Yes, Prime Minister (1986) s01e07 Episode Script

The Bishop's Gambit

(TV) Growing concern for Fiona McGregor, the nurse held in the Gulf state of Kumran for alleged possession of a bottle of whisky.
Her sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and 40 lashes is awaiting confirmation.
Today, her mother, accompanied by her MP, Stuart Gordon, and a group of sympathisers, took a petition to the Kumran embassy, but the Kumrani's refused to accept it.
The Foreign Secretary described the incident as regrettable, but no action is planned.
Turn it off, Bernard.
This is very worrying.
There's a lot of public sympathy.
I'm sure the Foreign Secretary will advise you.
- He advises me to do nothing.
- I'm sure that's good advice.
If we do nothing, we look heartless.
And feeble.
It doesn't do the government any good to look heartless and feeble simultaneously.
Bernard? Perhaps you could arrange it so you only look heartless and feeble alternately.
- Humphrey, we must do something.
- The Kumranis are good friends of Britain.
They placed a huge defence contract with us, they tell us about the Soviets in Iraq, they even sabotage OPEC agreements for us.
We can't afford to upset them.
I know, but a British national is facing a barbaric punishment for a trivial offence.
The Foreign Office is there to protect British nationals.
- To protect British interests.
- It's not in her interest to be flogged.
- It's not in ours to prevent it.
- This could hurt the government very badly.
Well, I understand that tomorrow the Foreign Secretary will deliver a strong note of protest.
- Why can't he do it now? - We haven't got their agreement yet.
We're seeing the ambassador privately now.
Once they approve the wording, we hand it over.
- Then we'll have done all we can.
- Very heartless.
It's safer to be heartless than mindless.
History is the triumph of the heartless over the mindless.
- The Cabinet will never agree to this policy.
- The F.
never expect that for their policies.
That's why they never fully explain them.
- Even to the Foreign Secretary? - Especially not to the Foreign Secretary.
All that the Foreign Office requires is that the Cabinet agree to their decisions once they've been taken.
Will that be all? I have a dinner engagement.
- Yes, I suppose so.
- It's time to get ready for the reception.
- Oh, who's coming? - The synod of the Church of England.
There's a vacancy in Bury St Edmunds.
- They come here when a bishopric is vacant.
- Why? To lobby.
So you don't choose the wrong name.
- How should I know which one to choose? - It's like any Civil Service option.
It will be a conjuring trick.
Take any card, you always end up with the card the magician forced you to take.
- Suppose I don't take it? - You will.
Who are these cards? With the Church, you usually get the choice of a knave or a queen.
We do appreciate you dining at the college.
Always a pleasure to dine with old friends.
Thank you, Master.
Humphrey, I'll be retiring in four or five years.
Isn't that roughly when you retire? Yes.
The Bursar and I think you could be just the chap to succeed me as Master of Ballie.
Really? But there is one obstacle.
The Dean.
- Why is he an obstacle? - He says you're too clever by half.
I should have thought that at Oxford to be called clever might be rather a compliment.
- He also says you're smug.
- Thank you, Bursar.
Well, you've got a lot to be smug about.
If I had £75,000 a year, a knighthood, an index-linked pension, and a bunch of politicians to take the blame for all my mistakes, I'd be pretty smug myself! The Dean is paranoid that we're intriguing in this matter behind his back.
That is why we decided todiscuss it with you while he's away.
The only way you'll become Master of Baillie is if we can dump the Dean.
- But how? - It isn't easy.
He's a lazy devil.
He only has to do four hours' work a week.
Give one lecture and a couple of tutorials and he's got tenure for life! Only two interests - cricket and steam engines.
Never reads a new book, thinks a new thought.
So being an Oxford don is the perfect job.
So what would get him away from Baillie? - Only a bishopric.
- A bishopric? We wondered about Bury St Edmunds.
That's up for grabs, isn't it? Yes, a very agreeable diocese.
It has a seat in the Lords.
The Dean would like that.
His third hobby is sucking up to the aristocracy.
Well, it's not up to me at all.
- The Church wants to maintain the balance.
- What balance? Between those who believe in God and those who don't.
Is there anyone in the Church who doesn't? Oh, yes.
Most of the bishops.
