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.
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.
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.
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.
* “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.
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.
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.
|1/1||30.10.62||16.02.63||The Great Footwear Scandal|
|1/2||06.11.62||09.02.63||The Big Rocket *|
|1/3||13.11.62||16.03.63||Strictly For The Birds|
|1/5||27.11.62||26.01.63||The War With The Isle Of Wight|
|1/6||04.12.62||23.02.63||Moderately Important Person|
|1/7||11.12.62||09.03.63||The Rhubarb Pirates|
|1/8||18.12.62||30.03.63||A Matter Of Form|
|1/9||25.12.62||02.02.63||The Magic Carpet|
|1/10||01.01.62||13.04.63||The Spy In The Black Pin-Stripe|
|1/11||08.01.63||06.04.63||Island In The Sun|
|1/12||15.01.63||02.03.63||Problem In The Park|
|1/13||22.01.63||20.04.63||The End Of The Road|
|SP||24.12.64||A Present For Norman|
Broadcast on Sundays at 9:00pm on the Light Programme. Repeated the following Tuesdays at 8:00pm on the Light Programme.
|2/1||25.07.65||27.07.65||Pirates Of Lakeview Reservoir|
|2/2||01.08.65||03.08.65||Something About A Soldier *|
|2/3||08.08.65||10.08.65||The Trouble With Cecil|
|2/4||15.08.65||17.08.65||Mahboni Lies Over The Ocean|
|2/5||22.08.65||24.08.65||The Man Who Made It Rain|
|2/6||29.08.65||31.08.65||Train Of Events|
|2/7||05.09.65||07.09.65||A Degrading Business|
|2/8||12.09.65||14.09.65||The Butcher Of Glensporran|
|2/10||26.09.65||28.09.65||A Question Of Dundancy|
|2/11||03.10.65||05.10.65||A Back-Dated Problem|
|2/13||17.10.65||19.10.65||The Day The Martians Came|
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.
|3/1||11.12.66||03.04.67||Rebel In Regents Park|
|3/2||18.12.66||10.04.67||A Terrifying Weapon|
|3/3||25.12.66||The Post Office Pantomime|
|3/4||01.01.67||17.04.67||All At Sea|
|3/5||08.01.67||24.04.67||Bowler Hats And Sub-Machine Guns|
|3/6||15.01.67||01.05.67||On The Run|
|3/7||22.01.67||08.05.67||A Gift For Sir Gregory|
|3/8||29.01.67||15.05.67||A Whitehall Circus|
|3/9||05.02.67||22.05.67||Customs Of The Country|
|3/10||12.02.67||29.05.67||Getting The Bird|
|3/11||19.02.67||05.06.67||The Girl In The Case|
|3/12||26.02.67||12.06.67||The Thing On The Beach|
|3/13||05.03.67||19.06.67||A Slight Case Of Demolition *|
|3/14||12.03.67||26.06.67||The Fastest Ship In The World|
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.
|4/1||18.02.68||19.02.68||The Battle Of The River Thames|
|4/2||25.02.68||28.02.68||The Tubby Submarine|
|4/3||03.03.68||06.03.68||A Matter Of Breeding|
|4/4||10.03.68||13.03.68||The Great Showbiz Fiasco|
|4/5||17.03.68||20.03.68||Up The Poll|
|4/6||24.03.68||27.03.68||Waterway To Go|
|4/8||07.04.68||10.04.68||The Fastest Brolly In The West|
|4/9||14.04.68||17.04.68||Lamb Takes A Gambol|
|4/10||21.04.68||24.04.68||Four Men In A Wellington|
|4/11||28.04.68||01.04.68||Out Of This World|
|4/13||12.05.68||15.05.68||What Has Four Wheels And Flies ?|
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.
|5/1||25.03.69||15.02.69||A Rotten System|
|5/2||01.04.69||08.03.69||A Brush With An Old Master|
|5/3||08.04.69||15.03.69||All Play And No Work|
|5/4||15.04.69||22.03.69||A Sticky Business|
|5/5||22.04.69||22.02.69||The Home-Brewed Non-Vintage Bomb|
|5/6||29.04.69||01.03.69||The Ship That Wagged It’s Tail|
Broadcast Tuesdays at 7:30pm on Radio 4. The series was not repeated. Some episodes were first broadcast by the BBC World Service.
|6/1||30.06.70||Bye-Bye Mildred *|
|6/2||07.07.70||15.03.70||The Bare Necessities *|
|6/3||14.07.70||22.03.70||Storm In A Tea-urn|
|6/4||21.07.70||29.03.70||The Moving Target|
|6/5||28.07.70||x||Oil Well That Ends Well|
|6/6||04.08.70||x||The Bigger The Better|
|6/7||11.08.70||x||Trouble In The Air|
|6/8||18.08.70||x||Miss Chaterley’s Lover|
|6/9||25.08.70||x||The Pudding From Outer Space|
|6/10||01.09.70||A Little Of What You Fancy|
|6/11||08.09.70||A Bird In The Hand|
|6/12||15.09.70||Bringing The House Down|
|6/14||29.09.70||Bill Stickers Is Innocent|
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.
