The Men from the Ministry


The Men from the Ministry was a British radio comedy series broadcast by the BBC between 1962 and 1977, starring Wilfrid Hyde-White, Richard Murdoch and, from 1966, when he replaced Hyde-White, Deryck Guyler.

The Men from the Ministry
Wilfred Hyde White & Richard Murdoch

Written and produced by Edward Taylor with contributions from John Graham, and with some early episodes written by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke, it ran for 14 series, totalling 147 half-hour episodes. A further 14 episodes were made by the BBC Transcription Service in 1980 but never broadcast in the UK.

The series was about lazy, bungling, incompetent civil servants, “Number One” – Roland Hamilton-Jones (Wilfrid Hyde-White) and later Deryck Lennox-Brown (Deryck Guyler), “Number Two” – Richard Lamb (Richard Murdoch), with their dim, typo-prone, teenage secretary, Mildred Murfin (Norma Ronald), all watched-over by the lecherous, pompous, self-seeking Permanent undersecretary Sir Gregory Pitkin (Roy Dotrice and later Ronald Baddiley), all members of the British Civil Service based in Whitehall.


Derek Guyler in Men From the Ministry
Derek Guyler

The stories centered on their General Assistance Department which helps other governmental departments. Instead of assistance, the department creates mix-ups, misunderstandings and cock-ups that lead to a telling-off from Sir Gregory, who sees his ‘hard earned’ Civil Service career and pension disappearing.

In one 1960s episode, “The Big Rocket”, General Assistance Department is put in charge of publicity for Britain’s almost non-existent space programme. With “One” out of the office and through a series of blunders by “Two”, a press release reveals the launch of a non-existent British space rocket, carrying Britain’s first female astronaut, Mildred Murfin. This surprises Mildred as she has that morning stormed out announcing she is “going round Ma’s”. The press interprets this as the rocket “going around Mars” and “One” and “Two” are faced with “bringing Mildred down to earth” while keeping their blunders from the public and superiors.

Norma Ronald
Norma Ronald played Mildred Murfin

In another episode, “The Whitehall Castaways”, Lennox-Brown, Lamb and Mildred row to an island in a lake in Regent’s Park, General Assistance having been told to ensure the safety of a great bustard, a rare bird that is nesting there. Neglecting to tie the boat up, Lamb allows it to drift and the trio are, as Mildred puts it, “marooned”, none of them able to swim to shore and Lennox-Brown having ordered the park to be closed and not re-opened “until I give the order”. Spending weeks on the island, Lennox-Brown shows leadership and Lamb shows signs of mental distress, while back at the office Sir Gregory is delighted with their non-attendance and the prospect of being able to fire them, until a note cancelling an order for wooden pixies is found leading him to the conclusion that they may have taken their lives due to the shame of a blunder and his thoughts immediately turn to the effect this will have on his prospects. The trio are released by a boy and the fate of the bird and its eggs is revealed.

The characters are portrayed as inept, subject to greed, selfishness and incompetence. However, malice was never a factor and all the humour was light-hearted. There was also a little broad satire in many episodes. Later series tended to recycle older scripts, just people and places being changed.


* “One” (Roland Hamilton-Jones) – Wilfrid Hyde-White (1962-65)
* “One” (Deryck Lennox-Brown) – Deryck Guyler (1966-77)
* “Two” (Richard Lamb) – Richard Murdoch
* “Mildred Murfin” – Norma Ronald
* Under-Secretary “Sir Gregory Pitkin”, CBE – Roy Dotrice (1962-65), Ronald Baddiley (1966-77)

Other occasionally recurring characters include “Lord Stilton”, Sir Gregory’s equally pompous boss, “Mr. ‘Whizzer’ Wilkins”, Lennox-Brown and Lamb’s aged and absent-minded colleague, and “Mr. Stack” – “Mr. Stack of ‘Records'” – in charge of the Ministry’s Records department and prone to taking naps in one of his filing cabinets.

In the 1970 episode, Bye-bye Mildred, Sir Gregory does not appear and we hear instead “Sir Hector Gunn”. Also appearing in some episodes are Mr. “Creepy” Crawley, a rather ingratiating member of the Department, and Miss Lusty, an elderly lady in the Pensions Department who lives up to her name. One of Sir Gregory’s later paramours was ‘Daphne Bentwater’ from the typing pool. Other named but non-appearing characters include ‘Mrs Bratby’, Lamb’s landlady.

Actors who appeared in episodes of the series include Clive Dunn, Pat Coombs, Warren Mitchell, Bill Pertwee, Joan Sanderson and Nicolette McKenzie.

Catch the Men from the Ministry on the Comedy Channel from the ROKiT Classic Radio OTR Network!


4 thoughts on “The Men from the Ministry

  1. Another great series. I heard an interview with the writer, Edward Taylor, who explained that the project was causing him some worry because of the need to decide in which branch of the civil service to place the storyline. He then came up with the idea of inventing the General Assistance Department, which gave him complete freedom in creating plots.

    Even now I still enjoy listening to the programmes though not with Wilfrid Hyde White – who never seemed to be working from a script. His was an unusual piece of acting. Derek Guyler was perfect as was Richard Murdoch.

    I wish that I hadn’t seen a picture of Norma Ronald – again , excellent in the part, but my mind picture of her, has been ruined!

  2. I was able to see a couple of programmes recoRded in 1976 at the Paris studio, Lower Regent Street, London. It was a memorable occasion, all the regulars in top form, and I was able to see the little known Mildred Murfin and Sir Gregory Pitkin in real life. Whilst some of the episodes were a little far-fetched, recent events often match or exceed the activities of Lennox-Brown and Lamb. For example, a Parliamentary Committee report in December 2016 condemned the building of a new airport in St Helena for its 4,000 inhabitants, at a cost of £285 million, because “wind shear” meant that commercial aircraft cannot land there! Apparently this meteorological feature was first spotted by Charles Darwin in the mid 19th century, but was overlooked by civil servants planning the scheme. They remain unknown, but Men from the Ministry fans know that only two names are in the frame….. the immortal Lennox-Brown and Lamb.

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