Spitting Image (ITV, 1984-1996)
This is yet another one of those shows that became very popular in a short space of time, so I’m sure that a lot of people will remember this one, but it is worth featuring here. Spitting Image caused the biggest stir in British comedy for many years. This is because it was the satirical sketch comedy that was almost always listed in TV magazines as “latex lampoonery”.
The show featured just about every big name that was in the news, including politicians, TV presenters, sport stars, and so on, all portrayed as rubber puppets and voiced by impressionists. It was always recorded as close to transmission as possible to ensure that it was topical, and a huge amount of people contributed to make sure that it all ran smoothly (here’s a nice piece of trivia – when Spitting Image launched on ITV in 1984, the celebrity who appeared on the cover of that week’s TV Times alongside their puppet was Russell Grant).
This meant a few things. Firstly, as others have said, it meant that a lot of viewers now knew who the members of the cabinet were, and even the Royals weren’t safe, the portrayal of their life definitely wasn’t considered to be off-limits. While some reputations were damaged, while some were enhanced. Covering all of this was far too much for one impressionist, so an impressive team provided all of the voices, including some early work for Chris Barrie and Harry Enfield.
Spitting Image was shown in the Sunday 10pm slot, and it grew in popularity to the point that there were several compilations, plus Christmas and Election specials, and some of the best sketches were released on VHS. And, in the definite sign that you’ve made it, in 1986, there was the chart-topping single “The Chicken Song”. For many people, the hard-hitting musical parodies were among the highlights.
As time went on, the targets changed, with the new Prime Minister being portrayed as being incredibly dull and grey. Spitting Image ran for over a decade, but by the time it was coming to an end, things had changed, and, once again, what used to shock became the norm and so on, and the show no longer made the same impact. I remember one comment on a later edition that was something like “even the puppets look bored”.
After the end in 1996, there have been several similar shows, including 2DTV, and while this was good, it was another case of the ground having already been broken. There were also some repeat runs on Granada Plus, some documentaries, and it is rumoured to be returning to the screen about every other month. Many of the early series have been released on DVD by Network, but I don’t have as many as I would like.