The Moral Dimension

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"The Moral Dimension"
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 4
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Peter Whitmore
Original air date 2 December 1982
Guest appearance(s)

Diana Hoddinott
Antony Carrick

Episode chronology
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"The Skeleton in the Cupboard"
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Moral Dimension" is the eighteenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 2 December 1982. The final ' Yes, Minister ' is said in unison by both Sir Humphrey and Bernard.

Plot[edit]

Jim Hacker, his wife, Annie, and his colleagues Sir Humphrey Appleby and Bernard Woolley, are all on board a plane bound for Qumran, an oil sheikdom. They are part of a delegation that is going to ratify one of Britain's biggest ever export orders. The Minister is concerned at the considerable number of people going, but Sir Humphrey informs him that it has been "pared to the bone". His Permanent Secretary also reminds Hacker that consumption of alcohol is banned in Qumran according to Islamic law. The Minister, not looking forward to "five hours of orange juice", wonders if there is an alternative. He suggests that a communications room be set up near the reception, which will contain illicit liquor.

At the reception, Hacker and his wife accept a 17th-century rosewater jar as a gift from one government to another. Bernard then interrupts with news of an urgent call for the Minister in the communications room (from a Mr Haig). This establishes the code that will be used for alcoholic top-ups for the rest of the evening. Annie Hacker tells Bernard of her delight at the rosewater jar, but is saddened when he informs her that she won't be able to keep it as it is government property. He states that the only way it could remain in her possession was if it were worth less than £50. She entreats Bernard to get it valued and he eventually agrees. Meanwhile, Hacker seeks out Sir Humphrey, and can't quite believe his eyes when he sees the mandarin in full Arab dress. Sir Humphrey explains that it is a traditional Foreign Office courtesy. Bernard meets one of the hosts, who overheard his conversation with Mrs Hacker. He has no qualms about writing a false valuation certificate and remarks to a shocked Bernard that the gift seems so trivial when he received a share of $1 million that was paid to the Qumrani finance minister to secure the contract. Bernard makes his excuses and goes to tell Sir Humphrey of this fact (after he sends an increasingly drunken Hacker back to the communications room). The Permanent Secretary is nonchalant: apparently all contracts in Qumran are obtained by bribery — a system that works well, so long as nobody knows.

Back home, Hacker is once again in his office with Sir Humphrey and Bernard. The newspapers are full of allegations of corruption in respect of the Qumrani contract and the Minister is suspicious. He presses his officials and Sir Humphrey admits that some "creative negotiations" were employed to obtain a settlement. However, he will not accept the word "bribery" and lists the payments described by the contract, albeit made via a numbered Swiss bank account or a "fistful of used oncers slipped under the door of the gents'." Sir Humphrey goes on to explain that for certain parts of the world, such remittances are standard government practice. The Minister deplores this as being morally wrong and states that he has every intention of announcing a full public inquiry headed by a QC, should it be necessary.

Later, Bernard calls at Hacker's flat and is greeted by Annie. The rosewater jar is on display and Bernard remarks upon it. He is not the first to enquire about it: Jenny Goodwin, a friend of Annie who works as a journalist for The Guardian, has also seen it and asked its value. When Annie told her that it was around £50, Jenny thought it looked genuine and asked if she could ring the Qumrani embassy to obtain its real value — and Annie agreed.

In Hacker's office, Bernard informs Sir Humphrey about the rosewater jar. He states that his subordinate has taken a grave personal risk and that the Minister must be told. Hacker enters and re-iterates his commitment to a public inquiry. However, Sir Humphrey makes Bernard confess all about the gift; after mentioning the helpful Qumrani had valued the jar at precisely £49.95, Sir Humphrey remarks after seeing the valuation certificate that "the Treasury isn't too happy about valuations written on the backs of menus." Sir Humphrey then tells the Minister that if the rosewater jar was indeed a copy, the spurious valuation would likely be correct - but if it was genuine, it would be worth about £5000.

The Minister's press officer, Bill Pritchard, joins them with news that The Guardian has contacted the Qumrani embassy. Their officials are incensed that the extremely valuable rosewater jar is thought to be a copy, and Bill advises that the Foreign Office believes that this it quickly becoming "the biggest diplomatic incident since Death of a Princess." To add to this, Jenny Goodwin is outside, seeking a statement. Hacker tells Bernard that there is a moral dimension to everything: he will give straight answers to straight questions; he will not be party to a lie; he will not allow himself to be connected to allegations of bribery. Sir Humphrey also agrees that there is a moral dimension — before asking the Minister which of them will inform the press about the communications room. Hacker is speechless as his civil servants remind him that it was his idea. Sir Humphrey states that he will also tell the truth if asked, and the Minister realises that he has no alternative but to cover things up. He is advised that attack is the best form of defence and forcefully rebuts both of Ms. Goodwin's allegations as a smiling Sir Humphrey proudly watches.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Antony Carrick Bill Pritchard
April Walker Jenny Goodwin
Sam Dastor Qumrani Businessman
Vic Tablian Prince Mohammed
Walter Randall Qumrani Man
Michael Sharvell-Martin Ross

Writer commentary[edit]

  • The communications room was based on a real incident in Pakistan. In an interview, co-writer Antony Jay stated:

"I can't tell you where, I can't tell you when and I can't tell you who was involved; all I can tell you is that we knew that it had actually happened. That's why it was so funny. We couldn't think up things as funny as the real things that had happened."[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Prod. Paul Tilzey (August 2006). "Modern Times". Laughter in the House. BBC. BBC Two. 

External links[edit]

"The Moral Dimension" at the Internet Movie Database