Few writers brought such insight or mirth to the Machiavellian antics of politics behind closed doors as Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. As the creators of Yes Minister and its successor, Yes, Prime Minister, the pair cast a sardonic 1980s eye over parliamentary life during a decade dominated by the UK’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
So taken was Thatcher with the programme that she famously featured in a specially written sketch in which she called for the abolition of economists at the National Viewers and Listeners’ Association awards in 1984.
A belated stage version of Yes, Prime Minister was seen at the Chichester Festival Theatre in 2010. Reuniting hapless politician on the up Jim Hacker and haughty, high-ranking civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby – indelibly portrayed by Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne on screen and resurrected on stage by David Haig and Henry Goodman – it transferred to the West End for three summer seasons in the Gielgud and Apollo theatres and, most recently, at the Trafalgar Studios in 2013.
Haig and Goodman reprised the roles for six new episodes of Yes, Prime Minister for the digital channel Gold the same year.
While Lynn was a veteran of the television sitcom and sketch show, Jay’s background had been altogether more serious-minded despite his parents (Ernest Jay and Catherine Hay) both being actors. Born in London, he read Classics and comparative philology at Cambridge, and after national service joined the BBC in 1955.
Initially a producer on the Tonight programme, Jay became its editor in 1962 and began writing for That Was the Week That Was and The Frost Report. One of his first producer credits was the fortnightly magazine Dig This Rhubarb, which featured the unlikely combination of “essays, plays, poetry, diaries, songs, sermons and letters”. He was appointed the Corporation’s head of talks and features in 1963.
After going freelance the following year, milestones included scripting the documentary Royal Family (1969) and editing Harold Wilson’s 13-part series A Prime Minister on Prime Ministers (1977).
Even more successful was Video Arts, the venture he co-founded with ex-Python John Cleese and two former BBC colleagues in 1972 to make management training programmes for industry. When the company was sold in 1989, it was valued at £43 million.
In 2008, he courted controversy when he claimed in a report for the Centre for Policy Studies that there was a strong case for “dismantling the BBC”.
Antony Rupert Jay was born on April 20, 1930 and died on August 21, aged 86. He was knighted in 1988. He is survived by his wife and three children.