(with apologies to Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn)
Episode One: Silence is Golden
SIR HUMPHREY: You asked to see me, Minister?
MINISTER: Ah, Humphrey. I’ve just learned something that has left me deeply concerned. Actually, I’m appalled.
SIR HUMPHREY. Oh yes, the cap on ministers’ emoluments. Absolutely shocking, Minister.
MINISTER: No, Humphrey, this is much more serious. It seems we, the government, have been holding back an anti-viral drug that could have nipped the Covid pandemic in the bud. Thousands of lives and billions of pounds could have been saved. Any mention of the drug has been rigorously kept out of the media.
SIR HUMPHREY: Might one inquire how you came upon this information, Minister?
MINISTER: I’ve been delving into Twitter and Facebook. Frankly, it makes shameful reading.
SIR HUMPHREY: I’m not surprised, Minister. Mindless gossip by the unhinged for the unwashed.
MINISTER: On the contrary, Humphrey. I’ve been reading reports by front-line doctors and eminent physicians. They all talk about a wonder drug that works rapidly and without adverse side effects, both as a cure and crucially as a preventative. It sounds even more effective than the vaccines. [INDICATES DOCUMENT] Here is the testimony of Dr Pierre Kory, an intensive care specialist in New York, who says it’s a miracle drug.
SIR HUMPHREY: I expect his loquaciousness was well rewarded by the drug’s manufacturer.
MINISTER: No, Humphrey. It’s a generic drug that is out of patent and costs virtually nothing to make. No one has anything to gain by advocating it except saving their patients’ lives. In fact, many doctors are risking their careers by speaking out.
SIR HUMPHREY: It is not outside the realm of possibility that these doctors just want to make a name for themselves.
MINISTER: No, again, Humphrey. They can’t make a name for themselves because the mainstream media ignore them and they are routinely taken down by Twitter and Facebook. They say robust tests have been made of the drug, but they’ve met a brick wall of indifference from government and the medical establishment. It is beginning to look like a conspiracy.
SIR HUMPHREY: Might I be so bold, Minister, as to caution you against using that word? It tends to invite a suspicion of mental imbalance.
MINISTER: All right, how about plot, machination, criminal negligence?
SIR HUMPHREY: Oh dear me, no. What you are referring to is an alignment of interests between government and drug companies for the greater good.
MINISTER: Whose greater good, Humphrey? Boris counts on being re-elected on the back on his vaccine rollout. I read that Pfizer expects $26billion in revenue this year from its vaccine. While that was being developed and rolled out, there were all those unnecessary deaths. [INDICATES NEWSPAPER HEADLINE] Here’s the latest toll – 127,000. If the drug had been distributed a year ago there would have been no need for lockdowns and furloughs which delivered body blows to Britain’s economy. No ban on hugs and travel, no face masks or social distancing. And no top-up jabs for the foreseeable future.
SIR HUMPHREY: I was about to say, Minister, that it was clearly not in the interest of any party to the Alignment of Interests to encourage any interest in the subject, however interesting it might at first appear.
MINISTER: When you start blathering, Humphrey, I know you’re hiding something. You knew all along about the campaign to suppress news of this drug, didn’t you?
SIR HUMPHREY: Well, of course, Minister. It’s the best kept secret in Whitehall.
MINISTER: Why wasn’t I informed, Humphrey? I’m supposed to be the Minister of Information and I feel like an idiot for being so ignorant.
SIR HUMPHREY: That is what makes you eminently qualified for the job, Minister. What I mean to say is that you can always deny any knowledge of the matter with a clear conscience. Need-to-know. Silence is golden. What the eye cannot see, the heart does not grieve over.
MINISTER: It has certainly proved golden for the drug companies. And thousands of families are grieving over the loss of their loved ones.
SIR HUMPHREY: Low-hanging fruit, Minister. One must remember that in presiding over the premature deaths of so many old people, we have enabled the greatest leap in social mobility since Margaret Thatcher sold off the council houses. All the wealth locked up in the elderly’s properties and savings has passed to the next generation, freeing extra housing and thereby satisfying both Conservative and Labour principles.