But, in any case, Bury St Edmunds is all sewn up.
Canon Stanford is getting the job.
We thought the Prime Minister had to choose.
But they gave an impossible second candidate.
In any case, the Dean hasn't done enough public service to qualify.
Are any other dioceses coming free? Well, it doesn't happen very often.
The older appointees don't have to retire at 60.
Bishops tend to have long lives.
Apparently the Lord isn't all that keen for them to join Him.
What sort of public service did you have in mind for the Dean? Well, why don't you get the bishop to send him to Kumran, to try to intercede on behalf of that nurse? The Arabs love him because he's an expert in Islamic studies.
He'd love the Arabs.
Either way, we can't lose.
That's right.
- If he fails, at least he's tried.
- If he succeeds, he's a hero.
And if he doesn't come back, he won't be missed.
No, it's such an awful country.
They cut people's hands off and women get stoned when they commit adultery.
Unlike Britain where they commit adultery when they get stoned! He may even come back with a few parts missing! Look, no hands! Sorry to be so hesitant, Peter.
I've never appointed a bishop before.
Er, recommended the appointment to the sovereign, Prime Minister.
Tell me about Canon Stanford.
Well, Mike is very highly thought of.
He's a modernist.
- Modernist? - A theological term.
It seems that he accepts that some events described in the Bible are not literally true.
He sees them as metaphors, myths or legends.
He's interested in their spiritual and philosophical truth.
He doesn't believe the world was made in seven days and Eve came out of Adam's rib? - Precisely.
- Sounds very sensible.
Anything else? He went to Winchester and New College, Oxford, and his name is first on the list.
- Sounds good.
- And he has an eminently suitable wife.
Devout, full of good works? No, I mean she's the daughter of the Earl of Chichester.
I see.
And what about the second? Well, second is Doctor Paul Harvey.
And? - He's an admirable man.
- But? It's your choice, of course, but there's a suspicion he tends towards disestablishmentarianism.
What? The view that the Church of England shouldn't be part of the state.
Some people feel it should be separate, like Methodists or Catholics.
They think ordinary people feel the established church is a club for the ruling classes.
Sounds a good man.
Well, it's entirely up to you, of course, Prime Minister, but I suspect Her Majesty might be a little surprised if you asked her to appoint a man who'd make her break her coronation vows to defend the Church.
- Why's he on the list, then? - Well, he's not quite a disestablishmentarian.
But that's the way his mind seems to be moving.
I see.
So I'm being asked to choose Mike Stanford or Mike Stanford? The Commission is offering you the two names which emerged.
- Was there an open election? - No.
Bishops are in the apostolic succession.
- What's that? - It's God's will.
When Judas Iscariot blotted his copybook, he was replaced.
They let the Holy Ghost decide.
- How did he make his views known? - By drawing lots.
Couldn't we let the Holy Ghost decide now? No one's confident the Holy Ghost would know what makes a good Church of England bishop.
Sir Humphrey is due here now.
Could we continue tomorrow? Not at all.
Thank you, Prime Minister.
Prime Minister, appointing Canon Stanford may be an own goal.
May I get his career details? - Yes, please do.
- And I'll send Sir Humphrey in.
- Bernard.
Prime Minister.
- Ah, Humphrey.
Sherry? Yes, thank you.
What's a modernist in the Church of England? Ah, well, the word ''modernist'' is code for non-believer.
- You mean an atheist? - No, no.
An atheist couldn't continue to draw his stipend, so when they stop believing in God they call themselves modernists.
How could the Church of England suggest an atheist as bishop? The Church of England is primarily a social organisation, not religious.
- Is it? - Part of the rich social fabric of the country.
Bishops need to be the sort of chaps who speak properly, know which knife and fork to use.
The sort of people one can look up to.
- So Canon Stanford's wife's eminently suitable? - Of course.
- Is there really no other candidate? - Well, not really.
- There were better jobs available recently.
- What's better than a bishop? A rook? Very droll.
No, Dean of Windsor is a better job.
Or Westminster.
It enables one to be on better terms with the Royals.
So being a bishop is just a matter of status? Dressing up in cassocks and gaiters.
Yes, though gaiters are now only worn at significant religious events like the Royal garden party.
