Documentary telling the story of the genesis of the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, with contributions from caricaturists Peter Fluck and Roger Law and producer John Lloyd.
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This programme contains some strong language.
MUSIC: Symphony No. 1 in D major, "Titan", by Gustav Mahler
-ECHOING MRS THATCHER:
-And I can announce
exactly what we're going to do for the next five years...
MURMURS OF APPROVAL
..whatever we like!!
MUSIC: "Another Green World" by Brian Eno
MUSIC: "Das Lied Vom Tod" by Ennio Morricone
'Did you, in all the years of the broadcast,
'ever run into someone whom you regarded as untouchable?
'"We just can't deal with this one?"'
'the business of Mr Tebbit drinking a human body -
'do you find that amusing?'
It set out as a satirical show,
which means it's got to deal with prominent, famous people.
And you realise with your horror when you start
just how many of them there are.
MUSIC: "The Rocks" by Jimmy Yancey
-Are we agreed on the first record?
Yes, the first record is Jimmy Yancey playing The Rocks.
This is a record we remember very well
from my art school days, where the sort of early jazz piano
suited the lifestyle of the time.
If you actually go in a pub on Monday lunchtime
and you hear people talking about television,
they will always say, "Did you see Spitting Image last night?"
-I didn't actually
-Spitting Image last week,
but it was disgusting!
You can never embarrass politicians by giving them publicity.
-Do you enjoy it, though? Do you watch it and enjoy it?
I don't watch it.
Wrong, Mr Hattersley! I am a bully!
This is the prerogative of those who are jealous,
who haven't been able to achieve anything in public life themselves,
who have no sense of responsibility,
and who, therefore, will, at the end,
pass on feeling that they've had a useless life.
It is 30 years since Spitting Image first hit our screens,
and we have the creators of the show coming to the BFI Southbank.
I think the show, really, has never left the airwaves.
I think it's true to say the programme has remained in the ether.
It actually made
young people connect with political issues.
It was just a brilliant way -
through making politics entertaining
it made young people connect with politics.
How many shows on television
can we say that about now?
And I think that's a really great legacy of the show.
I was just going to say I think...
I think if you look at what happened in the '60s,
the sort of That Was The Week That Was,
that was very much sort of broadsheet satire.
It was about issues.
Spitting Image came along and it was much more tabloid in many ways.
It was about personalities as much as it was about issues,
and I think it just took that a step further.
Would you like to order, Sir?
Yes. I will have a steak.
-How'd you like it?
And what about the vegetables?
Oh, they'll have the same as me.
-Another choice of record.
Well, this is Please, Mrs Henry by Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan's been with us... I mean, he's roughly the same age.
I love this record because it always reminds me of the trouble we had
with landladies in the early days, both in Cambridge and in London.
# Now don't crowd me, lady,
# Or I'll fill up your shoe.
# I'm a sweet bourbon daddy
# And tonight I am blue
# I'm a thousand years old
# And I'm a generous mum.
# I'm T-boned and punctured
# I've been known to be calm
# Please, Mrs Henry, Mrs Henry, please
# Please Mrs Henry, Mrs Henry, please.
# I'm down on my knees
# And I ain't got a dime... #
We'd like to work for a mass market,
for as large a circulation as possible.
Otherwise, you may as well just do your work
and put it in a Bond Street art gallery,
and have it seen by informed people,
and they'll make a judgment on it without being affected by it.
We work through photography.
I think people are conditioned to see photographs and to believe them.
If you give them a photograph of a caricature, I think there's
an element of the double take.
Are they looking at the real person? What are they looking at?
It's their first reaction.
-Let's have some music, then, John. What's next?
Well, this is an Irish band called The Waterboys, who I'm very fond of,
and a song called The Raggle Taggle Gypsy.
And I come from an Anglo-Irish background,
at least on my father's side,
and he was in the Navy,
and so, as children, we were shipped all over the world
and so the gypsy side is that sort of wandering sailor's son thing.
# There was three old gypsies came to our hall door
# They came brave and boldly-o
# And the one sang high and the other sang low... #
In 1979 I went to television hoping for a job
as a trainee floor manager and,
for reasons, again, un-given,
I was offered a series of six half-hours as a television producer.
And the only condition was I had to work with an insane young
current affairs producer called Sean Hardie
who kept putting jokes into Panorama.
They didn't want him, so I got him,
and that was the start of Not The Nine O'Clock News.
Mrs Thatcher revealed in the House of Commons today
that a man called Sir Alec Douglas-Home
was Prime Minister for several years in the '60s.
The Queen, who was never told,
has since stripped him of his knighthood.
I think it's terribly important
that comedy ought to be able to comment
on world events, and to deal with real things in a way that dramas
and documentaries and even children's programmes are allowed to.
John Lloyd knew how to get a show on TV.
And he took it on board, and it pulled the idea together.
I think that Spitting Image was a sort of hybrid
between the tradition that Scarfe comes out of,
that we came out of, English comic art, English satirical art,
and John Lloyd, of course, is out of Footlights.
So it's that hybrid between Oxbridge Footlights
and a traditional form of visual art, and Punch and Judy.
Who's that? That's...
That's Stalin manipulating Brezhnev.
From beyond the grave.