|7/1||29.07.71||Rolling In It *|
|7/2||05.08.71||Up Up And Away|
|7/3||12.08.71||Thoroughly Modern Ministry|
|7/4||19.08.71||We All Make Mistakes|
|7/5||26.08.71||A Foolproof Fool|
|7/6||02.09.71||Rotten To The Corps|
|7/8||16.09.71||The Finger Of Suspicion|
|7/9||23.09.71||Just The Ticket|
|7/10||29.11.71||Gone To Pot|
Broadcast on Tuesdays at 12:25pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Thursdays at 6:15pm on Radio 4.
|8/1||11.07.72||13.07.72||The Conference Trick *|
|8/2||18.07.72||20.07.72||The Night We Crept Into The Crypt|
|8/3||25.07.72||27.07.72||How Now, Brown Cow|
|8/4||01.08.72||03.08.72||Sorry, Wrong Number|
|8/5||08.08.72||10.08.72||The Desk Job|
|8/7||22.08.72||24.08.72||Something Of Value|
|8/8||29.08.72||27.08.72||Taking Leave Of Their Census|
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.
|9/1||06.03.73||08.03.73||That’s My Pigeon|
|9/2||13.03.73||15.03.73||Don’t Let Them Needle You|
|9/3||20.03.73||22.03.73||Find The Lady|
|9/4||27.03.73||29.03.73||Bridge Under Troubled Water|
|9/5||03.04.73||05.04.73||A Private Affair *|
|9/6||10.04.73||12.04.73||Food For Thought|
|9/7||17.04.73||19.04.73||Getting It Taped|
|9/8||24.04.73||26.04.73||Safe And Unsound|
|9/9||01.05.73||03.05.73||The Export Caper|
|9/10||08.05.73||10.05.73||Flushed With Success|
|9/11||15.05.73||17.05.73||Under The Weather|
Broadcast Mondays at 6:15pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Wednesdays at 12:27pm on Radio 4.
|10/2||24.06.74||26.06.74||Vipers In The Bosom|
|10/4||08.07.74||11.07.74||I Want My Mummy|
|10/5||15.07.74||17.07.74||One Man’s Meat|
|10/8||05.08.74||07.08.74||A Break For Sir Gregory|
|10/9||12.08.74||14.08.74||Health And Deficiency|
|10/11||26.08.74||28.08.74||They Fry By Night|
|10/12||02.09.74||04.09.74||In The Picture|
|10/13||09.09.74||11.09.74||She’ll Have To Go|
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.
|11/1||26.05.75||05.10.75||Nothing But The Vest|
|11/2||06.06.75||12.10.75||That’s My Baby|
|11/3||09.06.75||19.10.75||All That Glitters|
|11/4||16.06.75||14.12.75||Torn To Shreds|
|11/5||23.06.75||02.11.75||Wool Over Their Eyes|
|11/6||30.06.75||09.11.75||This VAT And The Other|
|11/7||07.07.75||16.11.75||The Great Trouser Troubles|
|11/8||14.07.75||23.11.75||The Cabinet Crisis|
|11/11||04.08.75||26.10.75||A Merry Dance|
|11/12||11.08.75||21.12.75||A Sense Of Power|
Broadcast Mondays at 6:15pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Tuesdays at 12:27pm on Radio 4.
|12/1||06.07.76||08.07.76||All Cisterns Go|
|12/2||13.07.76||15.07.76||A Problem Shared|
|12/3||20.07.76||22.07.76||The Whitehall Castaways|
|12/4||27.07.76||29.07.76||Off The Rails|
|12/6||10.08.76||12.08.76||A Turn For The Nurse|
|12/7||17.08.76||19.08.76||Seal Of Office|
|12/8||24.08.76||26.08.76||Birmingham Is Revolting|
Broadcast Mondays at 6:30pm on Radio 4. Repeated the following Wednesdays at 12:27pm on Radio 4
|13/3||18.07.77||20.07.77||The Big Big Big Ben Bungle|
|13/4||25.07.77||27.07.77||A Motley Crew|
|13/5||01.08.77||02.08.77||Not On Your Telly|
|13/6||08.08.77||10.08.77||One Way Only|
|13/7||15.08.77||17.08.77||Take Your Pick|
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.
|14/1||Boots||1/01 The Great Footwear Scandal|
|14/2||Pardon My French||1/04 French Cricket|
|14/3||Traffic Diversions||1/13 The End Of The Road|
|14/4||Watch This Space||1/02 The Big Rocket|
|14/5||Birds Of A Feather||1/03 Strictly The Birds|
|14/6||Where There’s A Will||1/12 Problem in the Park|
|14/7||The Country Caper||1/07 The Rhubarb Pirates|
|14/8||Ban The Wotsit||3/02 A Terrifying Weapon|
|14/9||A Testing Time||2/07 A Degrading Business|
|14/10||Pushing The Vote Out||4/05 Up The Poll|
|14/11||Gone To Earth||2/12 The Hole|
|14/12||Computaclanger||2/03 The Trouble With Cecil|
|14/13||A Great Convenience||3/13 A Slight Case Of Demolition|
|14/14||The Christmas Spirit||1/09 The Magic Carpet|