Follow TV Tropes


Series / Spitting Image

Go To

"Following complaints from the Conservative Party that the BBC is biased against the government, we here on ITV, in the interests of political balance, would like to say: we hate the bastards too. Thank you."

Spitting Image is a British satirical puppet show which ran on ITV from 1984–96, with a revival airing on BritBox as of 2020, making it perhaps the most successful non-Henson puppet show ever. The series could also possibly be one of the most influential programmes in UK television history, as by virtue of using puppets, they could get away with things that other shows could not.

For the entirety of the original 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, the royal family, other countries' leaders, or celebrity figures outside of politics. Probably the most acerbically targeted country was South Africa during The Apartheid Era.

The series was nominated for ten BAFTA Awards, winning only one, for editing, in 1989.


The show ended its original run after 18 seasons, due mostly 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. However, a revival premiered in late 2020 on the streaming service BritBox, with prime minister Boris Johnson, then-U.S. president Donald Trump, the 2020 American election cycle, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and prominent billionaires and celebrities like Kanye West, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos all providing ample opportunities for satire and parody. A 20th season premiered in late 2021. The showrunners have put all episodes of the reboot, and are currently attempting to upload the original show, onto YouTube for free here.


The show has had several spiritual successors such as the traditional animation 2DTV, CGI series Headcases and part-CGI, part-puppet Newzoids but none have ever matched its popularity. The concept was brought overseas and foreign remakes have been made in France, Germany, the USA,note  Portugal, India, Italy, Serbia, Norway, 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-Out page.

Famous sketches/themes include:

  • invoked 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 Margaret Thatcher to tell her that she should resign in the middle of a deep recession. It wasn't long before the real Thatcher did because of said recession.
    • Every Bomb You Make, to the tune of Every Breath You Take from Synchronicity 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 Successor 2DTV 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 who lives under the alias "Herr von Willcox" and gasses insects in his garden. He gives her advice on governance.
    "Wiz you zere, I feel like I already run ze place."
    "von Willcox": "First you need ze SS."
    Thatcher: "Don't you mean SAS?"
    "von Willcox": "I know vat I mean."
  • Home for Retired PMs: All the living retired Prime Ministers (such as Edward Heath, Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson) live in a retirement home which they view as a prison camp and plot to escape from.
  • Paul Daniels: "One Man and His Wig".
  • 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 invoked hungry 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.

Tropes of Spitting Image:

Tropes of the original run:

