This last gasp of Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker is an absolute wheeze, says Katie Jarvis.

Let’s look at the positives of ageing. The fact that my children can ask me what I’d like for my birthday and still get me a surprise present.

Then there’s the joy of nostalgia. Remember those days when romping MPs automatically resigned to spend more time leaning on five-barred gates with their family? Rather than staying on to spend more time with lobbying firms.

And when newspapers actually had to invent detail (‘Mellor made love in Chelsea strip!’) because the truth just wasn’t salacious enough. Aye me. Halcyon days.

There are, admittedly, a few negatives to old age. Such as bafflement at the world we currently live in. (I get ‘PC’; I really do. But a friend of mine was disciplined by her company after praising a colleague for ‘doing the donkey work’.)

Those elements – plus incontinence – form the bedrock of Jonathan Lynn’s new play – indeed, the world-premiere at the Barn, Cirencester – I’m Sorry Prime Minister, I can’t Quite Remember.

We’re among old friends. Really old friends.

Great British Life: Christopher Bianchi and Michaela BennisonChristopher Bianchi and Michaela Bennison (Image: Alex Tabrizi)Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby who once – between them – ran the country (at least, one thought he did; the other did) are leading the pack no more. Now in their 80s, they’re Zimmering after a world fast disappearing in a puff of carbon-neutral smoke.

We’re back in the world of Yes, Minister, of course, written by the late Antony Jay and the very-much-still-quick Jonathan Lynn: can’t-miss TV that Margaret Thatcher sat down to watch each week. A BBC2 favourite that ran for four years in the 80s, following the hapless career of Minister Jim Hacker, manipulated and outwitted by Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby. A sequel, Yes, Prime Minister, nominatively explains its subsequent premise.

So how, we might well wonder, are Jim and Sir Humphrey faring in 2023?

Great British Life: Christopher BianchiChristopher Bianchi (Image: Alex Tabrizi)The stage opens on Lord Hacker’s flat (I love this set: I once interviewed the wonderful Tony Benn at home in Holland Park; incredibly similar vista, though with far more piles of paper), a room in the accommodation that goes with his role as Master of Hacker College, Oxford. (He raised the money to fund it though a Russian oligarch. What could possibly go wrong with that!)

There are two problems.

Firstly, poor old Jim (Christopher Bianchi) is no longer wanted. Despite being awarded a lifetime post (with above accommodation included), some unfortunate comments he made at a college dinner mean the authorities – as represented by Sir David Knell (Andy Hawthorne) – are remarkably keen he retire. (Who hasn’t made the odd comment about the British Empire and a Cecil Rhodes statue?)

Secondly, minor ailments and infirmities (liver, back pain, arthritis, gout, heart failure (probably easier to list the bits that are working)) have led Jim to seek a carer. ‘Care worker,’ corrects Sophie (Michaela Bennison), who has applied for the job.

‘Like sex worker,’ Jim muses, though hurriedly un-muses a short second later.

He doesn’t have incontinence, he assures Sophie. Just the occasional accident.

But, he’s forced to admit, he can no longer cope on his own.

You can see, the second Sophie begins to talk, the whirring of Jonathan Lynn’s incredible brain.

How, he must have wondered, can I introduce the machinations of the modern world into this confined space that Jim clearly cannot leave?

Aha! What about a carer – care worker – who is young; a woman of colour; and married! (Married to a wife.)

But, hang on, he thinks. Let’s also make Sophie an Oxford graduate – from Jim’s own college – who’s been out of the job market, caring for her own parents. In between career choices.


Perfect but clunky.

Yet, for me, it worked.

All that’s now needed is for Sir Humphrey Appleby (Clive Francis) to be summoned from a home for the elderly deranged (a misunderstanding) to defend his erstwhile colleague from possible eviction.

Great British Life: Michaela Bennison and Andy HawthorneMichaela Bennison and Andy Hawthorne (Image: Alex Tabrizi)You get the idea.

If you saw the original programmes, you definitely get the idea.

Yet I’m Sorry Prime Minister is far from a simple rerun of the old jokes. There’s a warmth to it that’s touching: two lonely men, whose all-consuming careers alienated their families, in a world where no one speaks their language.

A warmth; and a truth.

Beautifully done, I’d say.

And, at times, laugh-out-loud funny, too.

The cast are fabulous. But the two stand-outs are those irascible old men. As Sir Humphrey once said, it takes two to quango.

I’m Sorry Prime Minister… I Can’t Quite Remember, by Jonathan Lynn, is at Barn Theatre, Cirencester, until November 4.

Barn Theatre, 3 Beeches Road, Cirencester GL7 1BN;