My friend legionseagle
wrote a masterful outline of some of the main faux pas committed by some Sherlock writers
. She asked me to write something outlining the use and abuse of the status of 'civil servant' as it's reflected in the character of Mycroft Holmes. I'm doing so separately because if I do it as a comment to her entry, it would just get lost in the 300+ comments that entry has garnered.Where to start?
It's actually quite difficult to know where to begin, because the activities of Mycroft Holmes in canon are outrageous enough that whatever a writer does with him can probably be justified. What can't be justified is the claim that he's a civil servant; there are things civil servants can do, and they do not include controlling any and all closed circuit TV and sending out government cars to have covert and personal interviews with members of the public. At least he wasn't doing it on work time, as far as we can judge.
MI5 or MI6 (the secret service) can probably do the second of those if it's a matter of national importance, but the first is beyond even them and I don't see how it would be physically possible. Plus, just look at the trouble News of the World got into when it was discovered that a private investigator paid by them was monitoring private conversations of MP's and celebrities. Multiply that outrage by several thousand if it turns out the government is doing that kind of snooping.What is a civil servant, then?
Civil servants are paid by the crown to carry out the wishes of the government of the day. They are not the government; the government is elected. In the UK, civil servants are not elected, they are appointed on merit. Therefore any stories which have Mycroft worrying about getting a trophy wife, considering his electorate, kissing babies on the electoral circuit or going to charity dinners for electoral purposes are complete bollocks. Sorry.
(And, please, for everyone's sake, don't make either Mycroft or Sherlock an earl or a duke. Just...don't. It screams "this story was written by someone who didn't know what she was doing" in letters fifteen feet high.)
How a civil servants activities are governed are outlined in the Civil Service Code
. Note that section about at all times advising the government of the day honestly while at the same time refraining from anything which would risk their relationship with any future government which may be elected. Political neutrality can be a difficult line to walk.
You have to bear in mind, too, that whatever is published by the government has been the government's, probably the Minister's or Prime Minister's, final decision. The blazing argument about what they should say and how far the evidence supports it has happened outside public view – and nor can any Freedom of Information request, however cunningly worded, get a look at it while it's still a current issue. This is because "policy advice" falls into one of the FOI's excluded areas. Whatever the government says, the government takes responsibility for – it should not be blamed on the civil service.
If someone in the civil service disagrees with the elected government, she has several options:
(1) resign; this may not be an option if her mortgage has any period left to run so she can either
(2) campaign against them through the medium of her trade union; or
(3) put up and shut up.Mycroft
Not that we ever see Mycroft giving policy advice. His activities seem to fall more into the category of 'McGuffin', i.e. he can do whatever the writers need him to do at any given moment, and they don't need it to make any kind of logical sense. I'm of the opinion that fanfic writers (as opposed to Gatiss and Moffatt) need to think over what they want their Mycroft to achieve in any given story – I've come across one too many stories where Mycroft is more force of nature than a human being to fully accept it.
One Brit-pickng note I'd comment on is the habit people have of giving Mycroft a massive house and servants, in the centre of London. There's only one massive house with extensive grounds and servants that I know of in the centre of London, and I don't think Her Maj is going to give it up so that Mycroft can have it.
points out, detached houses with servants are vanishingly rare in central London, and even the highest paid civil servant couldn't afford one. He'd have to have a private income, and there's no evidence for it. Put him in a decent posh terrace in somewhere like W11, or a flat in SW1 with a daily cleaner, and using (perhaps) a government car and I'll be mostly convinced. Though even then he's flying a bit close to the line; using his government car for private trips is going to get him into trouble when someone finds out.
Let the commenting begin.