The Men from the Ministry was a British radio comedy series broadcast by the BBC between 1962 and 1977, starring Wilfrid Hyde-White, Richard Murdoch and, from 1966, when he replaced Hyde-White, Deryck Guyler.

The Men from the Ministry
Wilfred Hyde White & Richard Murdoch

Written and produced by Edward Taylor with contributions from John Graham, and with some early episodes written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, it ran for 14 series, totalling 147 half-hour episodes. A further 14 episodes were made by the BBC Transcription Service in 1980 but never broadcast in the UK.

The series was about lazy, bungling, incompetent civil servants, “Number One” – Roland Hamilton-Jones (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and later Deryck Lennox-Brown (Deryck Guyler), “Number Two” – Richard Lamb (Richard Murdoch), with their dim, typo-prone, teenage secretary, Mildred Murfin (Norma Ronald), all watched-over by the lecherous, pompous, self-seeking Permanent undersecretary Sir Gregory Pitkin (Roy Dotrice and later Ronald Baddiley), all members of the British Civil Service based in Whitehall.

Derek Guyler in Men From the Ministry
Derek Guyler

The stories centered on their General Assistance Department which helps other governmental departments. Instead of assistance, the department creates mix-ups, misunderstandings and cock-ups that lead to a telling-off from Sir Gregory, who sees his ‘hard earned’ Civil Service career and pension disappearing.

In one 1960s episode, “The Big Rocket”, General Assistance Department is put in charge of publicity for Britain’s almost non-existent space programme. With “One” out of the office and through a series of blunders by “Two”, a press release reveals the launch of a non-existent British space rocket, carrying Britain’s first female astronaut, Mildred Murfin.

This surprises Mildred as she has that morning stormed out announcing she is “going round Ma’s”. The press interprets this as the rocket “going around Mars” and “One” and “Two” are faced with “bringing Mildred down to earth” while keeping their blunders from the public and superiors.

Norma Ronald
Norma Ronald played Mildred Murfin

In another episode, “The Whitehall Castaways”, Lennox-Brown, Lamb and Mildred row to an island in a lake in Regent’s Park, General Assistance having been told to ensure the safety of a great bustard, a rare bird that is nesting there. Neglecting to tie the boat up, Lamb allows it to drift and the trio are, as Mildred puts it, “marooned”, none of them able to swim to shore and Lennox-Brown having ordered the park to be closed and not re-opened “until I give the order”.

Spending weeks on the island, Lennox-Brown shows leadership and Lamb shows signs of mental distress, while back at the office Sir Gregory is delighted with their non-attendance and the prospect of being able to fire them, until a note cancelling an order for wooden pixies is found leading him to the conclusion that they may have taken their lives due to the shame of a blunder and his thoughts immediately turn to the effect this will have on his prospects. The trio are released by a boy and the fate of the bird and its eggs is revealed.

The characters are portrayed as inept, subject to greed, selfishness and incompetence. However, malice was never a factor and all the humour was light-hearted. There was also a little broad satire in many episodes. Later series tended to recycle older scripts, just people and places being changed.

 

Cast

* “One” (Roland Hamilton-Jones) – Wilfrid Hyde-White (1962-65)
* “One” (Deryck Lennox-Brown) – Deryck Guyler (1966-77)
* “Two” (Richard Lamb) – Richard Murdoch
* “Mildred Murfin” – Norma Ronald
* Under-Secretary “Sir Gregory Pitkin”, CBE – Roy Dotrice (1962-65), Ronald Baddiley (1966-77)

Other occasionally recurring characters include “Lord Stilton”, Sir Gregory’s equally pompous boss, “Mr. ‘Whizzer’ Wilkins”, Lennox-Brown and Lamb’s aged and absent-minded colleague, and “Mr. Stack” – “Mr. Stack of ‘Records'” – in charge of the Ministry’s Records department and prone to taking naps in one of his filing cabinets.

Deryck Guyler and Richard Murdoch
Deryck Guyler and Richard Murdoch

In the 1970 episode, Bye-bye Mildred, Sir Gregory does not appear and we hear instead “Sir Hector Gunn”. Also appearing in some episodes are Mr. “Creepy” Crawley, a rather ingratiating member of the Department, and Miss Lusty, an elderly lady in the Pensions Department who lives up to her name. One of Sir Gregory’s later paramours was ‘Daphne Bentwater’ from the typing pool. Other named but non-appearing characters include ‘Mrs Bratby’, Lamb’s landlady.

