First viewed : March 1984
One of the game-changing TV programmes of the eighties, Spitting Image matched the wonderful caricatures of puppeteers Peter Fluck and Roger Law with up to the minute satire from its team of young writers. The show took aim at both politicians of all sides and the major celebrities and sportspeople of the day. The first season was much criticised for the quality of the writing. The team did subsequently up their game but in truth it was always a bit hit and miss, the result of trying to be as topical as possible.
I missed the first episode; the first one I saw , which may have been the second, had one of the series' best -remembered sketches, where terminally boring snooker champion Steve Davis decided to re-brand himself as Steve "Interesting" Davis . In fairness to him, Davis took it in good part and used the word in the name of his promotions company. He became a regular character boring celebrities outside the world of snooker with tales of his matchbox collection.
Other people who found their puppets amusing were Michael Heseltine who wanted to buy his manic warmonger and Roger Moore whose eyebrows were the only animate part of his puppet. On the other hand, Phil Collins was not at all pleased with his self-pitying balladeer moaning about the loss of his hair although a year or so later he was happy to call the team in to make the video for Land of Confusion . Genesis 's anonymous keyboard player Tony Banks was wryly amused that the puppet had a stage charisma that he certainly didn't possess.
The puppets which appeared most frequently were not surprisingly Thatcher and Reagan , the former depicted as an evil dictator who eventually had Satan in her Cabinet and the latter , a dangerous imbecile. The show tried to be evenhanded in its politics. Labour's Neil Kinnock certainly didn't get an easy ride but the politician who complained the most was Liberal leader David Steel who resented the implication that he was a subservient midget in David Owen's pocket. I think Steel's indolence compared with Owen's formidable energy was at least partly responsible for this and I've often wondered if his pre-emptive call for merger immediately after the 1987 election was influenced by a desire to repair the "damage" he attributed to the programme.
Where the show really broke new ground was in the coverage of the Royal Family. No previous programme had attacked them so directly including the Sovereign herself. Whether its's really fair to lampoon someone whose role precludes the right to reply is still a valid question but Spitting Image well and truly broke the mould there and the concept of deference suffered another mortal blow
The show suffered a major blow in 1990 when its biggest star was shunted off the stage and although they nailed John Major pretty well as the pea-eating grey man whose wife is set to explode with boredom, there's no doubt that the increasing convergence of the parties towards the centre ground gave the team less promising material. In 1993 a number of writers quit the programme and the viewing figures plummeted. It was eventually cancelled in 1996; a planned resurrection in 2006 came to grief.
Apart from the ones already mentioned above my favourite bits were :
- Lester Piggott being subtitled whenever he spoke
- Donald Sinden's craven obsession with getting a knighthood and the Queen calling him a "boring old ham"
- Stephen Hendry's zits
- Gary Lineker being bland and reasonable when the Grim Reaper comes for him
- David Owen reacting to Clint Eastwood's election as Mayor of Carmel with the observation " I've always said it's policies not personalities that matter"
- Reagan demonstrating the precision of American fighter pilots in the toilets
- Paul McCartney approaching Desmond Tutu for a duet and being told "piss off you Scouse git!"