'I知 perpetually shockable. And the fact that I知 shocked means I have to write about it.'

Jay Richardson interviews Jonathan Lynn

In the newly revived Yes, Prime Minister coming to digital channel Gold later this month embattled PM Jim Hacker grapples with issues including a dire economic crisis, a failing Eurozone, the spectre of Scottish independence and an antagonistic BBC.

The comedy痴 co-creator Jonathan Lynn certainly has sympathy for Hacker regarding the latter. When Gold approached him and co-writer Antony Jay about adapting their stage play spin-off back to television, the pair offered the BBC first refusal 疎s a courtesy.

羨nd they said we had to write a pilot! he laughs incredulously. Lynn responded 奏hat there were 38 菟ilots available on DVD, manufactured by the BBC, and a play running in the West End to capacity audiences. They said it was policy. So we said our policy was to not write a pilot for them. I thought it was absolutely extraordinary.

Obstructive policy has always proved grist to Lynn and Jay痴 mill. Even so, certain aspects of the BBC痴 attitude to their contribution stills irks them 蔓more than 30 years after the comedy痴 original heyday.

The show won Baftas for best comedy series in 1980, 1981 and 1982, alongside acting nominations for Paul Eddington as Hacker and wins for Nigel Hawthorne as his manipulative secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby. Yet the corporation never invited them to the awards ceremony.

腺ut I知 not complaining because Tony and I have had ample recognition Lynn demurs. 羨nd no-one thought anyone would come to the play when we wrote it. We couldn稚 get a West End theatre until the reviews came in from Chichester.

Besides, as Armando Iannucci has revealed, it was Sir Humphrey痴 suppression of the troublesome BBC in one of the original Yes Minister episodes, The Challenge (which the corporation痴 top brass approved), that was to prove so inspirational for The Thick Of It.

糎e saw how the Government succeeds in exerting pressure on the BBC by applying the best twisted logic the executive machine can deliver Iannucci has previously enthused. 選f all that seems depressingly relevant, it's easy to forget how revolutionary [Yes Minister] was when it first went out.

糎e weren稚 trying to be revolutionary, we were just trying to be funny Lynn responds. 舛ivil servants were always portrayed as slightly comical people who wore bowler hats and drank a lot of tea. They weren稚 portrayed as people with brilliant brains who actually ran the country.

糎e just thought that this was a new, fruitful subject for comedy. Obviously, the formula is old: the servant who is more able than the master. It痴 Jeeves and Wooster, The Admirable Crichton, The Servant of Two Masters.

The Thick Of It, 粗xcellent though it is, hasn稚 influenced these new episodes the 69-year-old adds, as there was 創o reason for their audience sitcom to draw from the newcomer痴 mockumentary style. Having 奏hought long and hard about the revival, he admits to 奏repidation about the reception the series could receive, 23 years after the previous episode.

But he and 82-year-old Jay who have 創ever once shared a cross word 蔓 did plenty of research and found that nothing fundamental has changed.

選 read a wonderful memoir by Chris Mullin about his time as a minister. And once again it just confirmed everything we had always said, Lynn explains.

He ascribes any topical allusions to their in-depth reading and enquiries, and the fact that history repeats itself. Doubting that the BBC would commission the self-critical The Challenge today, it seems unlikelier still that the beleaguered corporation would have welcomed these new scripts in which the director-general is satirised. And he admits to greater misgivings about today痴 祖areer politicians.

選t痴 better for politicians not to be full-time. They leave university, get jobs as political advisers, become MPs and very rapidly they池e in Government. They致e had no experience of the real world at all and I don稚 think that makes them better at their jobs.

After claiming in his entertaining, instructive 2011 book Comedy Rules that all comedy writers are angry, Lynn clarifies that he doesn稚 personally 層rite stuff out of anger.

糎e don稚 write the kind of comedy that痴 around too much these days, that痴 just out to shock people. We don稚 want to shock, we want to make people laugh.

践owever, we do hope they gain some insight as a result of what we致e observed. And I would say that I知 perpetually shockable. And the fact that I知 shocked means I have to write about it.

選 was shocked when Tony Blair took Britain to war, for no apparent reason and in the face of huge public opposition. I知 shocked by government policies that have caused a double-dip recession, making the rich richer, the poor poorer and widening the economic gap between the haves and the have nots. I知 shocked by plenty.

The new episodes, which Lynn co-produced and co-directed with Gareth Gwenlan, the BBC痴 head of comedy when the original was commissioned, were recoded last summer.

They were expanded from the current stage play, which receives its US premiere on June 7 at the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles, where Lynn currently lives. 糎e池e not changing much but we wrote some good extra lines for the TV series that we値l slip in, he said.

A serial, set at Chequers over a single 礎ad weekend in Jim Hacker痴 life, a whole mass of crises, it stars David Haig, who played the Prime Minister in the stage production and Henry Goodman as Sir Humphrey, with Chris Larkin as Bernard Woolley. In a nod to contemporary politics, Zoe Telford plays Claire, a cynically modern special policy advisor.

全lightly less harsh than the play, but retaining a plot in which Hacker is pressured to provide a foreign dignitary with an underage prostitute, Lynn explains that 層e池e not denouncing our characters or saying how horrible they are. We池e actually sympathising with them.

前ur view is that if we were in those jobs we would behave the same way, so our criticism is of the system and human nature. [Eddington and Hawthorne] were such likable actors for characters we池e very fond of. So when we did it again with David, Henry and Chris, that likability was paramount again.

Gold want another series. 禅hey asked us after we finished episode three, they were so enthusiastic he reveals. 腺ut I don稚 know whether we will. I think we could. But I don稚 know if we will.

Despite Yes, Prime Minister痴 exalted status, Lynn is dismissive of the praise politicians have heaped upon Mrs Thatcher痴 favourite programme. 選t痴 very gratifying but politicians like to watch themselves and aren稚 interested in much else. Still, he痴 delighted it痴 been translated and remade so many times internationally, amused by reports such as Czech PM Petr Necas instructing his ministers to watch it.

選 think it痴 very sensible and they may avoid making some mistakes he laughs. 糎hat痴 been wonderful, although the furthest possible thing from our intentions, is that the series and books have been used in sixth form political science classes and in university economics classes as part of the curriculum. That痴 extremely satisfying.

Indeed, among its famous students was one David Cameron, who wrote an essay entitled 践ow true to life is Yes Minister? while studying at Oxford. Last year, he revealed that it was, indeed, accurate.

  • Yes, Prime Minister starts on January 15 on Gold. The stage version is at Trafalgar Studios, London until January 12, then touring England.

Posted: 4 Jan 2013

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