Thursday, 13 April 2017

658 Spitting Image

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!" 

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