MINISTER: I can’t believe you could be so callous, Humphrey. What I don’t understand, though, is why I haven’t fielded a single inquiry about this wonder drug from the media. Their medical and science correspondents must have picked up the outline on social media. The basic facts are matters of public record. It is, in the Prime Minister’s parlance, an oven-ready story, which could become the scandal of the century.
SIR HUMPHREY: Heaven forbid! But there’s a simple explanation, Minister. By challenging any orthodoxy, whether it’s global warming or mass vaccination, special correspondents risk losing access to the powerful contacts they have cultivated for years. It is safer to stick to the narrative which the media have agreed among themselves. For example, Donald Trump mad, Joe Biden prophet. Serbs bad, Croats good. Remainers enlightened, Leavers stupid. In this case, Ofcom has warned the broadcast media not to undermine the government’s line on vaccination. But the newspapers, bless them, don’t have to be bribed or threatened: their capacity for barking up the wrong tree should never be underestimated.
MINISTER: Well, someone should raise a stink. I can’t sit on my hands doing nothing.
SIR HUMPHREY: Doing nothing is generally the wisest policy, Minister.
MINISTER: No, Humphrey, I’ve made a decision. I’m going to confront the Prime Minister.
SIR HUMPHREY: A courageous move, Minister. Your predecessor, too, found it an awful strain until he took sick leave. The whole pandemic went to his head.
MINISTER: A clot?
SIR HUMPHREY: Far be it from me to comment on the intellectual prowess of a minister, but he was not thought to be very bright.
MINISTER: I meant a blood clot. Oh, never mind. Don’t try to discourage me. I’m determined to go ahead.
SIR HUMPHREY. As you wish, Minister. But have you thought this through? What can the Prime Minister do at this stage, when we are so far down the track? Stop the train and admit that all the sacrifices he has asked of the public were unnecessary? That he has crippled the economy when he could have solved the pandemic for the price of a minesweeper? In his mind he has behaved at all times with the noble motive of saving lives.
MINISTER: He’ll have a lot of explaining to do in heaven, then.
SIR HUMPHREY: The Prime Minister is already in heaven, Minister. He’s riding to glory on his vaccine rollout. As for the drug companies, they have found a money machine that pays out for the foreseeable future. Pardon the allusion, but when a prime minister gets into bed with Big Pharma they are stuck with each other. A divorce would be out of the question.
MINISTER: Nevertheless, I’d like you to prepare a paper apprising me of all the relevant facts for our next meeting. Is that clear, Humphrey?
SIR HUMPHREY: Yes, Minister.
Episode Two: The drug that dare not speak its name
SIR HUMPHREY: It is with the utmost reluctance that I stand before you today, Minister. I want it placed on record that I can play no part in subverting or in any way minimising the government’s magnificent efforts to defeat Covid-19.
MINISTER: Duly noted, Humphrey. But I think we can put your mind at rest. Bernard has some ideas that may prove useful.
SIR HUMPHREY: Bernard! Giving ministers ideas, especially insurrectionary ideas, is well above your pay grade. That is my job.
MINISTER: Please sit down, Humphrey. Now, I owe you an apology. You were quite right, at our last meeting, to point out that it would be fruitless for me to confront the Prime Minister. The newspapers, likewise, don’t want an ugly little fact to get in the way of their beautiful story. They have become addicted to their daily diet of infections, hospitalisations and death.
BERNARD: Death always improves circulation.
SIR HUMPHREY: And there speaks someone who trained to be a doctor! No wonder he didn’t last the course, did you, Bernard?
BERNARD: The sight of blood made my eyes water.
MINISTER: All right. I’ll summarise the position. It seems the government, in an ‘alignment of interests’ with the vaccine manufacturers and the medical establishment, has secretly withheld a cheap anti-viral drug that could have spared the nation all the expense and sacrifice of the pandemic.
SIR HUMPREY: Assuming the claims on behalf of this quack remedy are true, Minister.
MINISTER: Granted. But as your research will doubtless tell us, it’s no quack remedy. Now, it seems to me that the Prime Minister faces an impossible predicament. He can see his vaccine-lockdown policy unravelling, but he cannot admit to a mistake amounting to criminal negligence. He’s surrounded by a babble of competing voices. He is like Horatius defending the Tiber bridge.
