Spitting Image was a British satirical puppet show which ran on ITV from 1984 to 1996. It was produced by Spitting Image Productions for Central. The series was nominated for 10 BAFTA Awards, winning only one, for editing, in 1989.It could possibly be one of the most influential shows in British television history. By virtue of using puppets they could get away with things that other shows could not.For the entirety of the show's run, Britain was ruled by the Conservative Party, so the government (and especially Margaret Thatcher) was the show's favourite target. However, it did not spare the opposition parties, or other countries' leaders, or celebrities outside politics. Probably the most acerbically targeted country was South Africa during The Apartheid Era.The show ultimately ended due to the fact that they couldn't afford the new puppets they would need for a change of government; that, and the relatively bland composition of the John Major government, which lacked the epic grandeur of the Thatcher years and - with the notable exception of Major himself - almost defied satire. Budgetary reasons make a revival too expensive.The show has had several Spiritual Successors such as the traditional animation 2DTV and CGI Headcases, but none have ever matched its popularity. The concept was brought overseas and foreign remakes have been made in France, Germany, the USA, Portugal, India, Russia and Israel among others, with varying degrees of popularity — some bombed, others have outlasted the British original.The show's team is also responsible for the famous video for "Land of Confusion" by Genesis, which features puppets of noted personalities (and the three members of the band) similar to those featured on the show.Now has a Shout-Outpage.
Famous sketches/themes include:
The Chicken Song: A parody of annoyingly catchy summer hits like Agadoo, which naturally underwent Defictionalization and itself became a number one single.
I've Never Met A Nice South African: Musical number about the apartheid regime's abuses (and the West cosying up to it). The B side of The Chicken Song.
Go Now: A cover of The Moody Blues hit, sung by the entire House of Commons, The Queen and eventually the entire country to Margeret Thatcher to tell her that she should resign. (It wasn't long before the real Thatcher did)
Every Bomb You Drop, to the tune of Every Breath You Take by The Police (and actually featuring Sting on vocals) served as a massive "The Reason You Suck" Speech to the major political figures of the era.
Thatcher's Cabinet at the Restaurant: Mrs Thatcher's cabinet eat at a restaurant; she orders a raw steak, and when asked "What about the vegetables?" replies "They'll have the same as I'm having." (This line entered her legend, and people later thought she had really said it.)
The President's Brain is Missing: A series in which Ronald Reagan's tiny brain makes a bid for freedom, at one point crawling into the dead Premier Chernenko's head and reanimating him to try and run the Soviet Union on American Republican lines. Half the jokes it coined were later lazily recycled by Spiritual Successor2DTV for George W. Bush.
John Major and the Peas: Captured the public vision of John Major as dull and boring by literally giving him grey skin and having him indulge in inane conversations over peas with his wife Norma. It was also suggested that he had a crush on Virginia Bottomley, the writers proceeding to kick themselves for not choosing Edwina Currie instead.
The Two Davids: The Liberal-SDP Alliance was portrayed as an unequal partnership between the dominating SDP leader David Owen and the shy, literally smaller Liberal leader David Steel. Steel later blamed his depiction for ruining his career- Steel was taller!
In fact, this was subverted in real life as most historical sources confirm Steel was the more influential of the two (he also maintained a longer career in the House).
David Owen was also portrayed as a cynical opportunist, to the extent that he was sometimes seen on both sides of the House of Commons at the same time.
Herr von Willcox: Margaret Thatcher's neighbour is an aged Adolf Hitler living under the alias "Herr von Willcox", who gives her advice on governance.
"Wiz you zere, I feel like I already run ze place."
Mary Whitehouse: often seen in early episodes watching the show and simultaneously writing in to complain, overtly disgusted and yet secretly fascinated by it.
The Royal Family: Portrayed as a dysfunctional and yet somehow very relatable family:
The Queen: seemed to be the most "normal" one of the bunch. Wore a rainmate and a tiara. Enjoys winding up Thatcher. Experiences occasional bouts of absentmindedness e.g forgetting to Troop the Colour or rifling through dustbins.
Prince Philip: Prone to public gaffes. Perpetually in uniform and loves hunting. It appears that he and the Queen are quite Happily Married - he helps her to fake her own death and Troops the Colour for her in exchange for kebabs for breakfast.
Prince Charles: Unpopular with the public and fond of New-Age. Seen talking to his vegetables at dinner.
Princess Diana: The celebrity of the Royal Family, but slow-witted and invokedhungry for publicity. Thought at one point her life was a soap opera in the most literal sense.
Prince Andrew: A womanizer, often seen winding up Charles.