'We'd worked with Tony Hendra before on The National Lampoon.
'He was a very good print satirist, and he was Footlights.
'I mean, Peter Cook used to call him the bubonic plagiarist.'
He does actually have an enormous hooter.
'And he had the idea of making the puppets move
'by computer animated mouth.'
What I'll do is just black that out and I'll superimpose the mouth
in there, and the mouth will actually be talking at you.
OK, so you're going to take that back to the States
and send us a piece of tape?
Yeah, it'll be interesting trying to get it
through New York customs, though.
Two kilos of uncut Whitelaw.
He disappeared with Willie Whitelaw,
and, you know, we never saw it again.
Well, we used to enjoy working
with journalists who were good journalists.
Murdoch came along and the whole thing went down the tubes,
and we realised that we were just about out of business.
With new technology, everyone could have their own magazine
and the budgets had gone.
You couldn't do caricatures that took a week,
have it photographed by a high-class photographer on 5/4
and expect to make a living. We knew we were in trouble.
MUSIC: "Blue Monday" by the Brythoniaid Male Voice Choir
It's 6:30, Monday January 17th, 1983.
You're watching the first edition of BBC television's
Breakfast Time, Britain's first ever
regular early morning television programme.
-Oh, my giddy aunt!
'1983 was a crucial year in all kinds of ways.
'What was going on, and the kind of very sedate sofas'
of new breakfast television, the election that had happened.
But there was a time bomb
waiting to explode under all of them.
If we could make the move and get them onto television,
it's not going to be the kind of television
that washes over you from the corner.
You know, it's not Good Morning BBC TV.
It's going to really upset people.
So that was my feeling about it, and that was exciting.
That made you want to do it, I really wanted to do it.
# When you've laid your hands upon me
# And told me who you are... #
-Margaret Thatcher returns to Downing Street
with the biggest majority since 1945.
It was a time of major turmoil, and nobody was really expressing
what the great British public actually thought.
They were much crosser, much more pissed off about it.
There was a time bomb, and it was a time bomb that had been set,
not by Al-Qaeda or any kind of people
who knew what they were doing,
but by a bunch of complete amateurs in many respects.
One night, and I have to say it really was
in the middle of the night, I suddenly sat up in bed
and said, "It's puppets,
"and it's Roger Law and Peter Fluck."
Well, they could see the caricatures that we'd done,
and you didn't have to be, you know, a scientist
to realise that if they moved, well, fantastic.
So, when we came up with the notion of making the caricatures move,
there wasn't really a shortage of Thatcherite entrepreneurs
queueing up round the block, you know.
We were happy to take their money.
We took something like 70,000 quid off Sinclair,
the home computer fellow.
And we got to work on our puppets, doing them,
and the person that had interfaced between Sinclair and Peter and I
came round to the chapel where we were working and said,
"What kind of people are you?
"You've had £70,000, and you can't even say thank you."
-And Fluck shouted down the stairs, "You can't buy
Yes, we were very ungrateful.
I mean, he took it back again. He had some trouble up in Dundee
and needed the 60 grand back again.
# I thought I told you to leave me
# While I walked down to the beach
MACHINERY CLANKING, THUNDER CRASHES
# Tell me how does it feel
# When your heart grows cold... #
OK, take it up a bit.
It's alive, it's moving!
It's alive! Oh, it's alive!
It's alive, it's alive!!
In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God!
-Send in the Chancellor, will you?
The fight to win the next election starts immediately,
and I will participate in those discussions,
and of course I took exception to the full.
My responsibility is in the selection.
'On the basis of this and some of Fluck and Law's postcards,
'we went round, we hawked our product and our CVs
'round all the television companies.'
I took the existing static photographs of
Roger and Peter's models, and I combined them
with a kind of pitch.
Nowadays to think that you could get a multimillion pound
television series off the ground with something like this is...
Well, my younger colleagues in television would laugh,
as would indeed you.
I think I led a sheltered life. I didn't know that John
had previously offered it to Thames or to LWT,
and that they'd both turned it down, but I was not going to turn it down.
I think that we needed a little bit of healthy political disrespect
and perhaps a bit of anarchy in the weekend schedule.
And in London, it is breakfast time!
-Anything in the post today?
-Nothing much, Norman.
Norman Tebbit was the character that we all came to love and endure,
both as a person and as a puppet, but Thatcher,
as you can see, is dressed in a way that she never was in the series.
Her eyes don't move and her voice is a completely different voice,
cos we hadn't discovered Steve Nallon yet.
By the way, Norman, how are your children?
Delicious, thank you, leader.
Really, Norman, you are a sight.
Let me get you someone to blow your nose on.
'I committed £60,000 to a pilot.'
£60,000 at the time was a lot of money.
It was certainly more than you'd commit to a sitcom pilot
or a game show pilot.
It was getting towards drama money, really.
Nobody had done this before.
The nearest they'd come to doing anything like this was The Muppets,
and this turned out to be 1,000 times more complicated than The Muppets.
We had to make the show in Birmingham
because the unions insisted,
and the unions were very powerful in those days.
And we had to then ship the first few years all the way up to Birmingham
in an enormous lorry, increasingly larger lorries
as we got more and more puppets,
and come back down again and start again,
so the work schedule was made difficult by that
sort of endless round and round commute, as well.
