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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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  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: http://ww1.rtp.pt/multimedia/index.php?tvprog=1200

  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.

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