Special advisers to ministers have been in use in the United Kingdom (UK) since 1964. They are now a firmly established part of the system of government. Yet they remain capable of generating controversy. Moreover, their status has an anomalous quality: they are employed as civil servants, yet performing roles not generally associated with civil servants and exempt from regular civil service rules. They help to manage a tension within the UK constitution arising because ministers are held individually responsible for their portfolios and departments, yet are supported in their departments by a permanent civil service that does not have a direct personal and party-political connection to them. Difficulties can develop if special advisers come to be seen as comprising a new tier of authority surrounding the minister they support, separating them from other civil servants and their departments. The role played by special advisers suggests a need for a more nuanced view of the part played by bureaucratic development in the historical emergence and sustenance of democracy.