Games people play

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Antony Jay, 67, co-author of `Yes Minister'

At one stage I was a bridge obsessive. I have something in me that is rather competitive: I actually care more about winning than I think a properly balanced person should.

I played masses of games at boarding school. Three or four of us were really keen on L'Attaque, a game in which you were either the French or the English. Dover Patrol was the naval version, with mine-sweepers; or we'd play a massive thing called Tri-Tactics which was too much for all of us. It had an army, a navy and an air force to be deployed against the other side.

Thinking about it now, why weren't we playing games about fighting the Germans? It was 1940, and we'd already had one war against them, and here we were, fighting the French.

I suppose they're our traditional enemy. If you remember, during the Battle of Sebastopol in the Crimea, Lord Raglan kept referring to the Russians - who were the enemy - as the French - who were our allies. He did that even at conferences with the French generals. Everybody was so used to fighting the French. It goes back to the Norman Conquest, probably, all Henry V and that sort of thing.

I think there's still an inclination in the British, that if we have to fight a European country, we'd rather fight the French than the Germans, despite the evidence of two world wars. They're nearer, so they're more of a threat.

Animal behaviourists tell us that young cubs play fighting games with each other to prepare for attacking proper animals, for survival as adults. I think there's an element of that in board games. Life is partly about pitting your wits against other people, and games are a kind of preparation. You feel you're doing intellectually what other animals do physically.

If you need to pit your wits against officialdom, you may pick up some useful hints from Antony Jay's book `How to Beat Sir Humphrey' - pounds 6.99 from Long Barn Books.