It was quite clear we knew absolutely nothing
about television whatsoever, about budgets, or studios,
directing, script writing, script editing...
The whole nightmare world, you know?
John, there is still a shadow problem here,
if we can be aware of that.
Perhaps lighting can help?
That's it, read them the riot act.
We went up there to Birmingham and met a bunch of people
who'd basically been used to making Crossroads.
-OK in five...
-Four, three, two, one...
I hoped we might have a word.
So had I.
When you're ready.
Oh, I'm ready.
We're not rushing you?
Don't worry about me, David, I'm not easily pushed.
How about lunch?
# His name is Ronald Reagan and he's quite a guy...
# You've got to re-elect him and we'll tell you why...
And the first few weeks were awful, because they hated us.
You know, all these beardy hippies coming up from London
with lots of lapsed Catholics, lots of ex-communists,
you know, mad people who'd never been in a studio,
kept standing in front of the cameras, tripping over the wires,
and all these decent, you know, Brummies in sort of brown suits
and sensible brogues and all that suddenly being asked to work till...
Well, literally all-nighters the first few weeks.
And they just, they couldn't believe what had happened to them.
# Yeah, he's 73.
# Yeah, he's just ran into a tree...! #
I always think that television's strange because there are things
you're supposed not to do on television that people do in
the pub or in their own homes every day.
And that's all we're trying to do,
just do ordinary things to make ordinary people laugh, really.
And it's not there to offend or to outrage,
it's there to be funny. That's the main thing.
First, Spitting Image, Central's new puppet show,
which satirises people in the public eye.
OK, here we go, chaps.
Puppets up, please.
-Three, two, one..
'What was the first show like?
'Well, all I can say is that none of my friends would speak to me
'the first two or three shows.
'They said, "Well, it's just shit, you know.
'"It's just complete crap, what do you think you're doing?"'
# Hail to the chief
# Who in triumph advances
# Honoured and blessed be the ever-green pine... #
ALARM CLOCK RINGS
Oh, My God!
-Good morning, Mr President.
May God be with you, Ed.
Mr President, may God be with you.
I'm almost affronted by the savagery of the caricatures,
cos some of them are really very, very upsetting.
Excuse me, sir.
MUSIC BOX JINGLE
Ah, got him!
Hang on just a second, Mr President.
That's one, and...that'll do it.
OK. Ready, Sir?
It is the script, I'm afraid.
Very patchy, and I don't know,
I gather there's about a battalion of writers working on this,
and I think you ought to really take one in ten out and shoot them.
Hungry for lead, Ed.
Up a little!
Oh, that was good!
Fantastic, Sir. This might even get the young people on your side.
You mean Congress?
Sometimes it seems that they go for a target and completely
overshoot it, and sometimes they seem to fall short of the target.
I mean, very rarely does it seem to just hit on that very spot
that should be, "Yes, it's a satire," I suppose.
Will Ed Meese find the tiny organ?
Will the president be able to function?
Will it make any difference to US foreign policy?
Tune in next week for the second episode of
The President's Brain Is Missing!
The best thing about the first programme was it allowed
the second one to happen, and so on, cos we had to learn on our feet.
The first few shows, there were theoretically five producers
who had to sign off on everything,
and it couldn't be done, we couldn't make a decision,
so, gradually, you know, people got moved or shifted or fired,
to the point where one person had to be the funnel.
I didn't know what I now know -
that the team were at each other's throats for half of the time.
I noticed you've got this cricket bat here.
Do you play?
No, I carry this partly out of...
I don't know, sort of, er...
I suppose, what's the word...?
I mean, it's a kind of totemistic thing, you know,
but to be quite frank with you
it's come in useful in a couple of situations.
Certainly in the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock,
having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is quite often...
It was quite obvious fairly soon that Tony
and John Lloyd couldn't be...
wouldn't work as a team of producers,
it was either one or the other.
Eventually, that changed
and it became this much simpler structure,
that Hendra left, Blair did all the money and I did all the, you know,
basically the editorial and creative side.
And that started to work.
After Hendra left, Lloyd brought in two Northern boys,
Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, to make the show funny
and to make it topical, and they were there
to lower the tone, and, my God, they certainly did!
Dear, dear, Larry.
Dear, dear, dear Johnny.
So, how've you been keeping, Johnny?
Tell me the news.
I've grown a beard.
Ah! A beard!
Here, on the end of my chin.
Of course, there it is, of course.
How foolish of me.
No, no, no, no, it's not there now.
It fell off this morning over breakfast.
Dear, dear, dear beardy.
Yes, poor beardy.
-I loved old beardy.
-We both did.
They've all gone now.
-Beardy, sconey, Rafey.
After a while, it became sort of a mix
and the puppeteers and the, the puppet makers would come up
with ideas for puppets,
which we would incorporate and we would come up with ideas
for puppets which they would go and build.
The pressure meant that you could never make things properly.
You'd get phone calls from John Lloyd in Central saying,
"I need eight camels by the morning, Rog, can you do that?"
And all of that really got on your nerves,
because you never really did anything.
But the trade-off was you could make the political statements
you wanted to make, so it was sort of worth it.
Why do we pay a police constable who's just started
more than we pay a ward sister?
