The Yes, Minister Files: Perspectives on British Government since 1914: Context (HIH3217)

StaffProfessor Richard Toye - Convenor
Dr David Thackeray - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2.
Co-requisitesThe Yes, Minister files: Perspectives on British Government since 1914: Sources.
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Bernard, if the right people don’t have power, do you know what happens? The wrong people get it: politicians, councillors, ordinary voters!

Bernard Woolley: But aren’t they supposed to, in a democracy?

Sir Humphrey: This is a British democracy, Bernard!

The module introduces key concepts and events in British political and constitutional history in an accessible way, using case studies to explore themes in the development of the state. World War I saw an unprecedented growth in state power, and in spite of post-war attempts to roll this back, the welfare state, the warfare state, and the surveillance state continued to increase. The course considers the changing balance of power between elected politicians and Whitehall officials to consider how accurate its portrayal in Yes, Minister really is. It will also consider changing genres of political writing and fictional depictions of political life, asking what roles satire and drama play in constructing norms of political and bureaucratic behaviour. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the history of British government since 1914.
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyse the key developments within the history of British government, and the ways it has been represented, since 1914.
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Follow changes in political and constitutional practice across the period.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independently and autonomously study and also work within a group, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

The module will introduce broad concepts in the development of the British state and relate these to specific case studies. It will also examine how such events have been represented in satire and fiction, using Yes, Minister as a point of entry. For example:

  • Cuts and austerity: the Geddes Axe of 1922.
  • The British warfare state: Whitehall and rearmament in the 1930s.
  • Coping with scandal: the Profumo affair.
  • Political diaries and memoirs: the Crossman diaries affair.
  • Official secrecy and ‘the right to know’: the Spycatcher affair.
  • Failure in British government: the Poll Tax.
  • Public enquiries and Royal Commissions: the Hutton Report into the death of David Kelly.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4422 x 2 hour seminars.
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-7, 9Verbal from tutor and fellow students.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay253000 words1-8Verbal and written
Unseen exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and written
Essay253000 words1-8Verbal and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Unseen examUnseen exam1-8Referral/deferral period

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources - interviews with former Cabinet Secretaries - history of 10 Downing Street website - the Hutton Enquiry website

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Fielding, Steven. A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page, from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It (London, 2014)

King, Anthony, and Ivor Crewe, The Blunders of Our Governments (London, 2013)

Loughlin, Martin. The British Constitution: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2013)

Lynn, Jonathan, and Anthony Jay, The Complete Yes Minister: the Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, by the Right Hon. James Hacker, MP (London, 1984)

MacQueen, Adam. The Prime Minister's Ironing Board and Other State Secrets: True Stories from the Government Archives (London, 2013)

Winstone, Ruth (ed.), The Benn Diaries (single volume edition) (London, 1996)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Politics, Satire, Government, Modern Britain, State, Democracy, Comedy