hidden within seven large files, which will dissuade the committee from digging too deeply. The one-page summary for the Cabinet (to which Sir Frank refers as the “Janet and John bit”) makes the case by comparing similar jobs in industry, namely the directors of BP and IBM. The two civil servants are heartened by the knowledge that they will each be getting a £26,000 per annum rise, and Sir Humphrey is confident that he can rush it through Cabinet as the last item on the agenda.

However, all is not plain sailing. Dorothy Wainwright, the PM’s political advisor, is looking into the pay claim and has come up with a series of pertinent questions for Hacker to ask Sir Humphrey. She rings Bernard and asks to be put through to the PM, who lists her misgivings — but Bernard is still on the line.

Sir Humphrey later arrives at the Cabinet Room, but Bernard intercepts him and, by “walking the tightrope”, successfully informs his master that there have been developments. Inside, Hacker is keen to hear Sir Humphrey’s views on his new information. The PM is genuinely surprised that the Cabinet Secretary is in total agreement with him: he suggests that Hacker speaks to Sir Frank Gordon, since he should be in possession of the relevant facts. The PM thanks Sir Humphrey for his impartiality in the light of his possible financial gain.

Sir Humphrey lunches with the former Cabinet Secretary, Sir Arnold Robinson, and asks his advice. Since Sir Frank’s proposal is now discredited, Sir Humphrey still needs to get the 43% rise through. Sir Arnold has a range of methods by which this can be achieved, including increases in both the London allowance and Outstanding Merit Awards (neither of which are classed as salary). By the end of their conversation, the desired figures have been realised, and Sir Arnold is happy to have obliged — especially with the Birthday honours coming up.

Sir Frank faces an inquisition by Hacker and his political advisor, with Sir Humphrey on the sidelines. However, whenever the latter’s help is sought, he points out that he is unable to offer an opinion as Sir Frank is in charge of civil service pay. However, neither are immune from Dorothy, who makes some salient points regarding their honours and index-linked pensions. After the meeting, Sir Humphrey presents the PM with his new pay proposal: an apparent rise of around 6% (provided it is not examined too closely). He also recommends that MPs should be graded in line with civil servants, so that every time the latter get an increase, the former would as well. He suggests that Hacker be equivalent to a Permanent Secretary, causing the PM to remark that they are indeed a partnership.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
John Nettleton Sir Arnold Robinson
Peter Cellier Sir Frank Gordon
Deborah Norton Dorothy Wainwright
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker

External links[edit]

"A Real Partnership" at the Internet Movie Database