TV Cream

TV: S is for...

Spitting Image

The eyes have it, the eyes have itFOREVER ERRONEOUSLY referred to with a superfluous “S” at the end of the programme’s title, SPITTING IMAGE offered up detailed three-dimensional “latex lampoonery” of the most well known figures of the day, while less well-known figures were portrayed by either that puppet that looked like JIMMY TARBUCK, or the one that was a dead ringer for FREDDIE MERCURY (this one also doubled for all waiters shown on the programme). Broadcast in the one outpost of the ITV schedule that for a time provided a home for vaguely anarchic comedy material, SPITTING IMAGE was a mainstay of the Sunday evening at 10 slot that had previously been occupied by the likes of WOOD AND WALTERS and CLIVE JAMES ON TELEVISION. Yet given the former series’ obsession with making observations about dinner ladies who scratch their armpit with a spatula, and the latter’s focus on being “irreverent” but in a very middle class way, those Spitting Images offered up something that for its time seemed genuinely shocking. The show was cited as being culpable in the political destruction of DAVIDs STEEL and OWEN, while the fact that the average man in the street was able to name more than one member of Thatcher’s mid-Eighties cabinet is supposedly thanks to their memorable puppetry portrayal. Perhaps the series’s most heinous crime, though, was to provide early television exposure for the likes of ALISTAIR MCGOWAN and JON “CREEPY HAIR” CULSHAW. There is perennial talk of bringing it back, but working out how it couldn’t be rubbish now remains a persistent roadblock.



  1. Adrian

    September 7, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Didn’t ITV try to do an updated version of SI using computer animation not that long ago? I don’t think it lasted very long, though.

  2. David Smith

    September 7, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    That would be Headcases. Wasn’t that bad actually – but didn’t have the topicality of SI.

  3. Lee James Turnock

    May 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    When they got it right they got it blindingly right, but they got bogged down in gratuitous Donald Sinden-baiting and easy targets a bit too often. I’ll still love them forever, though, for ‘Santa Claus Is On the Dole’, ‘Essex Is Crap’ and the wonderful ‘Every Silver Lining Has A Cloud’.

  4. Enoch Sneed

    May 5, 2010 at 11:37 am

    The format is still going strong in Portugal with the programme “Contra Informação”. See:

  5. Adrian

    May 5, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    It’s a shame it ended – Sunday evenings on ITV have never been the same since..

  6. Great Bustard

    August 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Wasn’t the Freddie Mercury-alike puppet supposed to be Lord Lucan?

  7. Richard Davies

    November 3, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I only started watching it in the 1990s (too young before then) so most memories were of a grey John Major, doing something daft, his Mastermind specialist subject was Passing The Buck with every answer Norman Lamont.

    My brother might still have some on tape from that era.

  8. JakeyD

    May 17, 2021 at 9:46 pm

    Very hit and miss but when it hit it was brutal with biting satire you won’t get today. Songs like ‘I’ve Never Met A Nice South African’ would probably lead to arrests these days.

  9. Tom Ronson

    March 31, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    Well, Spitting Image IS back, and not at all surprisingly, it IS rubbish. That said, the quality started to slide very noticeably around the fourth series, when the humour became more tabloid / celebrity-focused and less reliant on kicking the snot out of pompous politicians. A mass exodus of the original writing staff, most of whom went on to better things (and Ch4’s Absolutely) can’t have helped matters. I seem to remember an interview with Roger Law where he said they should have stopped after Thatcher resigned, because they’d lost their ‘star turn’ – and a sketch where Thatcher was lying in state in an open coffin and Ben Elton’s puppet blubbed ‘My name’s Ben Elton, there goes my career, goodnight.’

    The absolute worst thing they ever did, though, surprisingly isn’t the current Britbox rehash. It’s a sell-through video from the early nineties called The Bonker’s Guide to Having It Off – obviously designed to cash in / take the piss out of the then-popular ‘Lover’s Guide’ videos which were just BBFC-approved pornography. Really desperate stuff, and a sad pointer toward the bereft-of-inspiration (and, indeed, comedy) final series in 1996, which was shunted out in a graveyard slot and featured the Noel and Liam Gallaghers, Quentin Tarantinos, and Jarvis Cockers of this world.

  10. James C

    May 10, 2023 at 6:23 pm

    The reboot is indeed truly dire; sketches that are about four minutes longer than they really need to be and a slew of woefully painful running “gags” involving Prince Andrew being smacked in the head (a good snort the first time you see it, but just becomes depressing after the eighth go-around). Topicality goes out the window to make way for jokes about weird imaginary concepts like Keir Starmer in a fox costume. Media (both print and social) reaction more concerned with whether the show is too “woke” or not “woke” enough, rather than asking the proper questions, like whether or not it’s actually funny. Apparently the writing team was half British, half American, which probably explain why the show feels like a puppet version of Saturday Night Live – that is to say, it’s dire, painful running “gags”, sketches that are about four minutes too long etc.

    To be completely fair, you can absolutely level this exact same criticism at the show’s original run – the pap serials like “Dan Quayle In Space”, and the awkward and uncomfortable sketches about John Major trying to woo the female members of his cabinet (these sketches have actually become a lot LESS funny now that we know more about John’s love life.) But by the time it was committing these particular sins, fans of satire had already moved onto shows like Have I Got News For You.

    Anyway, I’d say that between 1985 and 1988 the show was at its most triumphant, scripts-wise, but to be frank it was always best enjoyed knowing you’re simply watching a dopey sketch show featuring rubber puppets – treating it like it was a satirical juggernaut that spat in the eye of everything Good and Sacred sets you up for disappointment when you realise a) the show did nothing to dent Mrs Thatcher’s popularity with the public, and b) the biggest laughs come from giving the Pope a “gangsta” accent.

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