February 26, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the first broadcast of ITV’s satirical puppet show Spitting Image, created by Roger Law and Peter Fluck.
To celebrate three decades of latex lampoonery, we uncover some facts you may not know about the series.
- The roster of impressionists and comedians who contributed voices to the show during its 12-year run read like a Who’s Who of British comedy, including Steve Coogan, Harry Enfield, Chris Barrie, Alistair McGowan, John Thomson , Hugh Dennis , Jon Culshaw , John Sessions, Rory Bremner, Peter Serafinowicz and Adrian Edmondson. And that’s before you even get to script-writing talent such as Ian Hislop and Richard Curtis.
Spitting Image can also be thanked for bringing cult TV series Red Dwarf to the world, with creators Rob Grant, Doug Naylor and Chris Barrie meeting each other while working on the show.
Co-creator Roger Law claims that deadlines were so tight in order to keep the weekly show topical that while the target was to film on a Friday, edit on a Saturday and air the show on a Sunday, there were occasions when the second half of the show was still being edited as the first half aired on TV.
In 1993, the Spitting Image team made a feature-length film of Peter and the Wolf, Sergei Prokofiev’s classic composition for children. Bizarrely, the work was narrated by a puppet likeness of Sting and voiced by the rock star himself, a long-time fan of the show.
A puppet based on the likeness of Lord Lucan – who famously disappeared in 1974 – would often appear working menial jobs in the backgrounds of sketches set in foreign countries.
By the time the show ended in 1996, more than 1,000 puppets had been created. Many were auctioned off at Sotheby’s in 2000, with Margaret Thatcher (£10,200) and Mick Jagger (£6,835) the top sellers as a grand total of £370,000 was raised.
Nigel Plaskitt, one of the Spitting Image puppeteers, also worked on the Muppet Show, The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy and was the man behind ITV/PG Tips puppet Monkey.
Spitting Image was famous for the silly songs that closed each show, but became a real chart success in 1986 when The Chicken Song (written by Red Dwarf duo Rob Grant and Doug Naylor) occupied the number one spot for three weeks. The series also created a full-length video for the Genesis single Land of Confusion, which featured puppets of the band as well as various political figures.
- Steve Brown, one of the contributors to the musical parodies on the show, also appeared on TV screens as Glen Ponder – the fictional conductor of Alan Partridge’s live studio band in the series Knowing Me Knowing You.
A planned new series of Spitting Image was in the works in 2005 but, according to former producer John Lloyd, was cancelled after ITV created puppet likenesses of Ant and Dec to present the show. This was contrary to the wishes of creator Roger Law, who had requested that no new puppets be made without his consent.
Popular characters had multiple parts to enable contrasting likenesses for different sketches – Roger Law has said that the Margaret Thatcher puppet had a variety of heads and Princess Diana possessed over 25 costumes.
- Creator Roger Law claims that a Ronald Reagan puppet was strip-searched by airport customs when being transported for filming in America.
- In an article for The Guardian in 2013, Roger Law revealed that he and co-creator Peter Fluck were planning a Spitting Image exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery during the school holidays where children would “enter the exhibition through Thatcher's mouth, before travelling along her innards, with all her wondrous achievements and friends and enemies on display… before finally all exiting through the Iron Lady's bottom”. He claims that after initially getting the go-ahead, it was cancelled by ‘Thatcher-appointed’ trustees at the gallery.
February 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the first episode of Spitting Image.
To mark the occasion, the BFI are hosting a Q&A with the creators and contributors to the series on February 27, while London’s Cartoon Museum are displaying a variety of memorabilia in an exhibition entitled Spitting Image – From Start To Finish from February 26 to June 8 2014
An arena documentary Whatever Happened to Spitting Image will be screened on the BBC later in the year.