02 October 2020 18:51
After 24 years away, Spitting Image returns to our screens tomorrow. Yet however effective the satire show's newly moulded rubber caricatures of politicians, royalty and showbiz figures prove to be, it will be hard pushed to match the impact of the original series. After all, at the height of its run on ITV, when it was shown on Sunday nights between 1984 and 1996, it was reaching 15 million viewers. The sort of figures you only get these days by staging a royal wedding or blowing up the Queen Vic on Christmas Day. It made Margaret Thatcher manly and manipulative, it turned John Major entirely grey. Boris Johnson in the latest version of the show BRITBOX A good Spitting Image caricature became definitive.
This could cut both ways. "Spitting Image made me," Michael Heseltine What is really going on in politics? Get our daily email briefing straight to your inbox Sign up Thank you for subscribing We have more newsletters Show me See our privacy notice Invalid Email It's not a good time for those of us who lived through the worst of Thatcher's days and viewed her as a cross between Nurse Ratched and Hannibal Lecter. There's the image, released by makers of The Crown, of the beautiful Gillian Anderson looking the spit of the old tyrant, which has messed with my mind and libido so much I'm thinking of seeing a sex therapist. Talking of spitting images, as the satirical puppet show returns to our screens today on BBC's BritBox, its anarchic creator Roger Law has said something that borders on heretical: "When we started Spitting Image you had Thatcher.
Now we're starting to look on her with nostalgia because at least you knew what she was about. "With Boris Johnson and the boys you have no idea, and their ideology is absolutely nuts." Where I'm from we're about as nostalgic for Thatcher as we are for the Luftwaffe, but Law has a point. As hellbent as she was on crushing her domestic enemies, those enemies knew where they stood. (Image: ITV) With the weak sack of lying blancmange and his thick libertarian fanboys currently in power, we haven't a clue where we're headed or why. It's even worse in America. Back in 1984 when Spitting Image began, they were led by Ronald Reagan, a folksier version of Thatcher on Mogadon. Perfectly encapsulated by his puppet which sat in bed with two red call buttons, one marked "Nurse", the other "Nuke". But how can they successfully mock today's president when every time he opens his mouth he does that job brilliantly? How can you ridicule, with originality, a world leader who has just caught a killer disease he dismissed as a hoax which he believes can be treated by injecting bleach? This new series of Spitting Image is basically facing the toughest comedy ask since Bernard Manning was mistakenly booked to do stand-up at a Soweto funeral. The satirist is yet to be born who could nail today's politicians because their actions make the genre redundant. The original puppets defined politicians: David Steel was a mouse, Norman Tebbit a boot boy, Neil Kinnock a windbag, John Major a grey bore etc, but this current crew have already defined themselves by their laughable incompetence. Gavin Williamson will for ever be Frank Spencer playing a third-form pencil monitor, Michael Gove a startled haddock and Jacob Rees-Mogg a Victorian slum landlord. Priti Patel is an updated version of Edwina Currie's Cruella De Vil puppet, epitomised by her latest tasteless wheeze, leaked at the beginning of Black History Month, to keep desperate Africans locked on boats floating off the British coast. And how could a puppet make Chris Grayling look any more absurd than his own CV. One criticism of Spitting Image was that its dialogue could become a bit juvenile and the puppet interactions cringeworthy slapstick. We've already seen that at the first US presidential debate. As for the "people" close to Trump, his family have already been lampooned in The Addams Family, Mike Pence is the alien from Cocoon and his supporters were best portrayed in Blazing Saddles when they tried to hang the black sheriff. So Spitting Image faces a tough task trying to say something original but I hope it succeeds and has a long run. Because the thought of Prince Andrew rediscovering how to sweat whenever he hears the theme tune is a sweet one.