Latex lampoonery. Rubber ribaldry. Profane puppetry. The Muppets with swearing. Call it what you will, but you can’t deny that Spitting Image was a landmark satirical comedy show, running for for 141 episodes between 1984 and 1996. In fact, in it’s prime, it was inarguably the most biting satirical show ever broadcast on ITV, maybe even on British television entirely. And if at this point you’re thinking “well.. I don’t know. What about 2DTV?”, you might like to stick your face in a fire.
Why do we mention this now, just the thirteen years after the blimmin’ thing finished? Well, Network have just released a mammoth eleven-disc DVD box set of the first seven series, and in association with our good friends at VoucherCodes.co.uk, we’re GIVING AWAY a copy of the Spitting Image Series One To Seven DVD Box Set (RRP £59.99) to ONE LUCKY READER. (They think we’re a proper telly website. Now shush, no-one tell them the truth. Hopefully they’re okay with having their company mentioned in the same intro as us telling fans of 2DTV to stick their faces in a fire.)
Details on how to enter our special competition are at the bottom of this update. But hey, at least read some of it first. It took ages, and just skipping to the part where you can win stuff is just rude. At least look at the screencaps and nod as if you find them interesting. We’ve got feelings. Jeez.
To kick off, a few interesting things about Spitting Image, in handy bullet form:
- * The first episode wasn’t actually very good. At this point, the team were still finding their feet with the format, and were still coming to terms with making an entire thirteen-episode series in thirteen weeks, given that the (unscreened) pilot had taken them five months. There were other issues to contend with, such as the production of the show being split between London (where all the puppets were made, kept and repaired) and Birmingham (where it was actually recorded), Indeed, many of the people involved in the making of the show struggled to get the time to actually see the first episode go out.
- * By the time the show reached it’s final episode, it wasn’t very good, as it had pretty much “jumped” the “shark”, which is why it was getting cancelled. Luckily of course, the majority of the shows in between were brilliant (from about episode three onwards, in fact). Clumsily, ITV chose to mark the 20th anniversary of the final show by repeating… the first and last episodes. Boh.
- * One quite nice fact about that first ever episode: Central Television forbade Spitting Image from using their puppet of The Queen in the series debut, as (non-puppet) Prince Philip was due to open the company’s Nottingham studios later the same week, and he isn’t exactly the sort of person to let such a matter go unremarked. This was a bit of a blow for the team, who’d felt our monarch’s rubber persona would be the star of the show – with director Peter Harris, who’d previously worked on The Muppet Show, having proclaimed her as “our Miss Piggy”. Not to be outdone, the first episode featured a number of running sketches where the Queen (unseen and unheard) was keeping Margaret Thatcher waiting for a private audience. Indeed, the very first sketch on the show involved the Cabinet being introduced to “your most gracious sovereign, The Queen”, who walked on screen as… Mrs Thatch in a crown. A nice little in-joke, there.
- * Another early sketch banned, this time by the IBA, involved “Bernard Levin” explaining why he became a writer. “I think it was because I was circumcised with a pencil sharpener”.
- * As every schoolboy knows, the very first episode of Spitting Image featured the sound of a studio audience. Their presence didn’t really work, and the idea was swiftly ditched. Curiously however, and contrary to what we’ve read elsewhere, the sound of a studio audience seemed to stick around for a few sketches early in the second episode. Firstly in a pre-titles sketch where resurgent Tony Benn proclaims “Back! Back! Back!”, before slumping forward to reveal several knives have been shoved into his back. Cue polite titters. The muted chuckles then fade to applause as the titles roll, but then the audience disappear for the next sketch, Mary Whitehouse saying how disgusted she was with the first episode (and it’s not as if they just didn’t find it funny – Whitehouse makes reference to ‘big pink floppy things’, which would have been a laugh riot for the 1984-located brains of the audience). A few skits later, the sound of an audience reappears, disappears for the rest of the first half, then returns to applaud the title card for part two, before buggering off for the rest of the series. Very strange.
- * This is all the more strange as the first show wasn’t actually recorded live in front of a studio audience, unless they were the most patient studio audience in the history of time itself, so it’s not as if they were actually present at the recording and therefore couldn’t be removed from the soundtrack. Roger Law points out in his excellent autobiography A Nasty Piece Of Work (ISBN 1873 968 000) that “it took one hour of studio time to produce one screenable minute of Spitting Image”, so it’s quite safe to assume the audience were shown recordings of the sketches. If that were the case, why couldn’t the non-audience versions be shown? Anyway, all trace of the audience was gone by episode three, and they wouldn’t return until an actual live-in-front-of-a-studio-audience pre-election episode screened towards the end of the show’s life.
- * Spitting Image Pet Theory Of The Femtosecond! The quality of each series was inversely proportional to the effort put into the title sequences. Certainly, the titles for the last few seasons –pastel-coloured animation in it’s dying days, preceded by a Punch & Judy show in the years before that – were much more visually appearing than the live-action marionettes of the early years. Not a fact, admittedly, but hey.
