Activity and Achievement

“Politicians like to panic. They need activity. It’s their substitute for achievement.” – Sir Humphrey Appleby, The Economy Drive

“Why has he got the time? He shouldn’t have the time. That’s your fault Bernard. You are here to ensure that he hasn’t got the time. Create activity, Bernard. He should be making speeches, provincial visits. We need deputations, junkets abroad, mountains of red boxes. We need crises, emergencies, panics. Pull yourself together Bernard!” – Sir Humphrey Appleby, The Right to Know

“Ha Minister! We don’t measure our success by results but by activity and the activity is considerable and productive. Those 500 people are seriously over-worked!” – Sir Humphrey Appleby, The Compassionate Society

“Just one last question. As Cabinet Minister, with all this power, what have you personally achieved?”

“Achieved? Oh well, all sorts of things. Membership of the privy council. Membership of the party policy committee.”

“No, I mean things you have actually done that makes life for other people.”

“Make life better?”


“For other people? Well, there must be a number of things. After all, that’s what one’s job is about, isn’t it? 18 hours a day, 7 days a week!”

“Could you give me one or two examples though? Makes the bit boring otherwise.”

“Examples? Difficult to know where to start! So much of government is collective decisions. All of us together, best minds in the country, hammering it out.”

“Yes but what is it that you all will look back at it and say, ‘I did that’. Like a writer can look at his books.”

“Government is a complex business, Cathy. So many people have to have their say and these things take their time. Rome wasn’t built in a day Of course, … Good heavens! Is that the time? I really must be doing my boxes. You will have to excuse me Cathy.”

– Jim Hacker and Cathy, Equal Opportunities

“It calls for a particular combination of talents – lots of activity but no actual achievement” – Sir Arnold Robinson, The Bed of Nails


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