Princess Anne: Rarely seen - generally a bit down in the mouth. Likes her horses.
Prince Edward: A wimpy student.
Princess Margaret: Constantly completely sloshed.
The Queen Mother: A stereotypical drunken grandma with a Birmingham accent. Also fond of the horses, but more on the Ladbrokes side of things.
Artistic License Anatomy: Naturally, since all the puppets were meant to be caricatures, but sometimes the makers added extra gags without any basis in reality. For instance, Rod Stewart had a penis for a nose, Barry Norman had a huge fictional wart, certain puppets were depicted as dwarfs ten times smaller than the other characters, Mikhail Gorbachev's birth mark was shaped into the Communist hammer and sickle,...
Art Shift: After Series 4, the show would feature Once-Per-Episode claymation sketch
Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: If you replace the words 'cop' with 'politician', you have the show's general portrayal of the Conservatives and Labour. To be exact, they portray the conservatives as evil money-hungry people with Victorian values (and empathy), but point out that Labour was too incompetent to be worth voting for, so no-one did.
Belly Mouth: Sort of, Madonna was depicted having a singing belly button.
British Stuffiness: In the 'British Revolution' arc, the 'people power' revolutions that brought down communism in Eastern Europe finally reach Britain - but are carried out in a far more...refined manner.
Newsreader: "Elsewhere, there are sporadic clashes between the army and the police..."
Policeman(pointing at tank): "Excuse me sir, is this your vehicle?"
Soldier: "Look, I can explain, there's been a revolution!"
Policeman: "I can't help that sir. You're on a double yellow."
British Teeth: Certain British celebrities had their teeth exaggerated enormously: Kenneth Williams, Esther Rantzen, Cilla Black, Enoch Powell, David Mellor, Richard Branson, Mark Thatcher, Freddie Mercury,...
Butt Monkey: Sir Geoffrey Howe for the Conservatives. Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot and Gerald Kaufman for the Labour Party. David Steele for the Liberal Party. Prince Charles within the Royal Family.
Call Back: After John Major became Prime Minister, Major takes his cabinet out to dinner a la the "Thatcher's Cabinet at the Restaurant" sketch. When the waitress asks Major about the vegetables, the entire cast save Major anxiously awaits the classic punchline, only for Major to respond "peas and carrots."
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Justified with the disappearance of the Terry Waite puppet, as his real life counterpart was kidnapped in 1987. He had previously been seen on the show returning from negotiations abroad with lots of duty-free shopping for the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie.
Also, whenever a celebrity died or disappeared from the public eye, he was usually removed from appearing in the show.
Creator Backlash: Co-creator Peter Fluck has gone so far to claim he "hates puppets" in an interview with The Guardian. Back in 2000 he planned to throw all the 900 and counting puppets of the original show on a bonfire because he was so sick of them. Luckily someone got a better idea and decided to simply auction them.
Early Installment Weirdness: The first season pales compared to later seasons. The pilot episode had a laugh track (which was abandoned quickly from the next episode on). Certain puppets sound different because the voice actors didn't always comically exaggerate the voices of the lampooned celebrities in the first season. Many episodes in the first season follow plot lines that are continued like a chronological series, while later seasons were always stand alone episodes. And certain puppets went through consideral makeovers throughout the seasons. For example: Queen Elizabeth's hair was made grey as her real life counterpart got older too. In the same way the black Michael Jackson was sprayed white over the seasons. Margaret Thatcher's puppet also became more grotesque each season.
Fat Comic Relief: The obesity of Nigel Lawson, Luciano Pavarotti, Bernard Manning, Leon Brittan, Cyril Smith, Cilla Black,... was played up for laughs.
Felony Misdemeanor: One sketch, parodying American cop drama, has a guy arrested for not cleaning his shoes, taking leaflets from a bank with no intention of opening an account and breaking the spines of books he borrows.
Flanderization: Arguably, as the years progressed the show became less about political satire per se, and more about the antics of absurdist caricatures of politicians, which had evolved in rather extreme ways. Thatcher, for instance, increasingly became a run-of-the-mill tyrant, whose extreme brand of supervillian evil stopped being much of a commentary on British conservatism. Many other politicians similarly evolved into various stock characters that eclipsed their original politicized roots, for example Norman Tebbit as a skinhead, Cecil Parkinson as the Cabinet's resident Casanova, John Major as a dullard, and Kenneth Baker, originally depicted as an oozing sycophant, who literally became a slug in later episodes.
For Halloween, I Am Going as Myself: One sketch had Reagan not dressing up scary for Halloween, because "I'm a senile old guy with his finger on the button. I couldn't think of anything scarier."
