Jim Hacker gets back to his apartment above 10 Downing Street just in time to sit down with his wife, Annie, and watch the end of a television news bulletin. He is upset that the report of his performance at Prime Minister’s Questions, which he regarded as one of his best, has been dropped in favour of a story concerning Benji, an Old English sheepdog owned by an eight-year-old girl, which has strayed on to an artillery range on Salisbury Plain. The Ministry of Defence has ruled out a rescue, and Annie is aggrieved at its decision.
Back at work, Hacker meets with Sir Geoffrey Hastings, the Director General of MI5, who has a serious disclosure. It has transpired that the late Sir John Halstead, Sir Geoffrey’s predecessor during the 1960s, was a Russian spy. In the 1970s, there was an inquiry into his activities that cleared him. However, its main inquisitor was none other than Sir Humphrey Appleby. The Prime Minister is urged to conduct an inquiry of his own, in order to ascertain that the Cabinet Secretary is “one of us.”
Hacker meets Sir Humphrey and is at first more concerned with his plummeting opinion poll ratings. He wishes to be more relevant, but Sir Humphrey points out that the only topic occupying the nation at present is a lost dog on Salisbury Plain. The PM then turns to his “security matter.” Sir Humphrey readily admits that government security inquiries are primarily designed to kill press speculation, and in any case, he was certain of Sir John Halstead’s integrity. He is therefore unprepared for the truth, and still can’t quite believe it when Hacker enlightens him. He protests that he was a busy man at the time and couldn’t look into everything, as “you never know what you might find.” Nevertheless, Hacker tells him, he was either in collusion or incompetent. The PM is minded to send Sir Humphrey on gardening leave until the matter is fully investigated. However, Hacker confesses that he has no experience of such things and wishes to speak to Sir Humphrey’s predecessor, Sir Arnold Robinson, to ask his advice. He forbids Sir Humphrey to contact him beforehand, and the mandarin states that he “wouldn’t dream of it.”
Sir Humphrey meets Sir Arnold, who is unwilling to give his former subordinate the benefit of the doubt. Sir Humphrey tells him that he can’t be a spy as he never studied at Cambridge; moreover, he has never believed in anything in his life. He implicates Sir Arnold in instructing him to clear Sir John Halstead but naturally he has no written evidence. Sir Arnold contemplates the likely scenario if Sir Humphrey is innocent: he would still be viewed as incompetent. His solution is for Sir Humphrey to make himself so valuable to the PM that Hacker could not afford to lose him. He proposes that Hacker be given a leading role in the main news story of the day…the lost dog on Salisbury Plain.
In the Cabinet Office, Sir Humphrey meets Sir Norman Block, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, who is incredulous at the suggestion that the dog be rescued—potentially a very expensive operation. However, as Sir Humphrey indicates, if it goes ahead, and the true cost is hidden from the PM until afterwards, it would make it very difficult for the PM to continue with his ongoing battle for defence cuts. He instructs Sir Norman to put the army on standby and makes him promise that Hacker will get all the credit.
Meanwhile, Hacker is interviewing Sir Arnold. The PM is relieved to discover that he can clear Sir Humphrey on security grounds: Sir John Halstead provided a damning assessment of the Cabinet Secretary’s inquisitorial skills, which Sir Arnold has managed to procure from MI5. There remains the question of incompetence, but Sir Arnold reminds the PM that inquiries into such matters usually lead back to mistakes by ministers. After Sir Arnold has left, Sir Humphrey joins the PM. Hacker can scarcely conceal his glee at reading out the exonerating evidence: “…so much wool in his head, it was child’s play to pull it over his eyes.” Sir Humphrey is forced to swallow the accusation, but steers the conversation from his alleged ineptitude by referring to Hacker’s current popularity ratings and how these may be improved. He convinces the PM to allow the dog rescue to go ahead.
After a successful canine retrieval, Hacker is overwhelmed by his coverage in the tabloids, and Sir Humphrey is hard-pressed to draw his attention away from them. He wishes to recommend that the planned defence cuts be referred to a Cabinet Committee and, before the PM can protest, gives him the provisional costings for the operation on Salisbury Plain. They amount to £310,000: Sir Humphrey’s plan has worked.
|Paul Eddington||Jim Hacker|
|Nigel Hawthorne||Sir Humphrey Appleby|
|Derek Fowlds||Bernard Woolley|
|Michael Aldridge||Sir Geoffrey Hastings|
|John Nettleton||Sir Arnold Robinson|
|John Normington||Sir Norman Block|
|Diana Hoddinott||Annie Hacker|
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