The Bed of Nails (Yes Minister)

Infobox UK Television Episode
Title = The Bed of Nails
Series name = Yes Minister

Caption = Episode title card
Series no = 3
Episode = 5
Airdate = 9 December 1982
Writer = Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Producer = Peter Whitmore
Director =
Guests = John Nettleton
Nigel Stock
Episode list = List of "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" episodes
Prev = The Moral Dimension
Next = The Whisky Priest

"The Bed of Nails" is the nineteenth episode of the BBC comedy series "Yes Minister" and was first broadcast 9 December 1982.


The Prime Minister's special advisor, Sir Mark Spencer, is meeting with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Arnold Robinson, in 10 Downing Street. They are seeking a minister who would be willing to take on the implementation of the new Integrated National Transport Policy. The job is a political minefield (already declined by the Department of Transport itself) and, as far as the civil service is concerned, calls for "lots of activity but no actual achievement": Jim Hacker is therefore their man. They know that if Sir Humphrey Appleby, his Permanent Secretary, gets wind of it he would wish to veto the Minister's involvement, so they need to move quickly. Hacker joins them, and after a short chat and the offer of a new title — Transport Supremo — he is talked into it.

Hacker goes back to his office to tell Sir Humphrey and Bernard the good news. Sir Humphrey is astounded that the Minister has accepted this extra responsibility and enlightens him as to its disadvantages: namely that the policy is in everyone's interest except the minister who creates it. He goes on to explain that for every vote gained, Hacker would lose ten more, simply because you can't please everyone. An integrated transport policy, by its very nature, means that one form of transport, be it road, rail or air, would become dominant and therefore infuriate those who work in the other two industries. Sir Humphrey proposes to illustrate this by arranging a meeting for the Minister with three Under-Secretaries, each of whom represents one of the divisions.

The conference to examine the government's freight transport options takes place, and Hacker is quick to perceive that there is little scope for agreement. Each of the three representatives makes a seemingly overwhelming case for his particular lobby. Hacker then tells them that he wants to reduce the overall transport budget, which gets them to agree on one thing for the only time in the meeting; unfortunately, it happens to be an unspoken agreement of a general strike if Hacker tries to do any such thing. Afterwards, Hacker seeks Bernard's advice, and asks why the three civil servants appeared to be fighting their own corners instead of supporting the government. The Principal Private Secretary explains that this is how the civil service works: each department is controlled by those that it is supposed to be controlling. By way of example, he tells Hacker why comprehensive education was adopted in the UK: simply because the National Union of Teachers wanted it. It is the most powerful sectional interest with whom the Department of Education has a permanent relationship, so the latter acts on the former's behalf. This arrangement apparently works with all government departments, and Hacker now sees that he has no hope of implementing this policy in the face of so much opposition. When Sir Humphrey rejoins them, the Minister formerly requests his help in getting him out of his commitment. They decide to formulate a few "local repercussions" for the Prime Minister's own constituency, which will result in the loss of jobs and public services on a massive scale. Humphrey then informs the Minister that if a journalist — such as the one he's about to have lunch with — got hold of the document it would have nasty results, and with copies made for every government department, it would be difficult to track down the source of any leak that might occur.

Sir Humphrey has lunch with Peter Maxwell, a journalist from "The Times". He points him in the direction of the likely resulting job losses from the new transport policy, and deliberately leaves a copy of Hacker's memo behind.

A few days later, Hacker has been called back to Number 10, where Sir Mark Spencer informs him of the PM's displeasure. The story has appeared in "The Times" — which points to a leak. Furthermore, another report has appeared in the PM's local paper, scotching rumours of any unfortunate side-effects to the policy. However, Sir Mark is adamant that the PM's office "does not leak." Hacker is asked to rethink his proposals.

Sir Humphrey is on the case: he has already prepared his Plan B, the announcement of a British Transport Authority with 80,000 staff and a billion a year budget — guaranteed to upset HM Treasury. They decide to leak this as well, but Bernard is worried that there would be a leak inquiry. His masters inform him that such things never report their findings: they are primarily for setting up and, in any case, most leaks do actually come from 10 Downing Street. As Sir Humphrey remarks, the ship of state is the only one that leaks from the top.

Hacker and Sir Humphrey are brought in to discuss the matter with Sir Mark and Sir Arnold. Each side is confident that they can discover the source of the other's leak, which leads to a stalemate. They agree to send the policy back to the Ministry of Transport and conduct a leak inquiry.

Episode cast


* Robert East, who portrayed the Under-Secretary for the Rail Division, also played Peter Gascoigne (Hacker's Home Affairs Private Secretary) in the "Yes, Prime Minister" episode "A Diplomatic Incident". It is assumed that they are the same person.


cquote2|Bernard: The Department of Employment lobbies for the TUC, whereas the Department of Industry lobbies for the employers. It's rather a nice balance. Energy lobbies for the oil companies, Defence lobbies for the armed forces, the Home Office lobbies for the police and so on.
Hacker: So the whole system is designed to stop the Cabinet from carrying out its policies?
Bernard: Well, somebody's got to.

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