Tell him, Norman!!
Foul pest, when were you last in an NHS hospital
for, let's say...
Never. I've got private healthcare.
Now, when did you last cause a near riot
by depriving the NHS of nurses and doctors and extra funds?
I do that all the time!
Ergo, you need police protection.
You mean we pay the police a high salary to protect us
from the people we take the money from
to pay the police a high salary?
And it was the puppeteers saying the scripts weren't any good...
-The voice-over people saying the scripts weren't any good...
-The critics saying the scripts weren't any good.
Yes, I remember that bit.
When Spitting Image started,
many reviews said the puppets were brilliant
but the scripts were terrible, and as I had nothing to do
with making the puppets and I was responsible for the scripts,
I was a little bit hurt.
The puppets are brilliant, but I don't think much of the script.
I had a wonderful letter from a woman who said
she couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.
Because she thought the scripts were absolutely wonderful,
but she couldn't comment on whether the puppets were any good or not
because she was blind.
-Would you like to order, Sir?
-Yes, I will have a steak.
-How'd you like it?
And what about the vegetables?
Oh, they'll have the same as me.
In the past, most caricaturists have worked by themselves.
Now, I think the best caricaturists are obsessive.
The best ones work obsessively.
And I think probably have a deeply distrustful nature.
And maybe romantics or idealists,
or moralists or social reformers,
they object to what's around them,
but the ability to make people laugh at a funny face
is a fascinating tool and a weapon.
When I look back on Spitting Image all those years ago,
and let's face, it is 30 years ago, as we know,
it seems like it happened to somebody else, so I can look at it now
in a very kind of forgiving, cheerful way, the pain has long since gone.
I don't throw my dinner at the television any more.
That's a good sign. You know.
But that was the kind of thing that made you want to do Spitting Image.
But, you know, just be careful of what you want.
You needed huge amounts of energy.
I mean, the amount of, you know...
..uplifting drugs that went through Spitting Image so that people
could actually cope with the amount of work, 60 hours, 80 hours a week.
The only people that survived at Spitting Image were people
who had high energy.
We used to be a nice two-handed partnership, a couple of gentlemen
in velvet jackets and shiny shoes producing caricatures for the press.
But things have changed,
now we're satisfying the needs of television in this factory.
Yes, the London Enterprise Board's answer to Gdansk.
This is the first caricature sweatshop in the world.
Perhaps the last.
And it's full of very young people who have to sleep
-under the benches at night.
-If they get any sleep at all.
Well, the very first thing is the photographic reference comes in
and then we go over there to the modelling.
When the modelling's completed it goes into the mould room,
where it's moulded.
There are master moulders over there.
Once the thing's moulded
it then goes into the foam room to be foamed.
Once it's foamed it comes back over here to the puppet makers
who fit up the skulls inside.
They also make the eyes over there by the machine shop
and they're then fitted in.
Then after that it goes through to this room again to be painted,
for the paint work to be done.
You see that stack of boxes over there?
They're put into boxes in alphabetical order,
taken down in that very small lift that you saw,
on to a lorry and driven to Birmingham,
where the show's made in three days.
I know, I know, let's call him Bing!
-We haven't had a Bing in the family for ages.
I still don't see what's wrong with Charles.
We're not going to call him Charles!
OK, how about Dick?
No, no, wait, John Thomas.
-No, no, no.
Listen, here's one - Zorba, or Stavros.
We're not calling him Gordon.
Look, I'm going to settle the whole thing - Donna.
Oh, like Donna Summer?
No, doner kebab!
Theakston's Old Peculiar!!
Look, here's a totally off-the-wall suggestion...
-No, not Charles!
Ah, we're trying to think of a name for the baby, darling.
-Tell me what you think of...?
I've decided he's going to be called Henry.
Well, all my friends are called Henry, OK?
Oh, wonderful, hooray! Henry it is then.
Yes, hooray, Henry!
Good, I'll christen him.
I name this baby Henry.
May God bless him and all who sail in him.
Oh, what a waste!
Spitting Image caused such a stir that for the first six shows -
I believe uniquely in the history of television -
I had actually to go to defend it line by line
and word for word to the Independent Broadcasting Authority
at their headquarters in the Brompton Road.
UPPER CLASS VOICE: "Oh, yes, hello again, John."
'The business of Mr Tebbit drinking a human body -
'do you find that amusing?'
I said, "Oh, no, sir, I don't find it amusing at all."
"You don't find it amusing?"
"No, it's not meant to be funny, sir."
"No, sir, as you will remember, it's actually an homage
"to Dean Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal of 1729,
"where he suggests that if the Irish
"are short of potatoes because of the famine,
"there are plenty of babies for them to eat instead."
"Oh, satire! Oh, lovely!
"Lovely, lovely. That's fine."
Caricature is exaggeration.
Punch and Judy would be...
It's about hitting each other.
It's about being...
It's about being extremely rude,
which I had a talent for,
The puppets have the same advantage as an animated Disney character has.
You can run it over with a car, it would go flat
and then get and up stand up again and go back into business.
Well, with puppets, you can bang 'em around.
As television comedy, Spitting Image goes
probably a lot further than That Was The Week went.
But people are less shocked.
