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It can be a curse for an actor to be too closely identified with one role, but for Derek Fowlds it secured his place in television history. The recently deceased actor’s work as Bernard Woolley in “Yes, Minister” and its successor “Yes, Prime Minister” was indispensable to the greatest political show on earth.
These brilliant bits of British television remain the gold standard for political comedy. They revolve around a triumvirate of characters. The show follows the day-to-day dealings of Jim Hacker, played by Paul Eddington, as a hapless politician, the elected lord and master of a civil service that has a mind of its own.
Mind - Sir - Humphrey - Appleby - Nigel
Specifically, it has the mind of Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne), chief bureaucrat and overseer of the red tape. The tension they embody between the “political will and the administrative won’t” drives the show, with Fowlds’s character, the minister’s private secretary, often caught in the middle, thereby serving as a fulcrum for the plot and the jokes.
Of the main characters, Fowlds’s Bernard was perhaps closest to the audience in outlook. He was not as cynical as Humphrey, nor a grandstanding and paranoid politician like Hacker. Bernard’s lingering earnestness often provide opportunities for Hacker and Humphrey to explain the realities of government, often cynically: “But surely the citizens of a democracy have a right to know.” “No. They have a right to be ignorant. Knowledge only means complicity in guilt; ignorance has a certain dignity.”
Fowlds - Counterpart - Show - Verbosity - Deft
Fowlds also provided an important counterpart to the show’s witty verbosity through his occasional deft use of understated physical humor, which enlivened a show that mostly consisted of men in suits sitting around and talking.
But what talking! The jokes were cleverly written and perfectly delivered by Fowlds and his co-stars, with Fowlds in particular a master of deadpan. Although a comedy, the show...
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