One of the minor disappointments of yesterday's political crisis here was that many officials who spent last night trying to explain Michael Heseltine's resignation as defense secretary to each other and various media interviewers were unable to watch the premiere of a new season of "Yes, Minister," Britain's top television political comedy.
But while the rest of her team was seeking to stanch the flow of political blood, and Heseltine was involved in a somber and lengthy interview on one channel, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher revealed today that she was tuned to her favorite show on BBC2 at 9 p.m.
This year, it is called "Yes, Prime Minister," the exalted post to which the scriptwriters now have elected bumbling, bubble-headed politician Jim Hacker. In last night's episode, Hacker decided to solve Britain's budget and unemployment problems by canceling the multibillion-dollar Trident submarine program and reinstituting conscription.
As usual, he was persuaded to change his mind by the manipulative and long-suffering Sir Humphrey, the archetypical civil servant who, as all viewers of the satire know, really runs the government.
Thatcher, who is so tickled by the show that she congratulated the last series by writing her own "Yes, Minister" script and acting it out for the television cast, may be so fond of it because it is so clearly not modeled on her stay in office.
Politicians of every opposition stripe, from Labor leader Neil Kinnock to Social Democrat David Owen and Liberal David Steel, demanded today that the prime minister respond to charges leveled by Heseltine when Parliament reconvenes Monday for the New Year.
In his dramatic resignation gesture -- said by one senior political commentator today to have been equaled only by Joseph Chamberlain, who left the Cabinet room and resigned from William Gladstone's third administration over Irish home rule in 1886 -- her defense chief accused her of manipulating the Cabinet system of government to press a policy that was not in Britain's best interests.
Thatcher, however, clearly has decided to rise above the fray, and it appeared unlikely that she would answer directly or in detail any of Heseltine's specific charges. Thus, despite the insistence of her political opponents on an explanation, and the inevitably increased rumblings from within the liberal wing of her Conservative Party, the issue is likely to fade away, at least temporarily.
The real impact of yesterday's events likely will be felt only as the country moves closer to general elections that are as long as 2 1/2 years away.
The immediate cause of Heseltine's departure was a prime ministerial gag on Cabinet statements about which of two nearly identical financial rescue packages -- one by Sikorsky-Fiat, the other by a consortium of European aircraft manufacturers -- should be accepted by Britain's Westland Helicopters.
Heseltine promoted the consortium bid in the interests of European defense collaboration. Thatcher said that Westland was a private company and should be allowed to choose -- a view that, to Heseltine, was virtual endorsement of the Sikorsky offer. After he made increasingly loud protests, Thatcher told Heseltine yesterday to shut up.
Heseltine, Thatcher said in an interview with American correspondents today, "found himself unable to accept" rules agreed to by the rest of the Cabinet, "and so he left the Cabinet." Repeatedly questioned by reporters, Thatcher repeatedly said "No. You may go on and on, but I'm not going any further. Follow it up as you wish, but I'm not going any further.
"I have lived through this, I know every single document, every single phrase, every single nuance. . . . I wrote a letter to Mr. Heseltine; I regretted his decision. I'm not going any further."
Heseltine, however, clearly sees his break as new-found liberty to speak out. After several television spots last night, he joined the members of the European consortium today to support their bid when Westland shareholders vote on the two proposals Tuesday.
The rest of the Cabinet, all of whom were present yesterday for Heseltine's departure, kept largely silent today. Only Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, who Heseltine earlier said had silently supported him, spoke out.
Howe accused Heseltine of giving "a highly exaggerated and misleading picture" about the style of Thatcher's leadership. Noting that the Thatcher Cabinet has had its past disagreements, Howe said that "people fully appreciate that the prime minister, as prime minister, is a leader who takes the party to success, and if the Cabinet is to work together there has to be a ready, robust and vigorous exchange of views."
But, he said, "I do not think it should end as this has ended, with resignation. That is what makes it so sad."
Other comment today, on a subject that dominated British front pages and broadcast news programs, seemed fairly evenly divided on whether Heseltine was a fool or a hero, and Thatcher a leader or a dictator.