You can't come on and have Millicent Martin singing
mildly topical songs. No-one's going to say, "Ooh!" anymore.
You have to go further than that to get people's attention.
Just cut it in a style that will be universally popular.
The skills came from, you know,
us having to find people who could help us.
And for us it was the people who had worked with The Muppet Show.
-Oh, I'm 92!
Get out of my way!
'You can't really see, and to try and mask your head
'as much as possible you've got the clothes over your face.
'You've got wires dangling off you for the eyes, and you've'
probably got another person wrapped around you operating a hand,
who if you move comes with you.
Puppeteers know each other,
so you find a puppeteer,
you'll get ten others knocking on the door.
How do you see what the puppet's doing then?
Well, we have a monitor, a television monitor at our feet
we can look down at and see exactly what's going on.
The picture on the monitor is reversed so that
we've actually got a mirror.
This is for item 19.
This is the 19th set of the programme.
19 in one day?!
I think we've got round to 19, yeah.
'We have to put everything at two feet.
'That was decided after many experiments,
'that that was the optimum!
'So everything's two feet,
'so our floor is always two feet from the studio floor.'
-And this is all the thanks I get.
'After the first probably six, eight shows
'you had a crew that was all onside,
'that everybody was prepared to put in these hours,'
and they believed in it, because these same guys,
who'd go to the pub formerly and said, "I make Crossroads,"
and people go, "Oh, yeah? Really?",
they say, "I make Spitting Image." "You do Spitting Image?!"
'"Yeah, I do all the sound effects."'
Yes, I tell you what, er, let's use the cup.
-Er, you put the mic up, John?
Once again, then.
'We employed some terrifically talented young guys
'who were much cleverer than we were,
'who could really do it, you know,
'Tim Watts, David Stoten, Pablo Bach.'
'We have about...between anything from about three costumes
'to about ten costumes to make in two days,'
so some weeks you might get a bit more time
and other weeks you don't get any time at all.
'I've got a feeling, with Mrs Thatcher,
'that if I was going to improve her image that's exactly what'
I would have suggested,
that she actually does go in for a three-quarter wig
and has a permanent hairdo, and almost...a guaranteed image.
-'One of the lifers on the team was Scott Brooker,
'and he was the only person that knew how to make a proper puppet.
'Out of all of us.
'And all the animals you see, the white cat, the dogs,
'the anteater, they're all Scott Brooker's.'
Yeeees? HE SIGHS
Who is it?
For my age I'm wearing quite well.
Little rips in the latex start to appear as one gets older.
That's the trouble with being a puppet.
-'We had the very, very best voice artists
'but at first it was all impersonation,
'and Harry Enfield made the breakthrough.
'He took one look at the puppet
'and thought, "This has to be a voice caricature,"
'and that's the way it went.'
Douglas Hurd's another one of mine that I used to do.
When he first came in...
I decided to do him because Leon Brittan got sacked and he got...
And I thought, I might be out of a job,
I'd better learn the new Home Secretary.
And, er, I heard him and, you know, he's always very slightly irritated,
isn't he, just very slightly, in normal life.
It doesn't matter what you ask him, "How's it going in the Middle East?"
and he says, "Well, it's not a question of how it's GOING."
Just very slightly cross.
But, erm...the puppet...
Roger Law came up with this ridiculous puppet
with a sort of ice-cream-cone head,
and it was obvious it needed a sort of huge sort of voice,
so I just turned him into Fozzie Bear,
and took the sort of slight growl in his voice,
and MADE IT INTO A HUGE GROWL... so that the whole head could move,
and then it worked with the puppet.
There's been a bomb in Oxford Street!
There's been a bomb in Oxford Street!!
-You are, you dreadful old witch!!
'Chris Barrie, he worked as a puppeteer.
'He really could take a voice apart.'
AS RONALD REAGAN: When I became president,
someone told me I had a voice.
Then I opened my mouth...hahahaha... and here it came.
-I'm still discovering many other things about my body.
-And Mags is helping me. Aren't you, Mags?
-No, Ronnie, I'm not.
Is this a two-shot?
One of my treasured memories is John Lloyd saying, "This is Steve Nallon.
"He's Mrs Thatcher."
You know, Spitting Image portray me as someone who is out of touch,
someone who has no humanity. Well, the truth is, I care.
I care a great deal.
I care, I care, I care, and don't you ever forget it!
The rhythm of the voice is more important than the sort of tone.
For example, you can do an impression of Hattersley
without actually speaking.
So you can go, "Buh-buh-buh-bluh-bluh,
"bluh-buh-bluh, buh-buh-bluh-buh. Bluh-buh-bluh, buh-bluh! Bluh-buh."
And you get an idea of what he's saying, even though
he isn't making any...words, because the rhythm's there.
I've gone off the idea of red, Roy.
It says red all over it. I prefer grey, like this.
Er, that's blue, Neil.
No, bluey-grey. And I'm a bit concerned about the name Labour.
Labour. Makes us sound like a bunch of lefties.
We are a bunch of lefties.
But Labour sounds totally wrong.
You can't imagine saying Labour Government or Labour Prime Minister.
-Well, what would you prefer?
-Something beginning with, er, a C.
-Er, C... C...
-Con... Conservation Party.
-It starts well.