Actors who appeared in episodes of the series include Clive Dunn, Pat Coombs, Warren Mitchell, Bill Pertwee, Joan Sanderson and Nicolette McKenzie.

The success of The Men From The Ministry extends beyond the BBC programmes. Over 900 episodes were produced and broadcast by Springbok Radio and Radio South Africa from the late 60s to the late 90s. These shows featured the same main characters as the BBC episodes, but played by local actors. Some early shows were remakes of BBC episodes, but most were locally written original stories.

Further international adaptations of The Men From The Ministry were produced first in Sweden, then Denmark, and most notably by Radio YLE in Finland. Knalli ja sateenvarjo (“Bowler and Brolly”) continues to be a popular Finnish language programme with a loyal and appreciative domestic audience. The premise of bowler-hatted twittery within the conservative confines of the British Civil Service is evidently a popular one beyond the English-speaking world. The Finnish version now exceeds the original BBC series both in terms of longevity and number of episodes produced. Most of the Finnish episodes are adapted from the BBC stories, but since 2000, they have been produced from new scripts specially written for YLE by Edward Taylor.

The Men From The Ministry
The Men From The Ministry

Broadcast Schedule

Series 1

Broadcast on Tuesdays at 8:00pm on the Light Programme. Repeated in a different order on Saturdays at 1:10pm on the Home Service 26.1.63 to 20.4.63. A Christmas special episode was broadcast on 24.12.64 at 7:30pm on the Home Service.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
1/130.10.6216.02.63The Great Footwear Scandal
1/206.11.6209.02.63The Big Rocket *
1/313.11.6216.03.63Strictly For The Birds
1/420.11.6223.03.63French Cricket
1/527.11.6226.01.63The War With The Isle Of Wight
1/604.12.6223.02.63Moderately Important Person
1/711.12.6209.03.63The Rhubarb Pirates
1/818.12.6230.03.63A Matter Of Form
1/925.12.6202.02.63The Magic Carpet
1/1001.01.6213.04.63The Spy In The Black Pin-Stripe
1/1108.01.6306.04.63Island In The Sun
1/1215.01.6302.03.63Problem In The Park
1/1322.01.6320.04.63The End Of The Road
SP24.12.64A Present For Norman

Series 2

Broadcast on Sundays at 9:00pm on the Light Programme. Repeated the following Tuesdays at 8:00pm on the Light Programme.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
2/125.07.6527.07.65Pirates Of Lakeview Reservoir
2/201.08.6503.08.65Something About A Soldier *
2/308.08.6510.08.65The Trouble With Cecil
2/415.08.6517.08.65Mahboni Lies Over The Ocean
2/522.08.6524.08.65The Man Who Made It Rain
2/629.08.6531.08.65Train Of Events
2/705.09.6507.09.65A Degrading Business
2/812.09.6514.09.65The Butcher Of Glensporran
2/919.09.6521.09.65Counter Spies
2/1026.09.6528.09.65A Question Of Dundancy
2/1103.10.6505.10.65A Back-Dated Problem
2/1210.10.6512.10.65The Hole
2/1317.10.6519.10.65The Day The Martians Came

Series 3

Broadcast on Sundays on the Light Programme, at 9:30pm from 11.12.66 to 25.12.66, and at 9:00pm from 1.1.67 to 12.3.67. Repeated in the same order (excluding the Christmas special “The Post Office Pantomime”) on Mondays at 7:00pm on the Home Service 3.4.67 to 26.6.67.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
3/111.12.6603.04.67Rebel In Regents Park
3/218.12.6610.04.67A Terrifying Weapon
3/325.12.66The Post Office Pantomime
3/401.01.6717.04.67All At Sea
3/508.01.6724.04.67Bowler Hats And Sub-Machine Guns
3/615.01.6701.05.67On The Run
3/722.01.6708.05.67A Gift For Sir Gregory
3/829.01.6715.05.67A Whitehall Circus
3/905.02.6722.05.67Customs Of The Country
3/1012.02.6729.05.67Getting The Bird
3/1119.02.6705.06.67The Girl In The Case
3/1226.02.6712.06.67The Thing On The Beach
3/1305.03.6719.06.67A Slight Case Of Demolition *
3/1412.03.6726.06.67The Fastest Ship In The World

