Opinion: Should Spitting Image Return?

Every time Donald Trump is in the news you can be pretty sure that someone somewhere will post something on social media similar to the following: “Economic problems, loose cannon in the White House, female Prime Minister, Labour Party in disarray. It’s the eighties all over again. What we really need is Spitting Image back.”

The latex lampoon show, created by Peter Fluck, Roger Law and Martin Lambie-Nairn, ran from 1984 to 1996 and for a lot of that time it was essential viewing as it poured withering scorn and witty invective on politicians, royalty and celebrities. It famously portrayed Margaret Thatcher as a suit-wearing Churchillian tyrant and Ronald Reagan as a dim cowboy who was not really up to the job of President. 

Oh, and it helped that Fluck and Law’s monstrous puppets were brilliant. And the show gave early breaks to the likes of voice merchants Steve Coogan and Harry Enfield. At its peak it attracted an audience of around 15 million - figures the likes of Charlie Brooker, Have I Got News For You? and The Last Leg (all good in their own way but not Spitting Image) can only dream about.

Something that might cheer up the The Nightly Show team is that the first Spitting Image series was not a roaring success. But then Red Dwarf creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor became head writers and it built up a head of steam with its up-to-the-wire comments on current affairs. It even spawned a number one hit with The Chicken Song. There has never really been anything quite like this show. ITV shows such as 2DTV, Headcases and Newzoids have tried to pick up the baton but for one reason and another have never quite touched a nerve the way that Spitting Image did. 

Apparently there was a plan to bring the show back around 2006 but this didn’t work out. Original producer John Lloyd, the genius behind The Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder, was involved in talks with ITV. Wikipedia says that Roger Law was unhappy about some new Ant & Dec puppets made for a Best Of show that were created against his wishes.

Maybe part of the difficulty of repeating the formula was that over the last two decades there were not the same vivid characters around to satirise. That’s certainly not the case at the moment, where Donald Trump’s tweets barely need editing to be turned into funny lines. The people in the public eye suddenly seem more outrageous than ever. More opinionated than ever. Jeffrey Archer said he would like to purchase his puppet. One can imagine Piers Morgan buying his rubber lookalike.

There are plenty of people out there who would like to see the programme come back. But can you ever go back? Can the magic be recreated? John O’Farrell, who was one of the main writers when the show was at its peak is not convinced. “Spitting Image was a great show in its time and I am still very proud to have been part of it for so long. But its shock value came from the fact that it challenged the respect that was generally shown towards politicians and royalty. That reverence has completely evaporated, and viewers are more savvy about how politics works. We badly need some decent satire, but we need the next big idea, not the big idea from forty years ago.”

One thing we do not have at the moment on television is decent satire. If nobody new is going to come along maybe television has no alternative but to look backwards to go forwards.

Wondering what you are missing? Spitting Image is available on DVD.


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