A Victory for Democracy

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"A Victory for Democracy"
Yes, Prime Minister episode
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 6
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Sydney Lotterby
Original air date 13 February 1986
Guest appearance(s)

Clive Francis
Donald Pickering

Episode chronology
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"A Real Partnership"
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"The Bishop’s Gambit"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"A Victory for Democracy" is the sixth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 13 February 1986.


British Prime Minister Jim Hacker has just been given a dressing down by the United States Ambassador over his new defence policy, which involves the cancellation of Trident. In addition, he has been told that there is a problem on St. George's Island, a Commonwealth country in the Indian Ocean. The US Government is concerned that it could be subject to a Communist takeover, and threatens to impose major sanctions against the United Kingdom if this takes place. Having known nothing of this, PM summons the Foreign Secretary for a briefing. Hacker comments to his Personal Private Secretary, Bernard Woolley, that the Americans seem to think that the British Foreign Office is nothing but a pack of "Communists and pinkos." "Well," says Bernard, "not all of them."

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby meets with Sir Richard Wharton, Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office (FO). The latter is annoyed that the PM is starting to ignore Foreign Office advice and is beginning to give orders on his own with a view to pleasing the White House.

Sir Richard fills Sir Humphrey in on St. George’s Island: a coup d'état will soon be attempted by Marxist guerrillas with assistance from Libyan and Soviet military advisers. An invasion force from the Communist Republic of East Yemen is expected to tip the balance. The Foreign Office has already agreed to take no action in return for continued trade concessions. Hacker might interfere if he finds out and must be kept in the dark.

Meanwhile, Hacker meets with the Foreign Secretary, who also knows nothing of St. George's Island. Perplexed, the PM orders him to start asking questions. He also expresses his wish that the FO abstain from voting on an upcoming United Nations motion condemning the State of Israel. He argues that the Palestinians are just as much at fault and that Britain should steer a neutral course. The Foreign Secretary advises against this, as "the Foreign Office wouldn’t wear it."

Later, Hacker summons Sir Humphrey and tells him that he needs to not alienate the Americans if he is going to cancel his nuclear missiles order, and that Britain should be ready to defend St. George's. Sir Humphrey pretends to agree with him, but adds that diplomacy is best left to the Foreign Office. With regards to the UN vote, the FO might agree not to vote against Israel in return for permission "to give a passionate speech condemning Zionism." Sickened, Hacker refuses to permit this.

After Sir Humphrey leaves, Bernard and the PM consult a globe to find out where St. George's Island actually is. While they do so, a civil servant named Luke takes an interest. Bernard convinces Hacker to continue their conversation back in the Cabinet Room, where he warns the PM that Luke is actually Sir Richard Wharton's "man in Number 10" and is not to be trusted. He also suggests that there are plenty of things that the FO does not tell him. When Hacker asks who would know what the FO is concealing from him, Bernard responds that only The Kremlin would.

In the Cabinet Office, Bernard asks Sir Humphrey and Sir Richard why the FO insists on keeping information from the PM. Sir Humphrey argues that it is undesirable for politicians or the public to become involved in foreign policy. As the public is concerned, foreign policy comes down to knowing the "goodies" from the "baddies", and since sometimes the government has to deal politically and commercially with the latter, decisions are best made secretly inside the Foreign Office. They are interrupted by a telegram stating that the East Yemeni Army is about to invade St. George's Island in support of the guerrillas. Sir Richard smugly explains that the FO will give the Island "every support, short of help". He then describes how he will explain to the British people why nothing can be done if the island's new Communist Government begins slaughtering all imagined opposition.

When Bernard expresses disgust, Sir Humphrey accuses him of "acting like a politician". Politicians are, according to Sir Richard, like actors. They put on their makeup and costumes, smile for the cameras, and speak the words other people write for them.

