It must have been broadcast on a Sunday afternoon, it would have been unthinkable that my grandparents would have been sat in the front room listening to the radio on any other day of the week. The farm work absorbed almost every waking hour of most days and even on Sundays, my grandfather would have had to gone out for the evening milking. Perhaps it was in the times when BBC Radio stations had less prosaic names, perhaps it was on the Home service, or, more likely, on the Light programme. Perhaps 1967 had been reached and it was on Radio 2 or Radio 4.
The Men from the Ministry wouldbring chuckles in the room. There was an innocent silliness in its humour and improbable plots. Even a small boy would have wondered at times about how people who had offices and secretaries could find themselves in absurd situations. Were people in the civil service really like the characters on the radio?
To a child growing up in 1960s Somerset, “the ministry” meant only one thing, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Ministry was spoken of with respect, if not fear. Perhaps the experience of the years of the Second World War had left their mark, times when inspections could be rigorous and penalties severe. Men from the ministry would masquerade as casual travellers, and call at the farm and attempt to buy food on the black market, to be deceived into thinking that easy money could be made could result in severe prosecutions.
Stories from the time of rationing, together with comments on the current activities by the Ministry, ran contrary to the characters on the radio programme: none of the men from MAFF seemed likely to be such buffoons. Only in later years did the realisation come that the comedy Ministry was nothing whatsoever to do with the government department that seemed to have omniscience, if not omnipotence.
Had the question been asked, the matter would undoubtedly have been clarified: the comic duo who made us so laugh were completely unconnected with the stern men who might arrive to carry out inspections. But the question was not asked, the thought never occurred that there might be a question to ask. Men from the Ministry were men from the ministry, what further clarity could be needed?
Confusion over something so trivial has prompted many questions in the ensuing years about how many wrong assumptions might have been made, how many questions were not asked. Young people now seem considerably more worldly wise than some were fifty years ago.