Spitting Image was a satirical comedy show that ran from 1984 to 1996. It was notable for being one of the first - if not the first - adult-themed comedy show to feature puppets. Its visually shocking puppets combined with its sharp, often crude writing ensured high viewing figures and a lengthy run time of over 132 episodes.
The programme is often considered to be a milestone in British television comedy. Spitting Image was so influential it was often worried whether or not the show could affect public opinion of politics and politicians, yet it was quite the opposite: the show managed to give new personalities and public recognition to politicans and minor celebrities who were instantly thrust into the spotlight by their latex caricatures.
The Spitting Image credits mention the show was "based on an original lunch with Martin Lambie-Nairn". Lambie-Nairn was a graphic illustrator who originally proposed the idea of a satire show that featured puppets to BBC producer John Lloyd.
Peter Fluck and Roger Law were fairly famous artists that had worked alongside Lambie-Nairn before, but they specialised in clay caricatures intended for political magazines. They decided against Lambie-Nairn's idea because they did not think the series would be a good idea - also, they were not very good at making puppets. However, in 1983 Fluck and Law studied under the puppet maestro Jim Henson and with this knowledge of puppet-making combined with reasonably large donations from John Lloyd and Clive Sinclair, the show began production.
The show took a very long time to produce. The puppets were very difficult to make in a short time period and required expert puppeteering. The show's pilot episode was considered to be so bad it was never aired on TV. Another massive problem was the writing - producer and director Tony Hendra believed the show should be very anti-right and there should be no quickies. John Lloyd disagreed and thought the show should attack *all* political parties, and there should be plenty of quickies to keep audience attention. These disputes lasted for a full six episodes until Hendra finally left to work in America.
After Hendra left, the show began a steady increase in popularity. During Hendra's reign Spitting Image recieved complaints that it was being "too rude and not funny enough". Better writers were called in - young writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor became the script editors - and Fluck and Law enlisted the help of other artists to speed up the puppet-making process. In the short space of the final six episodes of the first series, the show had built up a small following and ITV decided to renew the show again for a second series. The rest is history.
Influence & Popularity
Throughout the 1980s, Spitting Image was almost crucial viewing for the whole country. Many celebrities claim that watching the show was a "priority" to them, as they wanted to see if they or their business friends had been featured. In fact, celebrities like Desmond Lynam and Jarvis Cocker claim that they were happy to see puppet renditions of themselves as it showed that they had truly "arrived" and become publicly recognised. Michael Heseltine and Steve Davis are possibly the most well-known examples of celebrities who were very proud of their Spitting Image selves: They have stated that as soon as the show came around, they found people calling them "Hezza" and "Interesting" respectively based on their Spitting Image portrayals.
A popular rumour is that the Spitting Image Election Special in 1987 was launched *after* the polls had closed because ITV were worried that the show could sway public opinion. This special in particular is often attributed to the dissolution of the SDP: it is thought that Spitting Image in general gave the two Davids a bad image and this caused people to stop voting for them.
Spitting Image in general was a very popular programme, gaining over 15 million viewers in the late 80s. Any compilation or tie-in videos released to promote the show instantly became best-sellers. The Spitting Image puppets found themselves appearing in other productions: puppets of Queen Elizabeth II and Bob Geldof appeared in a Comic Relief special, other puppets featured in sketches on Saturday Live and, perhaps most famously, many puppets featured in the Genesis music video, "Land Of Confusion".
The show has proved so influential it has created foreign spin-offs. In America, Sid and Marty Kroft saw a made-for-US TV special and thought a homespun version would be a good idea. Their show, entitled "DC Follies", did not prove to be a great success, but it still managed to run for three seasons. The most successful rebirth of the show is the ongoing French "Les Guignols de l'info", which has been running since 1988.
As the show began to run into the 1990s, it became evident that ratings were dropping slowly but surely. Most of the original producers, writers and voice-actors had left the show to help with more popular productions. As retaliation, Ben Elton, David Baddiel and Harry Enfield - successful comedians who had got their start from Spitting Image - found themselves being lampooned by the very show they helped create.
The creation of "Have I Got News For You" also spelt massive trouble for Spitting Image. Although Spitting Image had the visuals, HIGNFY, which co-starred Spitting Image writer Ian Hislop, was making even funnier jokes with a much lower budget due to its incredibly small production team. As HIGNFY grew with popularity, both Fluck & Law and ITV decided it would be best to cancel Spitting Image. The final series was broadcast in the spring of 1996.
Despite its cancellation, Spitting Image has retained a lot of its popularity. Many attempts to bring it back have been carried out, some have been successful: A clip show entitled "Spitting Back" was made, and was hosted by the puppet of the Queen. UKTV Gold and Granada both showed reruns of the programme, however Granada's reshowings proved to be quite unpopular as they had edited out what they would deem "offensive" content, even though UKTV Gold reshowed the same episodes unedited.
ITV itself has tried to reproduce the Spitting Image forumla. The most popular of the two attempts was 2DTV, which ran for five series. Some voice actors from Spitting Image moved onto 2DTV, most notably Jon Culshaw. The second rebirth was Headcases which utilated CGI technology. The show recieved very mixed reviews - although the CGI imagery was impressive, the jokes were very poor and many people consider it an insult that it was promoted as the "new" Spitting Image.
More recently, Network DVD has caught wind of the growing popularity of the show on sites such as YouTube and is now releasing every series in order. The very first series was released, completely unedited, in January 2008.
"Failed Resurrection for show"
By early 2006 ITV were producing a documentary celebrating the series and if the audience figures were good a full series could be produced. On 25 June 2006, ITV transmitted Best Ever Spitting Image as a one-off special of Spitting Image which took a nostalgic look back at the programme's highlights. This special actually stopped ITV directly resurrecting the famous satire as they had planned because it featured new puppets of Ant and Dec - a move which was against the wishes of Roger Law, who owns the rights to the Spitting Image brand.
In February 2015, ITV confirmed that the show would be resurrected as Newzoids and will use puppets and also bring back the original voice artist including Jon Culshaw .