Anyway, all that’s not really the point of this update. Now, everyone remembers the main targets of the show – Mrs Thatch, Norman Tebbit, Reagan, Kinnock, Prince Phil, David Colman, Frank Bruno, Sir John Gielgud at al. We’re here to play tribute to the lesser spotted puppets, rubber realisations of those who were either less obvious targets for contemporary satire, or those who weren’t based on real-life figures at all. Sometimes they were background figures from history, sometimes they were comic creations magicked entirely from the sketchpads of Spitting Image Productions, sometimes they were of people so inconsequential to the public eye the TV Times had probably needed to mention who they were beforehand. In all cases, they made for welcome companions in our fight to wring out that last ounce of weekend TV enjoyment before bed on a Sunday night, and if we’d missed it we’d have no idea what everyone was talking about on the school bus just ten hours later. So, join us now, as we sneakily switch on the bedroom portable (at a volume so low mum and dad won’t hear us watching it) and delve into the first seven series of rubber ribaldry, picking out the more enjoyable cameos. And forwarding past half of the songs they did, because they weren’t often very good.
Unfailingly loyal cube-bonced aide to Ronald Reagan, Ed was always on hand to carry out Ronnie’s wishes, to offer helpful advice, or just to get called an asshole. Spent most of the first series trying to reclaim or replace the President’s brain, which had done a runner after being removed for safety purposes.
First seen: series one, episode one.
First seen playing a small part in one of the first ever sketches (Harold Wilson is moved to an Old Prime Ministers Home, much to his chagrin), the usually mute MacMillon generally appeared wherever a generic elderly MP was needed to fill in background space. He’s ninety, you know. (Well, not any more he isn’t, he’s dead.)
Generic Soviet Cabinet Ministers
First seen: series one, episode one.
Seen wherever the scene was set behind the Iron Curtain, these would make up the entire male non-president population of the Soviet Union in sketches set in Eastern Europe. The female population would of course be played by… Generic Soviet Cabinet Ministers puppets in dresses. Spent most of the early shows trying to convince everyone that Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko was still alive, pre-empting Weekend At Bernie’s by several years.
First seen: series one, episode one
Retired dictator, now going under the name of “Jeremy”. First seen living at No. 9 Downing Street, where he would often give neighbourly policy advice to his next door neighbour, Mrs Thatcher.
Mrs Thatcher: “Have you ever been inside number 10?”
“Jeremy”: “Once, in 1940 I came *that* close. But with you there, I almost feel like I run the place…”
Later to be spotted as a background character many times, including popping up in the United Nations representing Argentina, presenting Top Of The Pops, or as a Tory back-bencher.
Lord Lucan/Harold Angryperson
First seen (as Lord Lucan) refusing to reveal his whereabouts while appearing on Question Time. Later seen in a variety of roles, but most enjoyably in silhouetted form as Harold Angryperson in the regular scandal round-up CRIMINAL LIBEL (first seen, S1EP3). That first Criminal Libel report centred on the (fictional) dodgy antics of Mark Thatcher. How times change, eh?
Extra bonus fact: episode seven sees Harold Angryperson voiced by Ade Edmondson in Vyvyan mode, as opposed to the more regular Chris Barrie.
First seen: series one, episode three
First seen parading around in front of 10 Downing Street in episode three, doing… absolutely nothing at all, really. Would later show up quite frequently, highlighting Britain’s heavy-handed policing of the 1980s. When he wasn’t finding a flimsy pretence for duffing up Leon Britten, he would often to be found giving a good bollocking to…
Usually seen playing the role of dimwitted bobby, Dimbleby was first spotted playing the new Police Spokesman For Racial Affairs, apologising for the behaviour of his predecessor. “May I assure you that for him, the future looks very nig-nog indeed”, cue him being dragged off and replaced by a succession of replacements, each in turn being dragged away after saying something racist. First seen as a regular peeler in episode 12, getting shot by Commissioner Newman in an unarmed combat training course.
Yeah, those bloody anteaters, eh? Glad someone socked it to them on a satirical sketch show after what they did to the unions, eh? Eh? First seen refusing to appear on set in a David Attenborough-helmed nature documentary, resulting in Attenborough having to visit his dressing room to reason with him. “David! It’s typecasting! Why can’t I play something else, like a swan, or a lion?” Much later seen in the enjoyable late-period in-show serial “Some Of Our Puppets Are Missing”, alongside David Steel and someone whose name will come to us about three seconds after we click “publish” on this update.
“I said to him, David, I said. a line of ants? I’d rather a line of cocaine!”
The Grim Reaper
Popping up for the first time as one of the Flying Pickets, singing about how ugly they all are. Generally spotted afterwards in his more traditional guise as collector of souls, with the occasional appearance as Yorick.
