On 21st August 2016 Antony Jay passed away at the age of 86. He described his own life as having spent 50 years travelling in the realms of government and politics as a television writer and producer. The journey included the editorship of Tonight, writing the two royal TV documentaries Royal Family and Elizabeth R, and many programmes with Sir David Frost, including the twelve interviews with Harold Wilson in A Prime Minister on Prime Ministers. He was a senior executive in BBC TV, and a member of the government’s Annan Committee on the Future of Broadcasting. In the 1980s he wrote the hugely successful comedies Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. And in four editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations, he revealed his sources.
Like many people who are clever with words, Jay had a brilliant knowledge of quotations, though he was not always sure of where they had come from. While we were working on the fourth edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations, he suggested one quotation which he was very keen to include. The earliest use of this quotation our researcher could find was Tony’s own use of it in Yes Minister, but he insisted that it was not original and was ‘larceny rather than creativity’. He rather thought that it had first been used by Baroness Shirley Williams, but when we wrote to her she wished she could claim it but didn’t think she could. We never did find where it came from, but the quote in question was clearly one that he had found inspirational: the Civil Service has ‘the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of a Rolls Royce’.