Meanwhile, Luke delivers the PM's FO red boxes. He persuades Hacker that the troop movements in East Yemen are nothing to worry about. However, Hacker is enraged to learn that the FO has ignored his orders and voted against Israel at the UN. Luke protests that there were developments that could not be communicated to him in time, so Britain's UN ambassador was allowed to proceed as he wished. Nevertheless, an infuriated Hacker asks to see the Israeli ambassador so that he can apologize.

While making a show of deference, Luke insists that the PM cannot speak to the Ambassador without the Foreign Secretary present. Seething with fury, Hacker bluffs that the ambassador is an old friend from the LSE, whom he seeks help from regarding his daughter's planned visit to a kibbutz. He wishes to invite the Ambassador to his flat for a private drink.

At his flat, Hacker apologizes to the Ambassador for the UN vote. The Ambassador explains, however, that his Government knows all too well that orders from the PM are generally treated as a suggestion by the FO and that Israel is grateful to Hacker for trying.

However, the Ambassador has information from the Mossad on Hacker's other problem. East Yemen is poised to invade St. George's Island and impose a Communist Government. This will give the USSR a warm water port in the Indian Ocean and tip the balance of power in their favour. The United States has not told Hacker because they don't trust him. Cut to the quick, Hacker asks why and is told, "Because you trust the Foreign Office!" Therefore, the United States military is about to send troops to help defend the island's democratically elected Government in battle. Hacker is horrified, saying that "the Palace will hit the roof" if the Americans invade a Commonwealth country and that he "shall look ridiculous."

The Ambassador advises Hacker that the Parachute Regiment has a battalion on standby in West Germany. If it is diverted to St. George's Island, then East Yemen will be unlikely to invade. Gleefully, Hacker arranges for the Battalion to make a 'goodwill visit' to the island.

The next morning, with the Parachute Regiment Battalion already on its way and the East Yemeni Army returning to barracks, Sir Humphrey is outraged. Meanwhile, Luke arrives with the FO telegrams, in which the U.S. State Department praises Hacker for his intervention. Sir Humphrey demands to know where the idea came from. The PM tells him that it came from Luke, who had written the situation report that alerted him. Luke will, he says, be 'rewarded' with a posting as Britain's new ambassador to Israel. A distraught Luke pleads that this will destroy his career, but Hacker tells him that he'll be kept busy explaining why the FO always votes against Israel in the UN. In a last ditch effort, Luke pleads that he can't be sent to Tel Aviv, because "everyone knows I'm on the Arab side!" Hacker responds him that, when last he checked, Luke was supposed to be on the British side. Sir Humphrey is forced to angrily mutter: "Yes, Prime Minister".

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Clive Francis Luke
Ronald Hines Foreign Secretary
Donald Pickering Sir Richard Wharton
David de Keyser Israeli Ambassador


Bernard: May I just clarify the question? You are asking who would know what it is that I don’t know and you don’t know but the Foreign Office know that they know that they are keeping from you so that you don’t know and they do know and, all we know, there is something we don’t know and we want to know. We don't know what because we don’t know. Is that it?

Hacker: May I clarify the question? Who knows Foreign Office secrets, apart from the Foreign Office?
Bernard: That's easy. Only the Kremlin.

Satirical reference[edit]

  • This episode was inspired by the 1983 Invasion of Grenada by the United States. The name of the fictional St. George's Island derives from St. George's, the capital of Grenada.
  • In addition, the parody of the defence of an island about which many British citizens (including even government ministers) know little, is a reference to events surrounding the Falklands conflict which had taken place in 1982, just four years prior to the airing of the episode.
  • The Israeli storyline was based on an incident told to writer Jonathan Lynn by his uncle Abba Eban, a former Foreign Minister of Israel.


  • This is the only episode of Yes, Prime Minister that has a different end title of the Jim Hacker caricature drawn and animated by Gerald Scarfe which portrays him as the British Lion.

External links[edit]

"A Victory for Democracy" at the Internet Movie Database