Funny Background Event: Lots of funny stuff is happening in the background of many scenes. Characters beating each other up or appearing in a weird context.
Glass-Shattering Sound: Thatcher's voice in one sketch. Then she got voice coaching... and ended up sounding like Hitler.
Glowing Eyes of Doom: In one sketch Thatcher had her hair done, ŕ la Medusa, and looked at Kenneth Baker with a death stare until he turned to stone and crumbled.
God: One of the most controversial puppets on the show.
Good Angel, Bad Angel: Neil Kinnock has Michael Foot as his angel and Jim Callaghan as his devil while he wrestles over whether or not to reappear on The Tube. He compromises by saying that he can't as he is rehearsing for Last of the Summer Wine, which pleases them both.
Grandparental Obliviousness: Ronald Reagan was often portrayed as being senile, confused and always drawing the wrong conclusions. The Queen Mum was another puppet who wasn't always aware what was going on around her. And, of course, sports journalist David Coleman's confusedness during live broadcasts was also a frequent target. Michael Foot was always struggling to get his words out. John Gielgud was often unaware of his surroundings and often fell asleep.
Insult Backfire: After a few seasons some celebrities started to take pride in their puppets. Because: if you weren't spoofed on the show, you really were a nobody.
Author and politician Jeffrey Archer liked his puppet so much that the makers eventually avoided using him for a few episodes.
TV presenter Chris Evans even wanted to be included as a puppet, and when it finally happened he even sent letters asking if he could voice the puppet himself, to which the makers naturally declined.
Politician Norman Tebbit reportedly enjoyed his portrayal as a leather-clad bovver boy. Although according to John Lloyd, the show's producer, Mrs Tebbit once told him "Norman's always wanted a leather jacket, and now he feels he can't have one."
Nick Newman and Ian Hislop speculated that the show's depiction of Thatcher might have ended up making her Real Life counterpart appear stronger and "more IronLadyish".
Minister of Health Edwina Currie, who was depicted being something of an evil vampire, actually got more notable as a politician and rose in stature. She even liked her puppet.
Kick the Dog: Thatcher's seen pulling the wings off a bowl's worth of butterflies when Hurd interrupts her to tell her there's been a bomb in Oxford Street.
Spitting Image did this a lot, though, from a cheerful Paul McCartney-esque folk song about murdering estate agents (complete with violent, bloody non-slapstick visuals), the Four Horsemen singing about how "every silver lining has a cloud, and it won't be alright on the night" and General Pinochet singing a Chas-&-Dave style number about the joys of nuclear war. Probably freaked out a few kids.
Medal of Dishonor: Being portrayed in Spitting Image wasn't always something to be proud of, especially if your puppet was ugly. Some celebrities really hated their portayals, like the Royal Family. Though, as time went others started to see their appearance in the show as a badge of honor, because at least it meant that you really were important enough to be spoofed. Chris Evans and Jeffrey Archer actually liked the attention and tried to make the puppeteers and actors imitate their voices more clearly. Evans even wanted to play the part himself! Some people even became more famous as a result of being portrayed in the show, like Minister of Public Health Edwina Currie.
Multi-National Shows: Three "Spitting Image" specials produced for the American Market and aired on NBC, one taking aim at the White House, one at Hollywood, and one at Ronnie Reagan in a parody of 50s sitcoms. Spitting Image has also inspired many international equivalents: Sid and Marty Kroff's DC Follies, France's Les Guignols de l'info, Germany's Hurra Deutschland and Italy's Gommapiuma as well as Gli Sgommati.
Despite most characters being based off celebrities some puppets were just general stand-ins whenever the shows' creators needed youngsters, children, women, secretaries, blacks, Asians, Hispanics,... Some viewers often wondered who they were supposed to be, though.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Selina Scott, who always looks like she's miles away during Breakfast because she's contemplating the scientific mysteries of the universe.
Of Corpse He's Alive: The Soviets try to pretend Premier Chernenko is still alive and prop up his corpse at the negotiating table with Ronald Reagan. Reagan finds him 'a tough negotiator' and calls for Henry Kissinger, who also fails at the negotiations, before Reagan finally resorts to Bonzo the chimpanzee.
Oireland: Ahead of Ronald Reagan's state visit to Ireland, Sir Robin Day tracks down the president's closest Irish relative - a potato.
Product Placement: The introduction of TV cameras into the House of Commons results in a slew of these.
Real Life Writes the Plot: This was the nature of this series, with all the sketches directly inspired by (inter)national events that happened that week.