Potato cropped up in a number of guises, usually of the Irish variety. For Ronald Reagan’s 1984 visit to Ireland, Potato played Reagan’s “closest Irish relative”. Later popped up as the Irish ambassador at the UN, and hosting Rubber News.
Central Continuity Announcer
The first live-action person ever seen on the show. Kept manufacturing phony transmission errors within the show, just so he could appear on screen, right up until the point his director gave him a bollocking over the phone.
(The Real) Denis Healey MP
The second live-action person to appear on the show, and as far as we’re aware the only real-life MP to ever appear on the programme (no matter how much Jeffrey Archer would have liked to have been the second). Popped up during (puppet) Sir Robin Day’s Euro Election Phone-In to point out that the European elections had actually finished a week earlier. Sir Robin replied that European elections are so damned exciting he just couldn’t wait four years for the next lot.
That’s the end of the first part, but expect more rubber recollections tomorrow. Now, onto the interesting stuff. In association with VoucherCodes.co.uk, we’re giving away an excellent DVD BOX SET of the FIRST SEVEN SERIES of Spitting Image, worth SIXTY QUID. You know, just like a proper website might do. Yes, really.
“Hang on, Voucher-what-dot-co-dot-where?”
Tsk. VoucherCodes.co.uk brings together the best voucher codes, 2-for-1 restaurant vouchers, printable vouchers, deals and sales for hundreds of leading online stores to help save you more money. You can pick up a Lovefilm Discount Code, an Amazon Promotional Code or even Sky Offer Codes from the site.
“Fair enough. So, what do I have to do?”
While it’d be tempting to pose a hugely difficult question that hardly anyone would know the answer to, it’s hugely unlikely VoucherCodes.co.uk would let us keep the box set ourselves, so we may as well ask something more open ended. Namely: which was your favourite Spitting Image puppet, and why? It doesn’t have to be one of the lesser lights that we’ve gone on about in the preceding 2000 words, it could easily be one of the heavy hitters like Tebbit, Coleman or Gielgud. It could even be the Downing Street cat that talks like Tony Hancock from the last few series, we’re easy. One entry will be chosen at random to win the prize.
“Fair enough. How do I enter?”
As we’ll need to actually contact the lucky winner, we’ve had to come up with a bit of a compromise for entering. When it comes to taking part, you’ve got two choices. Choice one: if you’re a Twitter user, leave a comment mentioning your fave Spitting Image character, along with your Twitter username. We can then send you a Direct Message over Twitter if you’re the winner. Choice two: fire off an email containing your entry to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – that way, we can get in touch if you win. Don’t worry, unlike a lot of online competitions there’s absolutely no chance we’ll pass your email details on to nasty marketing types (partly because we don’t know any, and don’t really want to).
Technically there’s also choice three: post a comment including your email address in the body of said comment, but note that it’ll be openly viewable to everyone, and will probably mean your inbox is subsequently packed with a ton of spam, so it’s not a very good idea. It’s the internet equivalent of sending cash through the post. We’d go with either choice one or two, frankly.
“Is there a list of terms and conditions, like you get in proper competitions?”
Just because we’re a bunch of clumsy idiots, it doesn’t mean this isn’t a proper competition, you know. All the T’s and the C’s can be found at http://www.vouchercodes.co.uk/competitions, but basically:
* You must be a UK resident aged 18 and over.
* Entries to be made via comment or email (as detailed above).
* The competition starts 5th November 2009, and the closing date is 23.59:59 on Sunday 15th November 2009.
* Only entries received before the specified closing date and time will be submitted into the Competition. eConversions Ltd. accepts no responsibility for lateness, loss or misdirection of entries.
* No purchase is necessary to enter this competition, largely because we don’t sell anything. Maybe we should start selling stuff. If we ever do start selling stuff, you don’t need to pre-order it to enter this competition.
* It is a requirement of the Competition that the entrant has access to the Internet to submit their entry. Bit unfair on the Amish, but there you go.
* Anonymous entries to the Competition will not be accepted.
* The prize will consist of a Spitting Image: Series 1 – 7 Boxset
* No cash alternative is available for the prize. What you can do is just put it on eBay once you’ve won it, or just give it away as a Christmas present.
* The promoter of the competition is: eConversions Ltd., 9 Dallington Street, London, EC1V 0BQ, UK
* Entries are limited to one per person. We’ve got super secret IP address reading powers, you know. And a cricket bat. (Legal notice: we’re joking about the cricket bat.)
* The winner will be selected at random on 16th November and notified by the email within 96 hours.
* The winner's name will be published within 15 days of the Competition’s closing date at: www.vouchercodes.co.uk/competitions.
* Employees (and their relatives) of eConversions Ltd. and other companies associated with the competition are excluded from entry.
“What if I don’t win? How am I supposed to get hold of a box set then? Come on fatty, bet you haven’t thought about that.”If you miss out on the competition prize, you can always head over to VoucherCodes.co.uk and use an Amazon promotional code to get one at a bargainous discount, of course. Bignose.