  • Addled Addict: Keith Richards was depicted being so stoned that the other rock stars already assumed he was dead, despite him being alive in front of their own eyes.
  • Adolf Hitlarious: A senior aged Hitler, named "Herr von Wilcox", was seen in the first season as Mrs. Thatcher's personal neighbour and her political advisor. Apparently he did survive the war somehow. And he likes to get rid of the pest in his garden by gassing it.
  • The Alcoholic: Denis Thatcher, Boris Yeltsin, Princess Margaret,...
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The "What about the vegetables? They'll have the same" joke.
  • Amusing Injuries: Since puppets are central to the show: it features a lot of slapping and punching around.
  • Anachronism Stew: The show mostly centered around events that were topical in the 1980s and 1990s, but some sketches put the celebrities in a historical context. Also, sometimes celebrities who had already passed away years before the show debuted were featured on the show, like The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Queen Victoria,...
  • And You Thought It Was Real: One season’s mini-arc in the original series called “Some of Our Puppets are Missing” involved the puppets of David Steel, Leonard Nimoy, and an anteater escaping into the real world and getting into various misadventures. The last part revealed that the three were actually in the studio the whole time and their adventures were all part of the show.
  • Anthropomorphic Animal Adaptation: Kenneth Baker's sliminess was caricatured in later seasons, eventually changing him into a real-life snail, full of ooze.
  • Anti-Christmas Song: The singles "Santa Claus Is on the Dole" (1986) and "The Christmas Singles" (1990).
  • Artistic License – Biology: 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 the period-appropriate Lack of 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.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Ronald Reagan, he's portrayed as quite dim and childish in the show, but he's also obsessed with nukes and could blow up the world anytime, he's also implied to be controlling Margaret Thatcher.
  • The Bore: The grey skinned, pea-loving John Major was often portrayed as very dull. At one point Thatcher attempted to regain the cabinet by replacing his brain with a transmitter. Besides being a Thatcher loyalist, his personality wasn't any more robotic than it was before.
    • Geoffrey Howe is claimed to be this by Norman Tebbit when Thatcher is looking for a sucessor.
    • Steve "Interesting" Davis.
    • The man singing "I've Never Met a Nice South African" slowly causes the bartender to fall asleep.
  • Big Bad: Margaret Thatcher, who is almost more evil than Satan himself.
  • Big Eater: Luciano Pavarotti.
  • Bigger Is Better: Subverted with Arnold Schwarzenegger whose willie is tiny.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: David Owen and David Steel.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Denis Healy, Leonid Breznhev, Khomeini, Norman Lamont,...
  • Bilingual Bonus: You can hear President Mitterrand call Margaret a cow at one point. Plus the other puppet in the Ian Paisley Night Thoughts sketch is actually doing proper sign language.
    • In the Derek Jameson sketch about German television, Chris Barrie is speaking real German.
  • Blackface: Parodied with the "The White & White Minstrel Show". Black people with whitefaces singing about Apartheid South Africa where "blackfaces don't belong with blacks".
  • Bland-Name Product: Fauna Lo-cal Spread anyone?
    • Reptiles Bland Blend Coffee, tastes more like Donald Sinden than ever before!
  • The Blank: Faceless bureaucrats? Literally.
  • Book Worm: Bernard Levin, who takes it to a fetishistic level.
  • Brick Joke: One episode features Prince Andrew telling the Queen that he needs to be kissed by three girls a day or else he’ll turn into a frog. At first it seems like he’s lying since all he does is put on a fake frog mask, but later on in the episode we see the royal family at a party where Andrew has actually turned into a frog and is asking if any of girls want to kiss him.
  • 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 Steel for the Liberal Party. Prince Charles within the Royal Family. Dan Quayle when Bush took over as president.
  • 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 "Carrots and peas, I think."
    • Murder Most Fowler has a Spiritual Successor in the shape of The Return of Parkenstein.
    • Series 4 opens with Maggie watching the end of the Election Special on a television in the cabinet room.