- Why? - The Church is trying to be more relevant.
- To God? - No, of course not.
I meant relevant in sociological terms.
So the ideal candidate in the Church's view is a cross between a socialite and a socialist? - Precisely.
- May I give you Canon Stanford's details? - Please do.
- He was chaplain to the Bishop of Sheffield.
He moved on to be the diocesan advisor on ethnic communities and social responsibility.
He organised conferences on inter-faith interface and between Christians and Marxists, and between Christians and the women of Greenham Common.
He was chaplain at the University of Essex, vice-principal at a theological college and is now secretary to the Disarmament Committee of the Council of Churches.
Has he ever been an ordinary vicar of a parish? Good heavens, no.
Clergymen who want to be bishops try to avoid pastoral work.
So you're saying he's a political troublemaker? No, but he could be a thorn in your side on strikes, public expenditure on welfare, inner cities, unemployment, defence.
It's interesting that nowadays politicians want to talk about moral issues and bishops want to talk politics.
And he'd speak with the authority of a bishop and from the Lords.
He designed a new church in South London with places for dispensing orange juice, family planning and organising demos - But no place for Holy Communion.
- Are you serious? - Well, there was a dual-purpose hall.
- And the Church approved this? - Of course.
The Church is run by theologians.
- So? Well, theology is a device for enabling agnostics to stay within the Church.
I don't want Stanford.
What am I to do? You could turn both candidates down, but that would be exceptional and not advised.
Even though one wants God out of the Church of England and the other wants the Queen out? - The Queen is inseparable from the Church.
- What about God? I think he's what's called an optional extra.
Bernard's on his way up.
Any more news about that nurse? - No, not really.
- Can't the Foreign Office do something? The Foreign Office is there to explain why things can't be done.
This could damage us very badly.
All the Foreign Office does is shrug and say we mustn't upset the Kumranis.
- Must be ghastly for her.
- Who? Oh, that nurse.
- You don't care about her either.
- Oh, Annie.
- You're only worried about your popularity.
- That's not true.
Sorry, Prime Minister.
It's rather important.
The Bishop of Banbury and the Church Missionary Society are sending the Dean of Baillie College to Kumran on a mercy mission.
- An Oxford don? Why? - He's an expert on Islam.
It's a faith to faith meeting.
All right.
Tell the Foreign Office I support their moves to support him.
No, the Foreign Office want you to stop it.
They say it's a futile gesture which will impair our relationship with a friendly country.
But I think it's a good idea.
Don't you, Annie? - You mean it might save the nurse? - Er, yes, that too.
All right, tell them to go ahead.
Oh, Lambeth Palace want to know if you've decided about Bury St Edmunds.
- All right, Bernard.
Thank you.
- Good night.
What's happening in Bury St Edmunds? - I've got to choose a bishop.
- That's ridiculous! - Why? - You're not exactly religious.
I'm Prime Minister.
Religion has nothing to do with it.
- To do with bishops?! - Not really.
They're just managers in fancy dress.
The Church of England has over 172,000 acres of land, thousands of tenants, leaseholds, property and investments worth a total of £1.
6 billion.
The ideal bishop is a corporate executive.
A sort of merchant banker, personnel manager and estate agent.
I'd prefer you to choose a man of God.
They offered me one of those, but he wants to turn the Church into a religious movement.
- They're trying to force a modernist on me.
- Marxist or atheist? Both.
Doesn't matter about the atheist bit, but being a Marxist could cause me a lot of trouble once he's in the House of Lords.
- Can't you turn him down? - It would look political.
- You said the Church IS political.
- But it mustn't look it.
I see.
- Why not turn him down on religious grounds? - How do you mean? - Does he believe in Heaven and Hell? - Of course not.
- The virgin birth? The resurrection? - No, nothing like that.
- Isn't that enough? - Annie, you're brilliant! I'll reject both candidates and force them to submit another.
I really want a candidate who'll get on with everybody.
- Someone without strong views on anything? - Yes.
It might help if he were inclined towards Christianity.
That wouldn't do any real harm.
So what you need is a sort of closet Christian.
Thank you, darling.
The Six 0'Clock News from the BBC, with Sue Lawley and Nicholas Witchell.
Good evening.