Er, Neil, are you thinking what I'm thinking?
Put the wig on, Roy.
How's it feel?
I have this strange urge to kiss Ronald Reagan's leathery bottom.
It was getting 15 million viewers.
That was more people than it took to elect the Tory government,
which I think was 13 and a half million voters,
and it gave you an extraordinary amount of clout.
'Both of you are the same height.
'Why do you think the Spitting Image people came up with
'the notion that YOU were in the brass pocket?
'Is it because David Owen seemed the more saturnine...?'
-'No, David's taller than I am.
-No, I'm quite a bit taller.
'I think that...
'I mean, I was always portrayed in cartoons as being very small,
'which I don't think I am particularly,
I'm 5 foot 9 and a half,
'but that was the way the cartoonists saw me.'
Apparently the Liberal Party did a survey which showed
that our portrayal of David Steel
did them enormous electoral harm,
which we didn't necessarily set out to do.
Who will be the leader?
-Again, David, one word from your name and one word from mine.
Er, which words?
Well, from yours, David, I thought we'd take the word David.
-David. And from yours, David?
What about Owen?
So, it's David Owen, head of the Social Democratic Party?
Well, that's put my mind at rest. Thank you very much, David.
David, have you just burst the hot water bottle?
-No, David, I...
-DAVID OWEN GROANS
We can't take the blame for bringing them down.
I mean, it's hardly our fault. And we were just...
I think Spitting Image just does mirror
what's going on in the real world.
And is this the first time puppets have been at the top?
Up ten at one, The Chicken Song, Spitting Image.
# ..chicken in the air, stick a deck chair up your nose
# Buy a jumbo jet and then bury all your clothes
# Paint your left knee green then extract your wisdom teeth
# Form a string quartet and pretend your name is Keith... #
CHICKEN SONG ON RADIO
-'In Birmingham I'd get up
'at five in the morning to read all the papers
'and then have studio all day, all the way through the day,
'and at lunch break you'd have writing problems.'
# Wear salami in your ears
# Casserole your gran Disembowel yourself... #
'When the recording was finished at normal time,
'six or seven o'clock, then there'd be all the issues.
'You know, angry puppeteers,
'"I don't want to work with him, he smells," or whatever it is,
'and so you'd have four pints of lager
'and then there'd be arguments about the miners' strike
'or Roger would throw a sofa at me.'
John and I used to have incredible stand-up screaming matches,
And he'd say...
"Well, I mean, your just sort of left wing...diatribe, Rog,"
and you'd say, "She's not interested in the left wing any more, John,
"she's interested in people like you!
-Meaning Mrs Thatcher?
-Yes. Mrs Thatcher.
"She's after your tail now, mate, she's finished with us."
And so those conversations...
I doubt those conversations happen in...
even in the newsrooms in the television these days.
'And I'd fall into bed exhausted at about 2:30 in the morning
'and have to get up in two hours.
'And I would often find myself sitting in the bath,
'aged 31 or 32, just crying, just thinking,
'nobody should have to do this, this is impossible.
HORROR FILM STYLE MUSIC
'It was very much more complicated than anything I'd done.
'And Geoffrey Perkins kind of saved my life
'by coming in on the third series
'to produce it and run it, so I could kind of relax a bit.'
Ooh-er, world driving championship.
'I started on the show as a script editor
'and six months later I was producing it.'
Which was... Which was fantastic.
'By the end of the third series it was running.
'You know, it was a machine.
'Geoffrey took over, he was very good at it, erm,
'and there was nothing for me to do, really.
'Well, I left Spitting Image in a huff, I was kind of tired out,'
and resigned, and so after Spitting Image I went off to do
two series of Blackadder, the third and the fourth series,
and I was briefly a television presenter.
I basically decided, "I'm going to have some fun now.
"I don't want to be a public servant any more."
Geoffrey Hicklin from Nottingham rang in to say that he finds
Spitting Image very irresponsible.
-"It's disrespectful to government leaders and to royalty."
-Do you bother about what people think?
-Er, yes, we do. I...
I'm glad that he does find it's irresponsible
and disrespectful because that is exactly what it's supposed to be.
As you know, I won't be here forever. GASPS
And my successor, well, might be someone from round this table,
because you are the only people I feel I can trust these days.
CLEARING OF THROATS
-About that, Margaret...
-I'm afraid we just can't work with you any more.
-What do you mean?!
One, two, three, four!
# Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again
# We'll sing a song of cheer again, happy days are here again! #
Politicians today strike me as being so much more colourless than
-they were, sort of five, even ten years ago.
-Is that a problem?
-It is a problem. PEOPLE are more bland these days.
I mean, you know, the pop stars like Jason Donovan,
they're not as sort of colourful as they were a few years ago,
and a lot of the colourful members of the Cabinet,
like Nigel Lawson, Leon Brittan, Heseltine, they've gone,
or were kicked out, you know, but they've...
And the thing is now that you've got a lot of grey men,
a lot of young, up-and-coming Tories,
and they're sort of... characterless.
Last record is, er, Frank Sinatra.
-Sinatra singing The Best Is Yet To Come.
-Not eating your peas, dear?
-Ooh, no. I'm saving them till last.