    • The trailer for the 2020 revival shows a crate rising from a swamp - in which puppet corpses of Thatcher and Reagan can be seen floating. The Number 10 interior set also features a large portrait of the old Thatcher puppet glaring down on the scene, shown here.
  • Catchphrase: Several characters had a Verbal Tic, sometimes derived from the real-life counterparts, other times invented or popularized by the show itself.
    • And why not? - Barry Norman.
    • Do they mean us? - Derek Jameson, in reference to a TV show he presented.
    • Err Yesssssss.... - Jeremy Paxman.
    • Interesting. - Steve Davis.
    • Yah... - Princess Diana
    • Let's talk rutt (...) Woof! Woof! (...) Sausages, sausages! - The dog in the Let's Talk Rutt segments.
    • [...] said the young succesful journalist, British Conservative MP [...] - Jeffrey Archer.
    • Those turkeys - Ronald Reagan.
    • I'm 90, you know? - The Queen Mum.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Whenever a celebrity died or disappeared from the public eye, he/she was usually removed from appearing in the show.
    • 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ronald Reagan thanks to senility.
  • Conspiracy Theorist: HAROLD ANGRYPERSON.
  • Cool Hat: Muammar Quadaffi's general's hat was larger than his own face.
  • Cool Old Guy: Pope John Paul II, a real rock 'n' roll pope.
  • Dartboard of Hate: In the occasional sketch, Thatcher has one for Michael Heseltine.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: One sketch had a Public Service Announcement warning viewers about the dangers of Oliver Reed having a bonk.
  • Deliberately Monochrome:
    • The Marx Brothers were always shown in black-and-white skin colors.
    • To underscore how dower and personality-less John Major was, he was eventually rendered as grey, as if he had been pulled out of a black-and-white film.
  • Demoted to Extra: As mentioned, many puppets were fazed out of limelight when their real counterparts were no longer the hot topic, though would still make the odd return if the gag served well enough. Thatcher and Reagan in particular lost main character status when their tenure in power ended, though still made a few reappearances here and there.
  • Did You Get A New Hair Cut: In one sketch Thatcher did. Turns out she now has the snake hair of Medusa!
  • The Dividual: Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, and Al Pacino in the movie awards special. Their first scene even features them unsure of who is who.
  • Dodgy Toupee: The toupees of Bruce Forsyth and illusionist Paul Daniels were mocked mercilessly on the show.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Given Thatcher had been exaggerated into such a comedically over-the-top tyrant by this point in the show, it adapts her fall from grace as this trope, with most of her abused ministry finally ditching her or using her dwindling popularity to blackmail her.
  • Dominance Through Furniture: Played for laughs in its "Never Met a Nice South African" skit. P.W. Botha, then-president of South Africa, was entertaining a British diplomat, and claimed he employed several "kaffirs"note  in his mansion. When the diplomat remarks that he hadn't seen a single black since he got in, Botha bellows:
    "You haven't? By God, man, what do you think you wiped your feet on when you came in?!"
  • The Dragon: Norman Tebbit serves as Margaret Thatcher's enforcer, usually inflicting violence on the rest of her Cabinet.
  • Dunce Cap: Leon Brittan is forced to wear one as part of a minor Humiliation Conga in the House.
  • 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.
    • The revival mostly stays true to the post-Growing the Beard run, at least in style, but keeps some plot lines running through the season (such as the billionaire’s race to Mars).
  • Edited for Syndication: Unfortunately, for a show that often attacked censorship, the Youtube uploads of the original series seem to be editing out lines and sketches about those since accused of serious offenses, such as Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith.
  • Enfant Terrible: Prince William in the early series.
  • Evil Makes You Ugly: Thatcher, whose puppet grew more grotesque and ugly looking as the seasons progressed.
  • Expressive Ears: Prince Charles' ears were able to wiggle.
    • As were Leonard Nimoy's.
  • Eyes Always Shut: Nelson Mandela, Clint Eastwood, Cilla Black, Walter Matthau, Prince Philip, David Bailey, Charles Bronson, Boris Yeltsin, Pope John Paul II, Ian Paisley, John Hurt, Dustin Hoffman, Jimmy Greaves, Geoffrey Howe, Lester Piggot,...
