The great pretenders: The top 10 fictional civil servants

Many of the world’s most famous civil servants never actually existed
The Thick of It's Terri Coverly and Blur's Tracy Jacks are among CSW's top fictional civil servants. Illustrations by John Levers

By Jacqueline Tenreiro

12 Aug 2022


We've dug into the CSW archives for the definitive count down of CSW’s favourite made-up mandarins. Illustrations by John Levers

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Terri Coverly, a woman in a suit with a bob, whistling and playing with a dogTerri Coverly

First appearance: First episode of Armando Iannucci’s political satire The Thick of It

Age: Actor Joanna Scanlan was 44 when she took on the role in 2005

Job: Director of communications

Department: The Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC, formerly the DSA)

Interests: Call the Midwife (has been known to hum the theme tune during meetings), leaving on time, getting her dog on Britain’s Got Talent

Key information: Was formerly head of press for Waitrose. Has survived five secretaries of state, but still dreams of jacking it all in and opening a teashop in Ludlow.

Most likely to say: “I’m sorry if you think I’m being obstructive but I cannot and I will not do as you ask.”

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Arthur Weasley, a middle-aged man in a checked suit, holding a rubber duck, looking perplexed

Arthur Weasley

First appearance: JK Rowling’s 1998 novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Age: 65(ish)

Place of origin: Ottery St. Catchpole, Devon

Department: Misuse of Muggle Artefacts

Organisation: Ministry of Magic

Interests: Muggles, flying cars, spending time with family, wizard equality

Key information: While working for the Ministry of Magic, Arthur worked on the Muggle Protection Act, which helped keep non-magic people safe from the dangers of anti-muggle discrimination.

Most likely to say: “Tell me, what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?”


A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Love Actually's Natalie, holding a tea tray with an alarmed expression on her faceNatalie

First appearance: The 2003 film Love Actually

Age: Late 20s

Place of origin: Wandsworth (the dodgy end)

Job: The prime minister’s tea lady

Organisation: No.10

Interests: Politics, sort of

Key information: Natalie is a new member of the prime minister’s household staff, more specifically the one who serves his tea and biscuits. Her first meeting with the PM could have gone better: she referred to him by his first name and accidentally let slip a few expletives. It can’t have been that bad, though, since she still got to snog him at the end.

Most likely to say: “I did have an awful premonition that I was gonna f--- up on the first day... Oh, piss it!”


“Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon” Sir Humphrey Appleby, Yes Minister

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Humphrey Appleby, a man with an angular face and curly hair wearing a suit, with a raised eyebrow, holding a sheaf of papersHumprey Appleby

First appearance: ‘Open Government’ episode of the seminal Whitehall sitcom Yes, Minister

Age: The late Sir Nigel Hawthorne was 48 when he began playing the part of Sir Humphrey

Place of origin: Haslemere, Surrey

Job: Permanent secretary; cabinet secretary

Organisation: Department of Administrative Affairs, later the Cabinet Office

Interests: Preserving the status quo

Key information: Sir Humphrey is known for his elitism, his deviousness, and his ability to deploy deliberately obfuscating language when talking to his minister Jim Hacker in order achieve the outcome he desires

Most likely to say: “Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century – politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon.”

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Diana Prince, a smiling in a suit and big glasses, holding a red folder labelled "top secret"Diana Prince

First appearance: Issue 1 of Sensation Comics, 1942

Age: 23

Place of origin: Themyscira

Job: Prior to her position as an agent who polices dangerous metahumans, Diana has been an Army nurse, intelligence officer, astronaut and UN employee, to name a few. 

Organisation: Department of Metahuman Affairs

Interests: Lassos, feminism

Key information: Diana Prince is the alter-ego of superhero Wonder Woman, a persona she adopted after she realised she wanted a life away from the fame of her heroics. During her time as an agent in the Department of Metahuman Affairs, her mission is – ironically enough – to capture Wonder Woman.

Most likely to say: “I know who raised me… and what I was raised to do.”