# The best is yet to come come the day you're mine
# Come the day you're mine
# I'm gonna teach you to fly
# We've only tasted the wine
# We're gonna drain the cup dry... #
We've got a call now, Daniel McAdams. Hello, Daniel. What's your question?
Where does he get the ideas for the Spitting Image dummies?
I probably slightly reduced the amount of politics.
I really wanted the show to be a popular show
and for it to be funny above all else.
The writers wanted to do different things, and a new generation
of writers came along who weren't particularly interested in politics.
And we accommodated SOME of that.
Jon Culshaw, and I'm responsible for, let's see, Mr Motivator,
Harry Carpenter, Wolf from the Gladiators,
Ian Paisley, Frank Bruno, Kenneth Clarke.
Alistair McGowan, and I'm responsible for John Major,
Tony Blair, Paddy Ashdown, Jeremy Paxman,
Chris Eubank, and Kenneth Branagh, and several others,
including a new Alan Hansen, which is coming up soon.
I think the Fergie puppet is brilliant,
because there's something about Fergie's face, you know.
The eyes and the sort of... SHE SNORTS
You know, that sort of stupid laugh that I gave her.
I don't know why I gave her that snort.
Poor woman's probably never done that in her life.
Gosh, Anne, it's so helpful having someone to talk to.
Times had changed.
I was exhausted with Spitting Image long before it finished.
-Anyone admitting to being on props today?
-Moving on, please!
-For the last...
-That was the first take, OK?
-OK, here we go, chaps.
Puppets up, please. Let's go.
And, go track.
In the shower?
Yes, George, I could even go to sleep in the middle of...
'I think Central had had enough, and I think they thought they could
'dismantle it and probably bring it back when they felt like it.
'And we said, you can't,
'because there are a thousand puppets, that deteriorate,
'there's all these moulds, we have to store them,
'we don't have the money to store them, erm,
'there's, you know, 2,500 square feet of costumes.'
'You're always looking for the most negative thing you can find,
'that you can read in the news. You...
'You find that bit where you can take the piss out of somebody,
'and it gets a bit...it gets a bit depressing.
'Because if you come to the realisation that
'it ain't going to change anything...
'Cos I remember an early meeting with...
'other people and Lloydy in a pub in the Fulham Road,'
and at that time I was...we were fully fired up with...
"We're satirists, we're caricaturists,
"we're going to change the world."
And he said,
"It doesn't change anything." And he was absolutely right.
'I take the view the most interesting satire
since Spitting Image
'is The Two Johns on Rory Bremner, which is two faceless,
'you know, very charming fellows talking in a very reasonable way
'about why we've taken all your money
'and why we're committing genocide.'
'"I think you'll see, now I put it quite reasonably to you,
'"I think you'll see what I'm saying."'
They're not responsible, you don't even know their names,
they could be a corporation, they could be a PR firm,
and they're all the same person and they control us
and they can't be found, they can't be pointed at.
When Mrs Thatcher died, Lady Thatcher died,
and I was asked on telly a bit to go and talk about it
and they'd show clips and I was astonished at how funny it was,
even the stuff that at the time I thought wasn't very good, you know,
wasn't funny enough, wasn't clever enough, wasn't well enough made.
Then it was divisive, it was angry, it was, you know, probably
the most unpopular government of the century, and also the most popular.
And that's what...the climate in which Spitting Image could thrive.
'Spitting Image ended up as a show that 12 million people,
'14 million people, never less than seven...
'In The Thick Of It is one of my favourite satire shows -
'they're lucky to get 2 million.
'That is the difference.
'So I think Peter's assessment of what would happen
'with Spitting Image was correct for now.
'If we did it, we'd be a cult thing, probably on the net.
'A lot of the commissioning editors have never made television, ever.
'So they really want to cover their bottom.
'There aren't people like Denton that can take a decision.
'Anything that might fail, miserably, is avoided,
'and that must be to do with budgets and it must be to do with
'the fact that they've kind of Americanised the system.'
But I don't feel that strongly about...these people.
I mean, what have you got?
You've got a PR man who's never had a proper job,
and you've got a government that's sort of like, erm...
It's like a George Orwell land, but with...but Conservative.
'I think Spitting Image is a programme that...
'stopped and made people think,
'and it was a very important barometer
'of public opinion at the time.
'We thought it was very important
'that the Imperial War Museum represent Margaret Thatcher,'
one of the most important political figures of the late 20th century,
in our new exhibition, which looks at the post-war world.
And so Margaret Thatcher sits in a little group of objects
considering the war in the Falklands, but also
next to that is Northern Ireland.
And she was a very important political figure in both
the Falklands and Northern Ireland. It's a caricature.
It's slightly violent in the way that she appears,
deliberately, and so that makes people stop and think.
Tell me, oh, tell me again, how much better am I than Neil Kinnock?
-Oh, you're twice the man he is, PM.
-No, three times.
-Ten times at least.
-Oh, come on!
How long can I stay on as Prime Minister?
And so we chose the Spitting Image puppet
because we felt it would provoke a response in visitors, rather than
just show what she looked like as a natural representation.
-Well, I think special is an understatement in this instance.
Because we are now going live to none other than
Her Majesty the Queen herself.
Just explain to us, then, ma'am,
why you're at the British Film Institute this evening.