  • Fan Disservice: A surprising amount of sketches depict Maggie with her shirt off.
  • False Friend: Prince Andrew to Charles. Played for Laughs:
    "Help me, Randy. Don't just stab me in the back."
  • 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.
  • Gag Boobs: Claire Rayner.
    • Madonna: in one sketch nobody notices her until she shows them.
  • Gag Lips: Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, Michael Foot, Ringo Starr, Yasser Arafat...
  • Gag Nose: Several characters have one: Margaret Thatcher, Kenneth Williams,Dustin Hoffman, Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Neil Kinnock, Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Eric Cantona, Lester Piggott, Jonathan Miller, Arthur Scargill, Yasser Arafat, Ringo Starr,...
  • 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, à 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.
  • Guttural Growler: Bruce Springsteen.
  • Henpecked Husband: Denis Thatcher.
  • Holier Than Thou: Cliff Richard.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Politicians David Owen and David Steel, whose parties merged into one. They were often depicted as gay lovers, Played for Laughs.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Heseltine and Thatcher's discussion of Belgrano.
  • I Am Not Spock: In-Universe. One sketch has Leonard Nimoy at an audition, complaining about how he is not Spock and that he can play other roles. He then proceeds to directly quote Star Trek in his audition.
    • This is averted in the 1987 where he only refers to himself as Spock. This is used for a joke at the end where Nimoy does not recognize he won an award because they don't call him Spock.
  • I Have This Friend: Mikhail Gorbachev has a friend who runs a large communist country and has a nuclear reactor spewing radiation all over most of Europe.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Suggested by Thatcher as a way to lower unemployment.
  • 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. He even wanted to buy his own puppet when they were auctioned off, but he didn't get it.
    • 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."
    • Michael Heseltine also seemed to love his manic portrayal enough to make multiple bids for the puppet. Reportedly the creators said: “Get Cruise missiles out of Britain and it’s yours...for free.”
    • 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 Iron Ladyish".
    • 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.
    • Mick Jagger was a big fan of the show, and they made fun of him a lot.
  • Kent Brockman News: Rubber News.
  • 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.
  • Knocking on Heathens' Door: A couple of Mormons chap on Cliff Richard's door and instantly regret it.
  • Knuckle Tattoos: One publicity photo of the Queen Mum had her featuring "gin and tonic" on her knuckles.
  • Lantern Jaw of Justice: The puppets of Benito Mussolini, Quentin Tarantino, John Cleese, Prince Philip, Bruce Forsyth, Brian Mulroney and Sarah Ferguson were all depicted with large chins.
  • Large Ham: John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier.
    • Donald Sinden. For example, a sketch features Sinden going into a restaurant and asking, in his plummiest tones, if they serve a ham salad. "Yes sir", replies the waiter. "We serve salad to anyone".
  • Leitmotif: Meetings of the shadow cabinet usually have a bit of "The Red Flag" being played on a tuba in the background.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The show had literally hundreds of puppets!
  • Luvvies: Sir Richard Attenborough.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "What a Wonderful World" becomes "We've Ruined the World."
    • The show 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.
  • Malt Shop: The video for Da Doo Run Ron has one of these populated with world leaders. Lord Lucan is a soda jerk, and Thatcher and Tebbit make out over a milkshake.
  • 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 portrayals, 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.
  • Meet the New Boss: Downplayed for John Major, who was nowhere near as malicious or abusive as Thatcher, but was depicted as an equally incompetent Pointy-Haired Boss who exploited his supporters being even worse.
  • Messy Hair: Ken Dodd, Bob Dylan, Michael Foot,...
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The show spared no one, including the United Kingdom itself!