News is just coming in that after two weeks in Kumran the Dean of Baillie College has succeeded in obtaining the release of Fiona McGregor, the British nurse held there in prison.
She was awaiting a sentence of 40 lashes for possessing a bottle of whisky.
She and the Dean are expected back in England tomorrow.
Now for the rest of the news.
The pound had another bad day So it's true.
I can't believe it.
- It's a disaster.
- Disaster! Whose idea was it to send him to Kumran? Eh, can't imagine.
Bishop of Banbury perhaps? - We had the situation under control.
- Yes, of course you did.
We made our protest.
The nurse would have been quietly flogged and stuffed in some jail.
Within a couple of weeks, the press would forget.
- Still, no real damage done.
- There is to the Foreign Office.
We've almost got agreement to set up a signals listening post in Kumran.
We said we wouldn't make a fuss if they signed.
We've lost our best bargaining counter.
You could find another nurse and plant some Scotch on her! - I don't think we could do that.
- No.
No, it wouldn't be right.
No, it's too dangerous.
Still, at least it's got that nurse's ghastly mother off my back.
She's been writing and phoning and telling the press that we haven't been doing anything.
- Extraordinary.
- And the press have taken her part.
- Going on about being more patriotic! - Extraordinary.
They've said a lot of unpleasant things, but we've never been accused of patriotism! Sometimes I can't believe the newspapers' abject ignorance of diplomatic realities.
But we may have a problem with the PM now.
Because we advised him against this? Because the Foreign Secretary said it was impossible to get her released! And we were right! If we'd left it to the Foreign Office, it would have been impossible.
You see what will happen now? The press will say the Church succeeds where the F.
They'll dig out all the old cuttings about ambassadors' Rolls Royces, £4 million embassies, school fees at Eton paid for by the taxpayer and what does Britain get? - Don't.
I know what we'll do.
- What? We'll tell the press that it was the Prime Minister's initiative to send the Dean.
Good idea.
The PM will enjoy taking the credit.
There's no danger the PM will deny it because it isn't true? None at all.
And then for the Sundays we'll leak the idea that the Foreign Office suggested it to him when the diplomatic channels were blocked.
Nobody gets the blame and everybody gets the credit.
- Except the person who really thought it up.
- I don't mind.
- Em - (TELEPHONE RINGS) I don't mind that he doesn't get the credit.
Excuse me.
Hello? Oh, put him on.
Oh, hello, Master.
Have you seen the television news? Splendid! - Yes, absolutely splendid.
- This could help our friend, eh? - Certainly could.
- How long until a bishopric falls vacant? Well, there's no time like the present.
I think the battle of Bury St Edmunds is not over yet.
There have been developments.
- (TELEPHONE RINGS) - Excuse me.
Hello? Yes, ask him to come in.
Thank you.
I think we can still get the Dean up to the starting gate.
As a late entry.
Just leave it to me.
All right.
Bye, Master.
Ah, come in, Peter.
I understand there's a meeting of the Crown Appointments Commission in the morning? Yes, they are aware that a further candidate is required since the PM saw fit to break with tradition.
By insisting on a bishop who is a believer? There is one possible candidate, Steven Soames, but we've saved him up for years.
- We'd rather offer him Truro.
- Why? Well, Truro is How shall I put it? Very remote.
It is to the Church what the Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea is to the Civil Service.
- Soames has been waiting for years.
- Long time, no see.
Oh, very droll, Humphrey.
Yes, he is a bit of a nuisance.
He keeps on about our duty to God.
We rather wanted him out of the way.
''Long time, no see''! Yes, but if the PM wants a religious bishop, he's the only candidate.
He sounds fine, but there is one little snag.
- The PM wants you to put up two more names.
- Two? You must give the PM the feeling of a choice.
You need a second candidate who is plausible, but unacceptable.
- I can't think who and the meeting's so soon.
- Why not the Dean of Baillie College? - I agree he is impossible, but not plausible.
- Why not? He's a crank! He's unbelievably vain and hopelessly incompetent.
But the PM appoints people who are vain and incompetent - look at the Cabinet.
And the Dean's just had good publicity.
Isn't there a danger he'll get in? Not the slightest.
The PM has stated that he wants a devout Christian.