A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Dr Alfred Jones of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, holding a fishing net holding a huge salmon, which looms over himAlfred Jones

First appearance: Paul Torday's 2007 novel, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Age: Actor Ewan McGregor was 40 when he played Dr Alfred Jones in the 2011 film adaptation of the book

Job: Fisheries expert

Department: National Centre for Fisheries Excellence

Organisation: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Interests: Salmon

Key information: Fisheries expert Alfred Jones is contacted by Harriet, a financial adviser whose wealthy client has the un-likely idea of bringing fly-fishing to the Yemen desert. Dr Jones resists, but the FCO and the prime minister have their own reasons for wanting the scheme to go ahead...

Most likely to say: “When things get tricky in my life, I talk to my fish.”

“I’m sorry if you think I’m being obstructive but I cannot and I will not do as you ask” Terri Coverly, The Thick of It

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Tracy Jacks from the eponymous Blur song, looking angry with his hands on his hips and standing in front of a bulldozerTracy Jacks

First appearance: In the 1994 Blur song, Tracy Jacks

Age: He’s getting past 40

Place of origin: Just a train ride from Walton

Job: “Works in civil service”

Interests: He’s a golfing fanatic (but his putt is erratic)

Key information: Tracy Jacks is a highly dissatisfied civil servant, who ultimately gives up on his “steady employment” and has something of a mental breakdown – complete with running around in the nude and bulldozing down his home

Most likely to say: “It’s just so overrated!”



A cartoon illustration by John Levers of 1984's Winston Smith in front of a poster that reads "Big Brother is watching you"Winston Smith

First appearance: George Orwell’s 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Age: 39

Place of origin: Oceania

Job: Clerk

Department: Department of Records

Organisation: Ministry of Truth

Interests: Revolution, rebellion, books and gin

Key information: Though working for a totalitarian government as re-writer of historical documents, Winston dreams of rev-olution and freedom. In secret, his political curiosity drives him to learn more about his oppressive government and perform acts of rebellion.

Most likely to say: “Down with Big Brother” are the famous words Winston repeatedly scrawled in his diary



A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Torchwood's John Frobisher with an alien sitting in front of himJohn Frobisher

First appearance: Russell T Davies’ TV drama, Torchwood: Children of Earth: Day One

Age: Actor Peter Capaldi was 51 when he began playing John Frobisher

Job: Permanent secretary since 2003. The 90s were spent working as director of crime control policy

Organisation: Home Office

Interests: Aliens

Key information: Considered dispensable by the government, John Frobisher served as a liaison for the collusion between 456, a drug-dealing alien race, and the British government. Things went further downhill when he ordered the assassination of all individuals involved with the group, including Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness.

Most likely to say: “I’ve been authorised to offer you one child for every million people on planet Earth. That’s about 6,700 in total.”

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of Harry Pearce, a balding man in a black suit, with the words "don't forget to knock" next to himHarry Pearce

First appearance: Though Shalt Not Kill, the first episode of BBC spy drama Spooks

Age: 62

Place of Origin: London

Job: Department head of Section D

Department: Counter-Terrorism

Organisation: MI5

Interests: his job, Ruth Evershed

Key information: A former army man and MI6 agent, Harry Pearce joined the counter-terrorism department and is credited with saving the lives of both prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major. When he isn’t busy being the face of the war on terror, you’d find him snapping at anyone who entered his office without knocking first.

Most Likely to Say: “We cannot win the war against terrorism, ever. We can contain it. We can prevent its worst consequences, but we can never defeat it. So when we get an offer to talk, however tentative, however precarious, we take it. We have to.”

And an honourable mention goes to our favourite Crown servant...

Bond. James Bond.

A cartoon illustration by John Levers of James Bond, lying down in a suit and holding a martini glass. A speech bubble reads "give me another shot!"

First appearance: Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel, Casino Royale


Place of origin: CLASSIFIED

Job: Royal Navy commander, CMG, RNVR, and senior operational officer

Department: 00 Branch

Organisation: MI6

Interests: Gadgets, women, cigarettes and martinis (shaken, not stirred)

Key information: Bond – equipped with both licence and looks to kill – jets across the globe on missions of national security

Most likely to say: “Only M would have me court-martialed for illegal use of government equipment.”

This story first appeared in CSW in April 2015

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