  • 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: the USA's DC Follies, France's Les Guignols de l'Info, Germany's Hurra Deutschland, Italy's Gommapiuma in The '90s as well as Gli Sgommati in The New '10s, and Israel's Ha'Charzufim.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The majority of the puppets are all based and named on real life celebrities.
  • National Stereotypes: The French will always wear a beret, a striped shirt, have a cigarette between their lips, and onions hanging around their neck.
    • Most foreigners on the show speak with thick accents.
  • Nerd Glasses: Michael Caine, Elton John, Robin Day, weather forecaster Ian Mccaskell, reporter Nigel Cole, Douglas Hurd, Geoffrey Howe, Trevor Macdonald, Woody Allen, Ben Elton,...
  • Nice Hat: Prince Philip's rather fruity Masons headgear. Most of the other members wear bricks on their heads.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Leonard Nimoy's attempt at ruining the 1987 movie awards by rigging the ballots actually ends up making it better for everyone involved.
  • Nightmare Face: Most of the puppets fall into this category!
  • No Budget: Invoked. The USSR broadcaster shown in the Chernobyl episode. The introduction to the news flash that interrupts Potato World consists of one of the generic Soviet puppets holding a title card in front of the camera while singing "Hi-tech Quantel!" to the tune of the News At Ten theme. For closedown, he holds up a black card with a white dot in the middle and whistles.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Subverted, oh, so much subverted!
    • Despite most characters being based on 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.
  • No Indoor Voice:
    • Ian Paisley in the Night Thoughts sketch.
  • 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.
  • Overly Long Tongue: Prince, Alistair Burnett whenever he was near the royals,...
  • Parody Assistance: Sting contributed vocals to Spitting Image's parody of "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, entitled "Every Bomb You Make".
  • Pig Man: Journalists on this show were literally depicted as being pigs.
  • Playing Against Type: In-Universe Leonard Nimoy fails horribly at this in spite of himself.
  • Pointy Ears: Leonard Nimoy's puppet, in reference to his Star Trek character Spock.
  • Product Placement: The introduction of TV cameras into the House of Commons results in a slew of these.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Normal Tebbit interchanged between serving as Thatcher's vicious enforcer or actually joining in on her cabinet's childish antics and teasing.
  • 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 generally popular boy band back in the late 80s but are now solely remembered for "When Will I Be Famous?") and Andrew Strong (lead singer in 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.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Frequently, but most notably Thatcher taking advice from an elderly Hitler and the entire Conservative cabinet singing Tomorrow Belongs To Me.
  • 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.
  • Running Gag:
    • Lord Lucan showing up in multiple roles.
    • John Cole getting hit in the head with a golf club or a stick. In one episode's ending he finally manages to dodge it.
    • Thatcher's alleged baldness.
    • Reagan's senility
    • "South Bank Show" presenter Melvyn Bragg was always seen snorting milk from a baby bottle.
    • The Queen Mum always excusing herself by saying: "I'm 90, you know."
    • One that ran within one episode was the host of various programmes fighting over who had took the BBC sweater.
    • The Pope always spoke with an American accent and used hip 'slang'.
    • Cliff Richard, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Mary Whitehouse were usually featured together and often in situations they would find offensive or blasphemous.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: 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 confusion 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.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Any sketch with Jonathan Miller.
  • She's Got Legs: The Queen, on at least one of the occasions that we see her bottom half.
  • Skull for a Head: In one sketch Joan Rivers was depicted as a living skeleton.
  • So Unfunny, It's Funny: John Major, a man depicted as so uncharismatic that even his skin is a dull grey.
  • Song Parody: Several, including "Da Doo Ron Ron" (about Reagan) and "Walk on By" (following Thatcher's resignation).
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The show departed from its normally refined blend of absurdism and wit with the song "(I've Never Met) A Nice South African". 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.
