1 9 8 4 – 1 9 9 6 (UK)
137 x 30 minute episodes
4 x 45 minute episodes
9 x specials
An amazing adult satire series in which puppets with latex rubber likenesses of famous people (politicians, celebrities and especially the royal family) were mercilessly ridiculed.
Very few prominent personalities of the day escaped unscathed, although there were a number of firm favourites – notably Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The show even had a number one hit record with the deliberately inane Chicken Song.
Produced in a former banana warehouse in London’s Docklands, Spitting Image made every other satirical show look sissy and every comedy since The Goon Show seem well-behaved.
At first, the IBA asked for cuts such as the deletion of a “bugger” and a scene of a Harold Macmillan puppet spilling soup on himself. Conservative MPs fumed at the mocking of the royal family – the Queen Mum as a Brummie horse-racing fanatic, Princess Michael with a Hitler moustache or Prince Philip swigging Ouzo – because they ‘couldn’t answer back’ and looked so ugly.
Mary Whitehouse was disgusted that when Princess Margaret was in hospital Spitting Image had her dancing and brandishing a gin bottle. But no one complained at the sight of Colonel Gaddafi announcing the International Terrorist of the Year Award (and being blown up when opening the envelope).
Gradually the audiences grew (to around 11 million for the Sunday night shows) and protesters petered out, worn down by the cheek of modellers Peter Fluck and Roger Law, producer John Lloyd (who started Not The Nine O Clock News with Sean Hardie), the daring and topicality of the gaggle of writers mostly from the John Cleese, Peter Cook and Private Eye schools, and the skill of actors including Steve Nallon who provided Mrs Thatcher’s booming butch voice, Chris Barrie, Enn Reitel, Kate Robbins and Jessica Martin.
Costs of making the half-hour show were dramatic. By 1988 the £10,000-a-minute show’s life-sized puppets were costing £2,000 a time to make. Economies were essential. Sue Lawley was a head with Cilla Black‘s bust; Kenneth Kendall was Magnus Magnusson in a mask; the newly deceased medium Doris Stokes proved there is life after death – she came back regularly as someone’s granny.
Three US versions of Spitting Image were made by NBC. Two were about Ronald Reagan while the last took a swipe at Hollywood.