The Grand Design (Yes, Prime Minister)

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"The Grand Design"
Yes, Prime Minister episode
Episode no.Series 1
Episode 1
Written byAntony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced bySydney Lotterby
Original air date9 January 1986
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"Party Games"
Next →
"The Ministerial Broadcast"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Grand Design" is the first episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister, first broadcast 9 January 1986. It follows on directly from the Yes Minister Christmas special, "Party Games".

It is a classic satire on Cold War era nuclear policy, with quotations from this episode appearing in sources ranging from books on the Cold War and collections of political quotations[citation needed], to an exhibit in the National Cold War Exhibition at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford.[1]


Jim Hacker has recently become Prime Minister. With several of his officials, Sir Humphrey Appleby among them, he visits the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. General Howard shows the PM the nuclear button. He tells him that there is a hotline in 10 Downing Street that can “theoretically” get him through to the Kremlin in an emergency, though it's not tested frequently, as it creates unnecessary panic at the Soviet end. The United Kingdom is about to purchase Trident missiles from the United States, and Hacker finds it difficult to take in the magnitude of the decision he would have to make in such a situation, but is told that by comparison, conventional forces are prohibitively expensive, and it's much cheaper just to press a button.

Back in Downing Street, Hacker is mulling over his options for defence policy and Bernard Woolley, his Principal Private Secretary, advises him. It seems that NATO’s forces in Germany are of questionable reliability (with the American troops being drug-ridden, and the others going home on the weekends), and most modern nuclear weapon systems, such as Trident and Cruise missiles, are initially unusable as the warheads don't fit the rockets. Bernard explains that for the most part, the UK is still reliant on defence technology designed during World War II, as it had lots of testing - something they can't afford now, as a nuclear war wouldn't last long enough for weapons tests. Hacker seeks a way to resolve these issues, and the civil servant urges him to speak with the government's Chief Scientific Advisor, who views the matter differently from the MoD.

Hacker meets the Chief Scientific Advisor, who questions the PM's belief in the nuclear deterrent. By using several scenarios, he convinces Hacker that the chances of him actually deciding to launch a nuclear strike are remote, as the initial infringements would be too minor to react to, and in the worst-case scenario, Britain's proximity to other European countries would lead to them effectively committing suicide. However, the Advisor does make the case for the deterrent in principle, and recommends that the UK keeps its Polaris missile system just in case. In the meantime, he suggests cancelling the Trident missiles and spending £15 billion on conventional forces instead. Hacker goes further: he decides not to buy Cruise missiles from the US either and to re-introduce conscription. He therefore hopes to solve Britain's defence, educational, and unemployment problems at a stroke.

Hacker returns to his flat above Number 10. His wife, Annie, is aggrieved at their new living circumstances - near-constant room searches, having to walk past journalists and gawping tourists, and being disturbed by the Horse Guards practising for the Trooping of the Colour. Hacker brushes all this off, but is distraught to find that, as she is still committed to her voluntary work, there is no time for her to make him any lunch, something he finds inconvenient for his station.

That afternoon, Hacker is in his private office, and is intensely annoyed that the entire Downing Street staff have been able to partake of lunch except for him. Unable to afford a regular cook/housekeeper, he wishes to have one seconded from the government staff. He eventually takes this up with Sir Humphrey, who counters that the PM lives in a private house that happens to occupy a government building, therefore it's not the government's responsibility to provide one. In any case, to employ a cook/housekeeper at the taxpayers’ expense would necessitate an announcement to the press that Hacker's first act as Prime Minister would be to effectively announce a salary increase. At length, Sir Humphrey dismisses the request, as the current arrangement has been in place for the last 250 years. He changes the subject to the PM's "run of success", something that Hacker is eager to continue. The Cabinet Secretary suggests “masterly inactivity” as a goal that might be worth pursuing, but Hacker then tells him of his “grand design.” Sir Humphrey is outraged and launches into a passionate argument for retaining the Trident missile system, it being “the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you.” However, Hacker is unmoved, pointing out that "it costs £15 billion and we don't need it." Humphrey retorts that "you could say that about ANYTHING at Harrods!"

At a Downing Street reception, Hacker apprises General Howard of his plan to cancel Trident. He is apparently all in favour, but the Royal Navy and the RAF would be against the proposal, as it would limit their roles. He advises the PM that, as the post of Chief of Defence Staff is shortly to become vacant, he should appoint someone with an Army background (like himself). General Howard then comes across Sir Humphrey and praises the Prime Minister. However, Hacker never told the general of his desire to re-introduce conscription—something to which the Army is opposed. Sir Humphrey reassures the general that he will do his best to slow Hacker down, and will have a word with the American ambassador.

Back in Hacker's office, Hacker is going over the media details for his forthcoming trip to Washington and subsequent meeting with the US President, but Sir Humphrey is anxious that he looks at the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting. The proposal for cancelling the purchase of Trident missiles is conspicuously absent, and Sir Humphrey explains that if the PM were to go ahead and make the announcement, and not order another US system to replace it, the Americans would retaliate by only allowing him to meet the US Vice President. He therefore must postpone it for the time being. Hacker is concerned that he must be seen to achieve something, and Sir Humphrey presents him with news of a personal cook, seconded from the Cabinet Office: something that none of his predecessors had ever accomplished, effectively giving him a place in history.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Prime Minister Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Frederick Treves General Howard
Oscar Quitak Chief Scientific Advisor
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Barry Stanton Malcolm Warren
Jonathan Stephens Security Man
Miranda Forbes Secretary

Cast notes[edit]

  • Oscar Quitak, who portrays the Chief Scientific Advisor, played a similar role in the television adaptation of A Very British Coup.


Sir Humphrey: With Trident we could obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe!

Hacker: I don’t want to obliterate the whole of Eastern Europe!
Sir Humphrey: It’s a deterrent.
Hacker: It’s a bluff. I probably wouldn’t use it.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but they don’t know that you probably wouldn’t.
Hacker: They probably do.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn’t. But they can’t certainly know.
Hacker: They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn’t.
Sir Humphrey: Yes, but even though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn’t, they don’t certainly know that, although you probably wouldn’t, there is no probability that you certainly would!

Sir Humphrey: [About Trident] It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you! What more can I say?
Hacker: Only that it costs 15 billion pounds and we don't need it.
Sir Humphrey: [begrudgingly] Well you could say that about anything at Harrods.


  • As this was the first instalment of Yes, Prime Minister, the opening and end title sequences was updated from the one used in Yes Minister. It was again drawn and animated by Gerald Scarfe, and unlike the previous series, each episode featured a different cartoon on its title card and only the caricature of Jim Hacker is used at the end credits in instead of all three characters.
  • Starting with this episode, Series One Yes, Minister director Sydney Lotterby returns as producer and director for the entire run of Yes, Prime Minister.
  • This episode and the third episode The Smoke Screen are the only episodes that has Scarfe and show composer Ronnie Hazlehurst near the end of the credits. The following episode The Ministerial Broadcast and the rest of the entire run of the show, Scarfe's and Hazlehurst's credits comes right after the actors credits.


  1. ^ - note - site contains music and sound effects.

External links[edit]