  • Sour Prudes: Mary Whitehouse, Cliff Richard and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, were often depicted as such. John Mortimer is another censor-crazed prude.
  • Sphere Eyes: Jimmy Savile had googly eyes.
  • Spiritual Successor: The successor to Not the Nine O'Clock News. The spiritual successors to Spitting Image itself were the traditionally animated TwoDTV, 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).
  • Spoonerism: The puppets were by Fluck and Law, the gag wrote itself.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: The Queen finds herself having to compete with Maggie and Ronnie during the National Anthem closedown on her birthday.
  • Squee: Diana's reaction to meeting Simon Le Bon.
  • The Starscream: Michael Heseltine, by the end of Thatcher's tenure. Not that he ever got to be Prime Minister, even after he helped force her out.
  • Stealth Pun: When Arthur Scargill goes to the barber's, his cloth-like hair appears to be growing out of his ears, "cloth ears" being an expression for someone who can't or won't listen.
  • Stepford Smiler: Some puppets were featured with a permanent smile on their face, like Michael Jackson, Jimmy Tarbuck, Bruce Forsythe, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, Esther Rantzen, Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Pope John Paul II.,...
  • Stiff Upper Lip: Margaret on cruise missiles being deployed in Britain:
    "How many times do we have to go through this? All it takes is the right attitude and you can withstand anything."
  • 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!
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: All variations of the chorus for "I've Never Met a Nice South African".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "I've Never Met a Nice South African"
    • And Every Bomb You Make.
  • Take Me to Your Leader: Said verbatim by the alien that has the bad luck to land next to The Two Davids.
    David Owen: Well, now, that's a bit tricky. If you could wait until after the next election...
  • Take That!: Journalists are portrayed as pigs, vultures and wolverines.
  • Teeny Weenie: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a song in which he complains his willie is tiny.
  • Tempting Fate: Prince Charles at a Freemasons meeting:
    "Good Lord, everyone's here. The only person who's not a Mason must be the Pope."
  • This Is a Song: "The Chicken Song" is about an annoying song that you hear on holiday and which seems to follow you everywhere:
    And now you've heard it once,
    Your brain will spring a leak,
    And, though you hate this song,
    You'll be humming it for weeks!
  • Too Dumb to Live: Ronald Reagan, Dan Quayle, Frank Bruno, Laurel and Hardy,...
  • Transatlantic Equivalent: The US's much less biting DC Follies.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: Parodied to death in "The Chicken Song."
  • 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 Un-Favourite: 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.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Mr. Wobble Hides his Helmet".
  • 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 Steel'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 Douglas Hurd also got a more whiny, stupid doll voice.
    • Politician Nigel Lawson's puppet became more sloshed to match his obese appearance.
    • Politician Kenneth Baker was given an exaggeratively oily, nasally voice to match his puppet's (literally) slimy persona.
    • 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.
  • The Voice Less: Harpo Marx.
  • Washy Watchy: In a U.S. election special, an aide informs Ronald Reagan that he's not watching TV but the washing machine. Reagan turns a dial on it and continues watching.
    Aide: Mr. President, that's still the washing machine.
    Reagan: What, on both channels?
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Maggie can be occasionally be seen sleeping in a Union Jack housecoat.
  • Wild Mass Guessing: The content of Criminal Libel.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: One sketch features Len Murray winning on The Price Is Right due to the correct answer being "keeping your mouth shut".
  • Yet Another Baby Panda: On one occasion, Sir Alastair Burnet begs John Craven for a happy story to finish off the "grown-up" news.
  • Your Head A-Splode: David Coleman's head explodes as a result of hyperactive commentating.
    • So did Norma Major's head in one of the "pea dinner" sketches.
  • Your Nose A Splode: Sir Alastair Burnet.