Series 4

Broadcast on Sundays at 2:31pm on Radio 2. Repeated the following Monday on Radios 1 and 2, at 8:45pm on 19.2.68 and the following Wednesdays on Radio 2 at 7:45pm from 28.2.68 to 15.5.68.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
4/118.02.6819.02.68The Battle Of The River Thames
4/225.02.6828.02.68The Tubby Submarine
4/303.03.6806.03.68A Matter Of Breeding
4/410.03.6813.03.68The Great Showbiz Fiasco
4/517.03.6820.03.68Up The Poll
4/624.03.6827.03.68Waterway To Go
4/731.03.6803.04.68Dam Nuisance
4/807.04.6810.04.68The Fastest Brolly In The West
4/914.04.6817.04.68Lamb Takes A Gambol
4/1021.04.6824.04.68Four Men In A Wellington
4/1128.04.6801.04.68Out Of This World
4/1205.05.6808.05.68Muddlers-In-Law
4/1312.05.6815.05.68What Has Four Wheels And Flies ?

Series 5

Broadcast on Tuesdays at 7:00pm on Radio 4. The series was not repeated. The episodes were first broadcast in a different order by the BBC World Service, which had commissioned this series.

EpisodeDateWorld S.Title
5/125.03.6915.02.69A Rotten System
5/201.04.6908.03.69A Brush With An Old Master
5/308.04.6915.03.69All Play And No Work
5/415.04.6922.03.69A Sticky Business
5/522.04.6922.02.69The Home-Brewed Non-Vintage Bomb
5/629.04.6901.03.69The Ship That Wagged It’s Tail

Series 6

Broadcast Tuesdays at 7:30pm on Radio 4. The series was not repeated. Some episodes were first broadcast by the BBC World Service.

EpisodeDateWorld S.Title
6/130.06.70Bye-Bye Mildred *
6/207.07.7015.03.70The Bare Necessities *
6/314.07.7022.03.70Storm In A Tea-urn
6/421.07.7029.03.70The Moving Target
6/528.07.70xOil Well That Ends Well
6/604.08.70xThe Bigger The Better
6/711.08.70xTrouble In The Air
6/818.08.70xMiss Chaterley’s Lover
6/925.08.70xThe Pudding From Outer Space
6/1001.09.70A Little Of What You Fancy
6/1108.09.70A Bird In The Hand
6/1215.09.70Bringing The House Down
6/1322.09.70Fair Exchange
6/1429.09.70Bill Stickers Is Innocent

Series 7

Broadcast on Thursdays at 12:25pm on Radio 4. The last episode was broadcast two months after the others on a Monday at 6:15pm on Radio 4. The series was not repeated.

EpisodeDateTitle
7/129.07.71Rolling In It *
7/205.08.71Up Up And Away
7/312.08.71Thoroughly Modern Ministry
7/419.08.71We All Make Mistakes
7/526.08.71A Foolproof Fool
7/602.09.71Rotten To The Corps
7/709.09.71Transatlantic Trouble
7/816.09.71The Finger Of Suspicion
7/923.09.71Just The Ticket
7/1029.11.71Gone To Pot

Series 8

Broadcast on Tuesdays at 12:25pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Thursdays at 6:15pm on Radio 4.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
8/111.07.7213.07.72The Conference Trick *
8/218.07.7220.07.72The Night We Crept Into The Crypt
8/325.07.7227.07.72How Now, Brown Cow
8/401.08.7203.08.72Sorry, Wrong Number
8/508.08.7210.08.72The Desk Job
8/615.08.7217.08.72Fowl Play
8/722.08.7224.08.72Something Of Value
8/829.08.7227.08.72Taking Leave Of Their Census

Series 9

Broadcast on Tuesdays at 12:25pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Thursdays at 6:15pm on Radio 4. Episode 9/5 “A Private Affair” was billed as being the 100th show. It is actually the 96th broadcast. Most likely, there was a difference between the recording and broadcast sequences.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
9/106.03.7308.03.73That’s My Pigeon
9/213.03.7315.03.73Don’t Let Them Needle You
9/320.03.7322.03.73Find The Lady
9/427.03.7329.03.73Bridge Under Troubled Water
9/503.04.7305.04.73A Private Affair *
9/610.04.7312.04.73Food For Thought
9/717.04.7319.04.73Getting It Taped
9/824.04.7326.04.73Safe And Unsound
9/901.05.7303.05.73The Export Caper
9/1008.05.7310.05.73Flushed With Success
9/1115.05.7317.05.73Under The Weather
9/1222.05.7324.05.73Monkey Business
9/1329.05.7331.05.73Cheesed Off