Reasoning with God: Inverted when Ian Paisley badgers God in order to get him to curse Gerry Adams with boils and locusts etc., while God tries to talk him out of it. In a later sketch, he decides to take his custom elsewhere after being upstaged by Leon Brittan and being denied his plague of boils.
Recognition Failure: Some celebrities lampooned on the show weren't always A-class famous people. Some were only famous in the United Kingdom and even those could be people you wonder about why the makers would bother to make a puppet out of them, because they would predictably only be famous for a short while and therefore quite obscure if you re-watch the episodes a few decades later, like The Bros (who were a One-Hit Wonder with When Will I Be Famous?) and Andrew Strong (lead singer of The Commitments).
In a different meaning of this trope some of the more famous celebrities weren't always recognizably good caricatures. The only reason the audience might recognize those would be because the others referred to them by name. Examples of particularly badly manufactured puppets were Barry Norman (who had a huge fictional wart on his face that even the real Norman complained about), Tom Cruise, Sigourney Weaver, ...
Reference Overdosed: Where to start? Several references to 1980s and 1990s society in general, yet also to everything that was in the media that week. From news reports over TV commercials. If you wanted to understand every reference you really had to read, listen and watch to every report. And most of it references British culture in particular. This also explains why the show was so difficult to export to other countries. The stuff dated rapidly and a lot of it was incomprehensible to foreign viewers. When broadcasted on Dutch TV the translators even added some extra subtitles on top of the screen to give some explanations about certain politicians or TV stars that only the English would immediately recognize.
Reused Character Design: Some of the older puppets- usually celebrities who weren't much in the news anymore- were re-used if they resembled some of the newer or more media prominent celebrities. An example is Ringo Starr who was later sprayed in a browner skin color, re-clothed and thus became Yasser Arafat.
Spiritual Successor: The successor to Not the Nine O'Clock News. The spiritual successors to Spitting Image itself were the traditionally animated 2DTV, the live action Dead Ringers and the CGI Headcases (the latter was the only one which was actually advertised as a successor to Spitting Image, but it was probably the least successful).
Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The Queen finds herself having to compete with Maggie and Ronnie during the National Anthem closedown on her birthday.
"How many times do we have to go through this? All it takes is the right attitude and you can withstand anything."
Sophisticated as Hell: The show departed from its normally refined blend of absurdism and wit in the "(I've Never Met) A Nice South African" song. Rather than the normal scalpel, show's creators favour the sledgehammer in order to display their contempt for the Apartheid regime, having their chorus of Boer safari men sing:
"No he's never met a nice South African!"
"And that's not bloody surprising mun,"
"Because we're a bunch of talentless murderers,"
"Who smell like baboons!"
The production team defended this song on the basis that A: the harshness was necessary to show moderate South Africans how despised apartheid was by the world, and B: the song does acknowledge that there are nice South Africans, but they have all been put in prison.
Strong Family Resemblance: Prince Harry's puppet had Prince Charles' large ears. So, in sharp contrast to reality he actually looked more like him than the real life Harry does!
"Good Lord, everyone's here. The only person who's not a Mason must be the Pope."
Throw It In: The only reason Geoffrey Howe missed out on the dancing in In the Mood was that the puppeteer got too tired since Howe was one of the heavier puppets and decided that he really needed to take a break.
Truth Serums: Sir Robin Day jags Kenneth Baker and Norman Fowler with some truth serum in an effort to relieve the boredom of hosting an election night programme.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Chernenko explains that this is the reason why Gorbachev must never be made Premier. Unless he has a wife with a face like "a British boxing champion", he'll be no use in a crisis because he'd sooner play one last game of Comrade Wobbly Hides his Helmet than take charge of the situation.
The Unfavourite: Prince Charles. In one episode Randy gives him a revolver and tells him to "do the decent thing" and even his mum can't get his name right.
Vocal Dissonance: Obviously, of course, since all the voices are impressions of real life celebrities. Though some received a different treatment.
The Queen Mum sounded like actress Beryl Reid. This because nobody ever heard the real Queen Mum give a public speech and her actual voice was a mystery to the general public.
David Steele's puppet sounded more like the real politician in the earlier seasons. Though later, to match the small scale of the puppet, his voice became squeakier.
Politician Roy Hattersley's voice became more watery to match his always spitting puppet.
Politician John Hurd also got a more whiny, stupid doll voice.
Politician Nigel Lawson's puppet became more sloshed to match his obese appearance.
Pope John Paul II also sounded more like the real pope in earlier seasons. However, in a master stroke of Rule of Funny he was given a hip American accent to fit with his rock 'n' roll image on the show.
Most of the non-English speaking celebrities were given stereotypical accents matching their country of origin rather than their real life voices.