I'm at the BFI Southbank
to celebrate 30 years of Spitting Image.
APPLAUSE AND WHISTLING
Are you bathed in a warm glow of nostalgia, John,
or are you having kind of flashbacks like a Vietnam vet?
Well, I think you live with a one-sided view
of what it was like for 30 years.
Roger and I were extremely angry with each other
-a great deal of the time.
-We'll be talking about that shortly.
But also it was marvellous, it was fantastic, it was such fun.
It was so brilliant.
Well, I think you forget,
I mean, the talent that buoyed the three of us up.
-Weren't they amazing?
-And how about you, how did you feel about...?
Well, I completely agree with John.
I mean, it took a whole community of people
to put the programme together,
and, er, it had a curious split, actually, cos...
a split between people who went to art school and that,
sculpture and painting and things,
and then...and then the guys from Oxbridge. And it was a curious mix.
And was that what caused the often combustible moments, or...?
No, I mean... Roger was throwing sofas around cos he's like that.
-He does that at home.
It was incredibly good fun, it was...really good fun.
-Well, I think for the producers and...
-Hell for them, but...
..I think it was really hard,
because we got the fun, we got to write it, we got to see it happen,
and then when it went out we said, "Ah, you've messed it up,"
and, you know, gave them a hard time.
We watched it religiously every Sunday evening, it was fantastic.
-What, you and David?
-Were you two unusual?
-No, Ian, me and my wife!
-Oh, yeah, sorry. Sorry.
I remember speaking to a conference of policemen,
and Shadow Cabinet... or Cabinet ministers
weren't popular with the police force, and the front row,
every policeman took out an umbrella when I began to speak.
When Spitting Image was on, many more people in the public knew
the names of every politician in the Cabinet than they do now.
Now people could probably mention
four or five people who are in the Cabinet...
-But we did talk about that.
-But at the time... And the Shadow Cabinet.
Part of the impetus for the programme starting in the first place
was a sort of loathing of Thatcher and the Conservatives.
Do you think that they were kinder to you if you were in opposition?
But it did her good. This is what people don't understand.
People liked the idea we'd got a strong,
aggressive Prime Minister, it did her great...great...
benefit, I think.
-Could I say a few words from...
-Oh, do, please.
..from beyond the grave.
I think the problem is that, you know, Margaret Thatcher
-was an incredibly conviction politician.
That is the point. David Cameron is NOT a conviction politician.
He wants to be everyone's friend. He's too friendly.
You know, he's the sort of man that would call John the Baptist Jack.
-You don't want that.
These bastards sloped off after a few years,
and I was there for the whole... nine yards.
Why didn't you slope off?
He needed the money, frankly.
I was, you know, the Liberal voting, middle-of-the-road,
reasonable, BBC-trained producer,
trying to mediate between all these lunatics, and they were all,
you know, Marxist, Che Guevara hats and all this kind of stuff.
And by the time Flucky and I and Jon Blair
had been shunted out by the mother cuckoo here,
erm, and he was on his own, the workshop went to Roger
and said, "We'd like a trade union."
He said, "Not in my fucking company, you don't."
WOMAN: First off I want to thank you guys for politicising a very young,
impressionable eight-year-old 30 years ago, so thank you very much.
-You know, it was a great way for left-wing people and people
that were resisting to recharge their batteries on a Sunday night.
It gave us a lot of hope.
-Do you now agree with Ted Heath that you wish you'd done something
really rather more useful with your time?
# Shopping around for prizes
# Looking around for prizes... #
-Thought we were starting early this morning.
-This is early.
RADIO: 'Yes, it's time again for the BBC Shopping Basket...'
Is this crap the best Radio 4's got to offer?
-Well, turn it off.
-'Since the beginning of December...'
-What about making a nice cup of tea, Flucky?
'In fact, the 57 items in our basket then cost us £17.97.
'Now, today those very same items would cost £18.49.
'And that's an increase of 52 pence in just over a month.
'Now, the reason for this week's increase can be put down to
'more expensive tomatoes, greens,
'and fractional rises on a whole range of goods, including beef,
'bacon, onions, apples, coffee and some cleaning materials.
'Right, and in fact the milk prices are going to go up next month,
'and there's talk about the cost of canned goods going up.
'I'm afraid so...'
Reuniting the founding creative team, this documentary tells the vexed and frequently hilarious story of the genesis of the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, with exclusive contributions from caricaturists Peter Fluck and Roger Law and TV producer John Lloyd.
Spanning the early years of Margaret Thatcher's government to the end of John Major's, Spitting Image puppets became almost as famous as the politicians they lampooned. In 2000, the puppets were auctioned off at Sotheby's and in the course of the programme the team sets out to discover where they now reside and who is taking care of them in their old age.
Revealing the extraordinary technical achievement of the series, Arena meets the caricaturists, puppet-mould makers, designers, puppeteers, impressionists, writers and directors who worked tirelessly to ensure the show landed its weekly jibes and punches at the politicians, royals and celebrities of the day.
Tracing its journey to our televisions screens through 12 years of huge audience figures and weekly controversy to its eventual demise, the film asks what Spitting Image got right, where it went wrong and whether its absence since 1996 has left a hole in the schedules that has yet to be filled by modern broadcasting.