The Dean only believes in Islam, steam engines and the MCC.
In fact, some smart aleck once asked him on TV if he knew what the Bible was.
- And did he? - He said it's a Christian version of the Koran.
''Jim's Dean saves Fiona from lash''! - What about that? - Excellent.
- ''Prime Minister's envoy secures release''.
- Excellent, Prime Minister.
- ''Angel of mercy was sent by PM''! - Excellent! I was given full credit on the news.
I suppose it was me.
It must have been.
After all, I stopped the Foreign Office from stopping him, which is the same thing.
- Too late to change it now.
- I wonder why they gave me the credit, though.
Well, they couldn't take it themselves.
This looks like a government achievement.
There's even a leader.
''It does the PM great credit that he has not been bound by the shackles of diplomacy.
''The Kumran aff'' This IS important.
Yes, but the Palace is waiting for your recommendation for Bury St Edmunds.
The two names were in your box.
I thought Steven Soames sounded right.
The Dean of Baillie did a very good job, but I gather he's rather eccentric.
I'm sure that Soames is the choice the Commissioners are hoping you make.
Oh? Why? What's wrong with him? Well, I have heard say that he's an extremist.
- You mean he believes in God? - He's very religious.
That's all right for a bishop, isn't it? He tends to raise issues that governments would prefer not to be raised.
He's a trenchant critic of abortion, contraception, sex education, pornography, Sunday trading, easy divorce and bad language on TV.
- Oh.
- He'd be likely to challenge government policy.
But these are subjects on which the government is hoping to have no policy.
Our policy is not to have a policy.
Well, quite.
He's against your no-policy policy.
He will demand that you ban abortion, Sunday trading Thank you.
I get the picture.
- He's also against oppression in Africa.
- So are we.
But he's against it from black AND white governments.
You mean he's a racist? But you can choose him if you like.
I can't turn down another two names.
Well, there is always the Dean of Baillie.
He's not really up to it, is he? I gather he's lazy, vain and uninterested in Christianity.
But he's not AGAINST it! I think he would make a thoroughly suitable British bishop.
Cricket, steam engines and a complete ignorance of theology.
He's never had an ordinary church job.
He's been at Oxford.
- But he did well in Kumran.
- Yes.
I gather he's thinking of telling the press that the Kumran visit wasn't your idea.
- What?! - He's thinking of telling the press Yes, yes, I heard what you said.
He can't say that! I gather he has a letter from the Bishop of Banbury dated before your involvement.
But that would be frightfully embarrassing! Taking credit for something I didn't do.
Yes, I can see the headlines now.
''PM takes credit for Dean's mercy mission''.
''Jim didn't fix it!'' Sorry.
- He must be stopped! How can we stop him? - He feels he hasn't had enough recognition That the Church hasn't had enough recognition for its role in Kumran.
Well, give him some.
Get him round for drinks.
Photo opportunity.
- That might be a little improper.
- Why? If you're considering two candidates, you can hardly invite just one round for a drink.
- I see.
- Unless, of course If you'd already given him the job, then it would be perfectly proper.
Actually, Humphrey, I think he's rather a good choice for bishop.
- He's an enterprising chap.
- Enterprising.
- Eccentricity can be a virtue.
- If you call it individualism.
I have an independent mind, you are an eccentric, he is round the twist.
Thank you, Bernard.
Furthermore, we need people like him in the House of Lords.
- People who really understand the Arab world.
- And steam engines.
Yes, on mature consideration, I think the Dean of Baillie is my choice.
Convey that to the Palace, Bernard.
- Yes, Prime Minister.
- Now! Fast.
Announce it by midday.
Get him round for a drinkie at six.
Move! - A wise decision, if I may say so.
- You may, Humphrey.
How come you know so much about the Dean of Baillie? Weren't you at Baillie yourself? - I was, yes.
- Jobs for the boys, is it? On the contrary! I hardly know him.
In fact, I happen to know that he dislikes me.
You can ask him yourself this evening.
I don't like him very much, either.
- Honestly? - On my word of honour.
- You have nothing to gain? - How could I have? In that case, well done.
Helpful, impartial advice.
The best traditions of the Civil Service.
Yes, Prime Minister.

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