BERNARD: ‘Those behind cried “Forward!” And those before cried “Back!”’
MINISTER: Thank you, Bernard. We need to think outside the box. We must find a way to extricate the Prime Minister from his own folly.
SIR HUMPHREY: I seem to remember that Horatius threw himself into the foaming Tiber. That seems a little extreme, Minister.
MINISTER: Patience, Humphrey. Tell us about this wonder drug. What’s it called? I can never remember the name.
SIR HUMPHREY: I cannot speak it, Minister. Merely to utter the name is an act of sedition. Every fibre of my being revolts . . .
SIR HUMPHREY: All right. Bernard, turn the camera off.
MINISTER: Camera? There’s a camera recording our conversation?
SIR HUMPHREY: Of course, Minister. Government advisers and civil servants have to be protected against being blamed for Ministers’ actions.
MINISTER. Good Lord. Please resume, Humphrey.
SIR HUMPHREY: The drug is called ivermectin. It’s derived from soil on a Japanese golf course, of all places, and came into use in 1981 as an anti-parasitic treatment. Its two discoverers shared the 2015 Nobel Prize for Medicine, which credited ivermectin with the virtual eradication of river blindness and elephantiasis in tropical countries. In Britain it was barely known, except as a treatment for head lice and as a veterinary product for de-worming animals. Then came the pandemic. Some deluded American doctors led a campaign of misinformation praising the miraculous powers of this de-worming drug and claiming there was a plot to silence them.
MINISTER: Well, maybe they’re right. That’s your ‘alignment of interest’, Humphrey. There’s been dirty work at the crossroads.
BERNARD: It’s a can of worms, Minister. By the way, the camera can’t be switched off.
MINISTER: Bernard, you seem to know a placebo from a gazebo. Remind us why ivermectin is important right now.
BERNARD: By all credible accounts, ivermectin achieves something the vaccines cannot – it kills the virus. It’s no secret that the vaccines are not true vaccines at all, unlike the ones that virtually eradicated smallpox and polio. They’re gene therapies designed to reduce the worst symptoms of Covid-19, but they allow the virus to persist and mutate. All the rest is wishful thinking, if you ask me.
MINISTER: Gene therapies? I never realised we’re being injected with genes.
BERNARD: Most people don’t. The inventor of the technique, a Dr Robert Malone, now says the vaccines are dangerous and should never have been authorised. No one seems to have noticed.
MINISTER: I remember the fuss over GM crops. People were horrified. Now they’re queuing up to be genetically modified themselves? How could the whole nation have been kept in the dark?
SIR HUMPHREY: Being kept in the dark is the common man’s sacred birthright, Minister. No one should deprive him of that gift. How else is government to function, or indeed democracy?
MINISTER: You’re sometimes insufferable, Humphrey. Tell me one thing. Why do none of the vaccines kill the virus?
BERNARD: Curing people is not a good business model, Minister.
MINISTER: Now you’re talking in riddles.
SIR HUMPHREY: It’s very simple. The longer a disease persists, the greater the profits. It’s how capitalism works.
MINISTER: It’s beginning to sound like a comic opera.
BERNARD: Sung by Placebo Domingo.
MINISTER: That’s enough, Bernard! Now, tell us your ingenious plan for halting the pandemic and saving the Prime Minister.
BERNARD: I got the idea at my self-defence classes, Minister.
MINISTER: You’re actually learning to throw people over your shoulder, Bernard?
BERNARD: I’m thinking of getting married. Well, the principle of judo is to use your opponents’ momentum against them. The critics of ivermectin often refer to it disparagingly as a de-worming pill. The World Health Organisation is very keen on de-worming programmes all over the world. So no one can object ifthe Prime Minister announces a national de-worming campaign and issues ivermectin to every household.
MINISTER: A de-worming campaign! Only Boris could pull it off. It’s brilliant, wouldn’t you agree, Humphrey?
SIR HUMPHREY: Y . . . es, Minister.