Tropes of the reboot:

  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: Foxman, Keir Starmer's superhero alter ego.
  • Artistic License – Politics: The reboot has a musical number where the leaders of Spain, France and Greece desparately beg Dominic Raab to not allow British tourists to visit following the lifting of COVID travel restrictions... only they went with Greece's President, Katerina Sakellaropoulou. Her job is purely ceremonial, and the real leader of Greece is the Prime Minister.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
  • Brick Joke: Future Elon Musk tells his past self to go to Mars and bring a bicycle pump. Musk understands the first, but not the second. Until he gets there and tries to blow up his house with no atmosphere.
  • The Bully: In one sketch, Priti Patel (Boris Johnson's Home State) is portrayed as one towards her fellow Cabinet members, satirising her very nasty reputation for bullying. Throughout the sketch, she physically and verbally assaults all of her coworkers, and Boris Johnson dismisses it as "harmless banter".
  • Butt-Monkey: James Corden, Prince Andrew, and Matt Hancock.
  • Canis Latinicus: Boris Johnson has a tendency to use fake-Latin phrases, likely as an attempt to invoke Smart People Know Latin to cover up the fact that he isn't actually all that intelligent.
  • Canon Foreigner: Most, if not all, of the puppets are real people. The sole major exception seems to be Lee, the apathetic friend of Greta Thunberg.
  • Care-Bear Stare: Rishi Sunak's perfume, which is described as "liquid kindness", ends up causing Priti Patel to melt.
  • Charity Motivation Song: Parodied by the Christmas special's "Celebrities stop Climate Change" song.
  • Chrome Dome Psi: Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's bald-headed adviser, is portrayed as an alien with mind-control powers.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Joe Biden is portrayed as this due to his infamous gaffes.
  • Consulting Mister Puppet: Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, is portrayed as a static, mute mannequin.
  • Dance Sensation: One sketch has Xi Jinping trying to start one on TikTok, which is called "The Jinping Shuffle". Of course, since this is Xi Jinping, this "dance" is just a ploy to get peoples' personal information on the internet. Some of the dance's moves include zooming in on each of your retinas, typing the PIN for your bank account, and yelling out your name, address, and age.
  • Deadly Gaze: One sketch portrays Priti Patel as being able to curdle milk just by staring at it.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Mike Pence.
  • Egomaniac Hunter: Prince William says in one sketch that the reason he wants to preserve Britain's countryside and natural beauty is so he and his kids could have a place to shoot grouse.
  • Exotic Entree: One sketch has Xi Jinping, who is portrayed throughout the show as a totalitarian Villain with Good Publicity, serving dinner to other world leaders, and one of the dishes on the menu is pangolin meat.
  • Female Monster Surprise: In one sketch, when Boris Johnson meets with a human-sized coronavirus face-to-face, he is surprised to hear a feminine voice coming out of its mouth. This causes him to fall in love with the virus and have sex with it.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: The recurring "Mike Pence's Fairy Tales for White Folk" segment; retellings of classic fairy tales with a strongly conservative bent. For example, a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood where Little Red stops the wolf from attacking her by pulling a gun on him, which is sponsored by the NRA.
  • Gag Lips: Boris Johnson, Kim Kardashian...
  • Gag Nose: Michael Gove's nose resembles a Gag Penis, while his cheeks are a ballsack.
  • Gold Digger: Melania Trump is portrayed this way. One sketch portrays her as a vampire, except instead of draining blood from her victims, she drains money.
  • Hereditary Hairstyle: Nine months after an affair with a human-sized coronavirus, Boris Johnson goes into the maternity ward of a hospital and sees a coronavirus with his iconic messy blond hair. He, of course, denies that it's his.
  • King Incognito: Prince Harry trying to adjust to life as a commoner in Los Angeles.
  • Monstrous Germs: COVID-19 is a blue coronavirus with a mouth and eyes on sticks, which later gets enlarged to people-size after Trump invites it into his cabinet.
  • The Necrocracy: Priti Patel, Secretary of State in Boris Johnson's government, is depicted as a vampire.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Despite being born and raised in New York City, one sketch shows Ivanka Trump as going to a fancy restaurant there and getting thrown out, because of the disdain most New Yorkers have for her father.
  • N-Word Privileges: Priti Patel has the unique ability to express "unpopular conservative opinions only [she] can get away with" because she's a woman of color.
  • Running Gag:
    • Dominic Cummings wanting to eat Boris Johnson's infant son.
    • Prince Andrew getting smacked in the back of the head with a wooden board whenever he appears, as a continuance of John Cole getting hit in the head in the original.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Joe Biden is a senile, gaffe-prone crone just like Reagan in the original.
  • The Starscream: Series 2 features a song where Kamala Harris, Prince Charles, and James Corden fantasize about their superiors (Joe Biden, Queen Elizabeth, and Stephen Colbert respectively) dying of a heart attack so that they could take over their positions.
  • Shoddy Knockoff Product: One sketch parodies China's tendency to produce these, and centers around Kanye West complaining to Xi Jinping about how the Chinese are making bootleg Yeezys (which, as it turns out, cost just as much to make as genuine ones) and selling them at a lower price. Xi Jinping then reveals that he's made a bootleg version of Kanye West himself, named "Comye East", who then goes to the VMAs in Kanye's place.
  • Team Dad: One sketch portrays Keir Starmer as one to his shadow cabinet, and exaggeratedly so. Apparently, his shadow cabinet is so loyal to and dependent upon him that they all act like his children, complete with appropriately youthful clothing and high-pitched voices.
  • Technologically Blind Elders: The reboot has a series of sketches about David Attenborough trying and failing to use Instagram.
  • They Killed Kenny Again: James Corden is frequently killed off.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • Donald Trump is portrayed as being obsessed with hamburgers.
    • Boris Johnson seems to be quite fond of sausages.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: When Boris Johnson gets possessed by Margaret Thatcher, his Cabinet members read in a spell book that the only way to stop it is with a blood sacrifice, which has to be a virgin. They, of course, pick Matt Hancock.
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: Rishi Sunak goes through one in the Series 2 Christmas special.


Video Example(s):


The Spy Who Lived in Australia

The Spitting Image spoof regarding Peter Wright, who wrote an expose about MI5 that the British government tried to ban, starts with Wright doing the usual Bond intro, except he turns to spurt ink over the screen with a fountain pen.

How well does it match the trope?

4.5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / BondGunBarrel

Media sources: