The Tangled Web

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"The Tangled Web"
Yes, Prime Minister episode
Episode no.Series 2
Episode 8
Written byAntony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced bySydney Lotterby
Original air date28 January 1988
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"The Tangled Web" is the sixteenth and final episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 28 January 1988.


Sir Humphrey Appleby criticises Bernard over an answer given by Jim Hacker during Prime Minister's Questions. It seems that the PM denied authorising the bugging of an MP's telephone, and the question was not referred beforehand to Sir Humphrey, who is in charge of security matters.

The pair go to see the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Room, where he is cock-a-hoop over his recent performance in the House of Commons. He insists that the two civil servants hear a verbatim report of PMQs and Sir Humphrey finds it difficult to interrupt. However, he eventually brings Hacker down to earth with typical verbiage, which he then translates. The PM has lied to Parliament — the ultimate political sin. The MP, whose name is Hugh Halifax, was indeed the subject of government surveillance, which had only stopped until 17 minutes earlier (presumably after Hacker's denial). Hacker, who had no knowledge of this, argues that he didn't lie and demands to know, in any case, why he wasn't informed. Sir Humphrey tells him that there are some things that he doesn't need to know. When Hacker protests that he has a right to be aware of everything, the Cabinet Secretary explains that nobody purposefully conceals anything from him; however, decisions are occasionally taken not to reveal information, which apparently makes all the difference.

Sir Humphrey receives an invitation to appear before a House of Commons Privileges Committee to answer the allegations concerning Hugh Halifax. He confesses to Bernard that even he is at a loss to know how to proceed. Then, over a sherry, he tells Bernard that he is to participate in a documentary on BBC Radio 3 about the structure of government. Sir Humphrey is concerned that if he turned down the opportunity, then his retired predecessor Sir Arnold Robinson would be interviewed and would outshine him. Bernard is mildly shocked that someone who is supposed to be "faceless" is making a media appearance, but as Sir Humphrey reminds him, "They don't show your face on radio." Although permission from the PM is required, Bernard doesn't feel that this will pose a problem, as hardly anyone listens to Radio 3.

Sometime later, Sir Humphrey joins Hacker in the Cabinet Room. It is the day of his interview, and as he hasn't had much experience of actually answering questions (having devoted his entire career to evading them), the PM gives him some schooling in dealing with the media, in particular, the politician's method of handling a difficult interview. Sir Humphrey then turns to his committee appearance and Hacker asks him to confirm what he said in the House. However, the mandarin states his loyalty to "the truth", and "will not become involved in some shabby cover-up." Sir Humphrey records his radio programme, but is sufficiently verbose that the interviewer, Ludovic Kennedy, cannot obtain any precise answers. Afterwards, they continue to chat off the record, and Kennedy asks him why he couldn't have said more about unemployment. Sir Humphrey now obliges him and gives a full and frank personal opinion on how joblessness could be halved by cutting benefits and compelling the 'so-called' unemployed to accept offers of work, thereby removing them from the register "before you could say 'parasite'." However, the interview tape is still running…

Sir Humphrey is sent a copy of the tape along with a note from the BBC. He is anxious that Bernard should hear his interview, but the tape only contains the 'off the record' comments and Sir Humphrey is aghast. Bernard is similarly astounded that his master could be so indiscreet. Sir Humphrey is mortified and doesn't know what to do. He instructs Bernard that no mention must be made of it. However, Bernard goes to see the PM. The Principal Private Secretary has been to see the BBC producer of Sir Humphrey's programme and, as they were old friends from Oxford, managed to procure the master tape. In confidence, he tells Hacker of Sir Humphrey's gaffe and gives him the tape, which the PM looks on as manna from heaven. Bernard also has a copy on portable cassette, and the PM invites Sir Humphrey in to hear it.

As Sir Humphrey's thoughts are played aloud for all to hear, the Cabinet Secretary is reduced to a gibbering wreck. Hacker can't believe that the words on the tape belong to the mandarin, and Sir Humphrey vainly tries to pass it off as an impression by Mike Yarwood. Hacker counters by implying that the BBC could release the tape to the press, therefore doing tremendous damage to the government. Humphrey states he would lie and deny the statements, not just for himself, but for Hacker as well. The PM then reveals that the master tape is in his possession, but is hesitant about handing it over, stating it will remain in his possession until Sir Humphrey has appeared before the Privileges Committee. The civil servant now has no choice but to support Hacker's House of Commons statement.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Ludovic Kennedy Himself
Geoffrey Drew Radio Producer

External links[edit]

"The Tangled Web" on IMDb


  • Kandiah, Michael David (1994). "Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister (1): Sir Antony Jay, CVO". Contemporary British History. 8 (3): 506–520. doi:10.1080/13619469408581312.