Socialist Worker

Spitting Image: Years haven’t dulled sharp satire that politicians hated

Old Tories feign affection for their Spitting Image puppet selves. The show’s 30th anniversary exhibition reminds us they are lying, says Annette Mackin

Issue No. 2393

Thatcher carving up Britain

Thatcher carving up Britain (Pic: Spitting Image Workshop)


It has been 30 years since Spitting Image was first broadcast. During its 12-year run it paid deference to no one. Royalty, Margaret Thatcher and her Tory cabinet were the subject of ridicule week in and week out.

But the programme has been off the air for 18 years. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum is an excellent chance to revisit the savaging it gave the ruling class. Sketches are projected onto the wall of the exhibition room.

In one, the Tory cabinet sing a version of Jerusalem—dressed as Nazis with Thatcher as Hitler. Many of those who were ruthlessly parodied now profess affection for their portrayals.

Former Tory ministers Michael Heseltine and Edwina Currie have said it merely showed how important they were at the time. But these are just attempts to take the sting out of the attacks.

Spitting Image was watched by some 15 million at the show’s peak, and undermined the credibility of many politicians. Tories were portrayed as a bunch of ruthless bullies with Thatcher as increasingly tyrannical.

One photo on display shows her grinning while taking a knife to Britain on a plate (pictured).

Infamous

Indeed the exhibition is exhaustive. The infamous Thatcher puppet is just one of those on display. It’s also fascinating to see the original sketches, as well as photographs of the process of making the puppets.

There’s even the short-lived range of porcelain on show, which includes former Labour leader Michael Foot turned into a mug. The exhibition also displays a collection of viewer opinion on the programme.

One letter from 1986 reads, “You ignorant bastards are just piss-takers out of our country and a pack of reds. We are going to march in protest” signed by “Disgusted viewers”.

For all of the memorable sketches, Spitting Image also had its share of duds. But when it hit its target, it hit hard. 

One memorable sketch has Thatcher telling her cabinet, “We have to get rid of Enoch [Powell]. There is no room for racists in the Conservative Party—we’re choc-a-bloc as it is”.

Spitting Image at the Cartoon Museum until 8 June, 35 Little Russell St, London WC1A 2HH. Adults £7, concessions £5, students £3 cartoonmuseum.org

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Tue 4 Mar 2014, 18:55 GMT
Issue No. 2393
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