The Skeleton in the Cupboard (Yes Minister)

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"The Skeleton in the Cupboard"
Yes Minister episode
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 3
Written by Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced by Peter Whitmore
Original air date 25 November 1982
Guest appearance(s)

Ian Lavender
Donald Gee

Episode chronology
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"The Challenge"
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"The Moral Dimension"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Skeleton in the Cupboard" is the seventeenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister and was first broadcast 25 November 1982.


Jim Hacker is chairing a meeting of his senior officials. One item on the agenda is the disciplinary action to be taken against the South Derbyshire local authority for failing to complete its statutory returns and supply required information. Sir Humphrey Appleby regards this as a serious matter. Around the table, several examples of "incompetence" are given and the Minister wishes to know of any "redeeming features". One of the officials, Dr Cartwright, attempts to interject but Sir Humphrey is quick to stop him. After the meeting, the Permanent Secretary is equally speedy at steering Dr Cartwright out of Hacker's office and the Minister confesses to Bernard, his Principal Private Secretary, that he smells a rat. He decides to "drop in" on Dr Cartwright. Bernard seeks to dissuade him as Sir Humphrey disapproves of ministers "going walkabout". Hacker ignores this advice and goes anyway. Bernard is duty bound to inform Sir Humphrey's office, and it is a mere ten seconds before the mandarin strides in to demand an explanation. He is disturbed that Hacker is "loose in the building" and wishes to know where he is. Bernard is reluctant to betray a confidence but Sir Humphrey, not for the first time, uses his subordinate's civil service career prospects as leverage — forcing Bernard to name Dr Cartwright as a hypothetical example of someone whom the Minister may wish to visit.

Meanwhile, Hacker has sought out Dr Cartwright and is receiving some startling facts about South Derbyshire. It is the most efficient council in the United Kingdom, and the Minister is supposed to be reprimanding it for being the worst. Cartwright gives him some examples of its economies — but then Sir Humphrey bursts in. He cross-examines the Minister over his being there but Hacker is unable to give a convincing excuse. Sir Humphrey requests an immediate meeting with him back upstairs, and Hacker has little option but to comply.

In his office, Hacker is confronted by his Permanent Secretary who is incensed that the Minister has been speaking to others in the department: he may learn things that are not to be learned. He states that every conversation should be minuted for the sake of future generations. Bernard enters to remind the Minister of an imminent appointment with a journalist but Hacker invites him to stay so he can minute the ensuing discussion between him and Sir Humphrey. They end it at loggerheads, with Hacker refusing to discipline South Derbyshire and Sir Humphrey telling him that he has no choice as it is the law and other, more powerful departments, want to see it occur. Sir Humphrey leaves, and the Minister questions Bernard about his visit to Dr Cartwright being discovered so quickly. Bernard successfully 'walks the tightrope'[1] and baffles Hacker with an Appleby-esque explanation. He then introduces Alex Andrews, a reporter from the Daily Mail. Andrews has come across a story and needs the Minister's help. During the 1950s, the Ministry of Defence took out a lease on a Scottish island and developed it for habitation by the Royal Navy. Now the lease has expired and the owner wishes to modernise its facilities to make a holiday camp. However, as the original contract was made under Scottish law — and the civil service official in charge didn't know the difference — the MoD can't be paid a penny for it. Andrews knows that he can inspect all the relevant paperwork in a few weeks under the 30-year rule, but wants a guarantee that all the documentation will be there.

The next day, Sir Humphrey is on the train to work and opens his Daily Mail. He is horrified to see Andrews' story given a double-page feature.

Back in Hacker's office, Sir Humphrey seems uncharacteristically detached and the Minister asks him about the Mail's story. Hacker is interested to know the identity of the offending civil servant, and, as everything is documented, the information is bound to be on file somewhere. He tells Sir Humphrey of his plan to allow Andrews a free run of the departmental papers under the 30-year rule. The Permanent Secretary is mortified and tries every argument he can think of on the grounds of national security, but to no avail. Dejected, he walks out. Hacker is puzzled over Sir Humphrey's demeanour and confides in Bernard. They both realise that it may have been Sir Humphrey himself who was responsible for messing up the MoD contract, and a glance at Who's Who confirms it. Hacker is quietly gleeful and asks Bernard to invite Sir Humphrey back in. The mandarin does not walk in confidently as is his habit, but instead timidly puts his head around the door. Hacker states that he wants an inquiry to establish the name of the official who was in charge, and subsequently wasted £40 million of taxpayers' money. Sir Humphrey gives the Minister a list of costly government projects that have been perceived as failures, but Hacker is adamant. A demoralised Sir Humphrey sits down and confesses all, with typical logorrhoea. The Minister forgives him and pledges to conceal the offending papers from the Daily Mail — so long as Sir Humphrey agrees not to discipline South Derbyshire. He concurs, and already has to hand a list of the standard government reasons for exempting information from the 30-year rule: it covers every document in the file.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Ian Lavender Dr Cartwright
Donald Gee Alex Andrews
John Pennington Peter
Rosemary Williams Civil Servant


  1. ^ To 'walk the tightrope' is civil service jargon for betraying a confidence while remaining undetected.

External links[edit]

"The Skeleton in the Cupboard" at the Internet Movie Database