Series 10

Broadcast Mondays at 6:15pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Wednesdays at 12:27pm on Radio 4.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
10/117.06.7419.06.74Plane Madness
10/224.06.7426.06.74Vipers In The Bosom
10/301.07.7403.07.74Great Guns
10/408.07.7411.07.74I Want My Mummy
10/515.07.7417.07.74One Man’s Meat
10/622.07.7424.07.74Ballet Nuisance
10/729.07.7431.07.74Sky High
10/805.08.7407.08.74A Break For Sir Gregory
10/912.08.7414.08.74Health And Deficiency
10/1019.08.7421.08.74Big Deal
10/1126.08.7428.08.74They Fry By Night
10/1202.09.7404.09.74In The Picture
10/1309.09.7411.09.74She’ll Have To Go

Series 11

Broadcast Mondays at 6:15pm on Radio 4. Repeated in a different order on Sundays at 7:02pm on Radio 4, 5.10.75 to 28.12.75.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
11/126.05.7505.10.75Nothing But The Vest
11/206.06.7512.10.75That’s My Baby
11/309.06.7519.10.75All That Glitters
11/416.06.7514.12.75Torn To Shreds
11/523.06.7502.11.75Wool Over Their Eyes
11/630.06.7509.11.75This VAT And The Other
11/707.07.7516.11.75The Great Trouser Troubles
11/814.07.7523.11.75The Cabinet Crisis
11/921.07.7530.11.75Chain Reaction
11/1028.07.7507.12.75All Change
11/1104.08.7526.10.75A Merry Dance
11/1211.08.7521.12.75A Sense Of Power
11/1318.08.7528.12.75Postal Disorder

Series 12

Broadcast Mondays at 6:15pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Tuesdays at 12:27pm on Radio 4.

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
12/106.07.7608.07.76All Cisterns Go
12/213.07.7615.07.76A Problem Shared
12/320.07.7622.07.76The Whitehall Castaways
12/427.07.7629.07.76Off The Rails
12/503.08.7605.08.76Penny Wise
12/610.08.7612.08.76A Turn For The Nurse
12/717.08.7619.08.76Seal Of Office
12/824.08.7626.08.76Birmingham Is Revolting

Series 13

Broadcast Mondays at 6:30pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Wednesdays at 12:27pm on Radio 4

EpisodeDateRepeatTitle
13/104.07.7706.07.77Mission Inedible
13/211.07.7713.07.77Horse Play
13/318.07.7720.07.77The Big Big Big Ben Bungle
13/425.07.7727.07.77A Motley Crew
13/501.08.7702.08.77Not On Your Telly
13/608.08.7710.08.77One Way Only
13/715.08.7717.08.77Take Your Pick
13/822.08.7724.08.77Claws

Transcription Service Series

In 1980, the Transcription Service, a branch of the BBC responsible for distributing recordings to other international broadcasters, commissioned Edward Taylor to update the scripts from fourteen early episodes of The Men From The Ministry. Most of the episodes were remade from Series 1 and 2. In the new recordings, Dercyk Guyler took the place of Wilfrid Hyde White. They were not broadcast as a series in the UK, probably only on the BBC World Service. However, the transmission dates have not yet been identified.

 

EpisodeTitleRemade From
14/1Boots1/01 The Great Footwear Scandal
14/2Pardon My French1/04 French Cricket
14/3Traffic Diversions1/13 The End Of The Road
14/4Watch This Space1/02 The Big Rocket
14/5Birds Of A Feather1/03 Strictly The Birds
14/6Where There’s A Will1/12 Problem in the Park
14/7The Country Caper1/07 The Rhubarb Pirates
14/8Ban The Wotsit3/02 A Terrifying Weapon
14/9A Testing Time2/07 A Degrading Business
14/10Pushing The Vote Out4/05 Up The Poll
14/11Gone To Earth2/12 The Hole
14/12Computaclanger2/03 The Trouble With Cecil
14/13A Great Convenience3/13 A Slight Case Of Demolition
14/14The Christmas Spirit1/09 The Magic Carpet
The Men from the Ministry

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