Spitting Image was a popular British satirical puppet show created by Peter Fluck and Roger Law, which ran from 1984 to 1996 on ITV.
The series gained prominence overseas after its latex puppets were featured in the music video for the Genesis song Land of Confusion.
Spitting Image used latex puppets that were caricatures of popular figures of the time, featuring them as characters on the show in a variety of skits and sketches. The show primarily focussed on politicians such as British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and American president Ronald Reagan, but also included popular celebrities such as wrestler Hulk Hogan and actor Jack Nicholson.
Although Spitting Image appeared before furry fandom gained prominence in the UK, the show did include a variety of animal characters. Perhaps the most prominent of these in the show itself were several anthropomorphic pigs, who were seen to comprise of the entire staff for The Sun newspaper. These pig characters represented the press as a whole on the show, and the choice of animal to represent them suggests that the show's creators had a negative image of the British tabloids.
Several talking animal characters frequently appeared on the show during sketches featuring Sir David Attenborough, who was shown to actually speak normally to animals. In the earliest of these sketches, Attenborough was accompanied by a snooty sidekick named Antony the Anteater, a stuck-up anteater who was convinced that he was a successful theatrical actor despite only playing bit-parts in Attenborough's documentaries.
A popular recurring theme for the show during its earlier seasons was to include several sheep characters who would either appear in the background or would be seen being recruited into some high position by one of the human puppets as a joke against the intellect of the said human character. Only one sheep character was ever named on-screen - Captain Bradbury - a sheep who posed as the bride of a human military officer stationed in the Falklands in an effort to be granted leave on the grounds of insanity. The other sheep characters went unnamed in the series.
Other animal characters on the show included a group of attack dogs whom Thatcher would unleash if anyone questioned her. These same dogs would also appear in some sketches as lovers of cabinet minister Cecil Parkinson, inferring bestiality.
In later episodes, education secretary Kenneth Baker was depicted as an anthropomorphic slug (though earlier episodes depicted him as a human being like the other figures on the show). Why Baker was depicted as a slug remains unclear.
In the music video for Land of Confusion, several more animal characters appear, including two dinosaurs during a sequence set in prehistoric times, and a chimpanzee at the start of the video, spoofing Reagan's role in the 1951 film Bedtime for Bonzo.
During the show's third and fourth seasons, several plant characters also debuted alongside the show's animal characters. Most popular of these were two potted plants - one a tulip and the other a dahlia - who would often be seen talking to a puppet version of Prince Charles.
A group of sapient vegetables also appeared in the show's second series, in a sketch for the Frozen Food Golf Club. These characters later appeared in the show's later series as members of the Green Party as a joke against green politics.
A skit from the third series also included several sapient planks of wood, featured in a skit entitled Return to Return to Eden (a parody of the popular Australian soap Return to Eden, which aired on ITV in 1986). The planks of wood were possibly used to suggest that the acting in Return to Eden was "wooden" and unconvincing at the time it debuted.
The Chicken Song
Spitting Image was renowned for producing a variety of parody songs that were released as singles and LPs during the 1980's. Perhaps the most prominent of these was The Chicken Song, released in 1986 as a parody of cheesy holiday songs such as Agadoo by Black Lace. The song's name comes from the first lyric of the song's nonsensical chorus.
The success of Spitting Image spawned several imitations overseas, all of which used latex puppets to parody politicians of the era, although the majority of these did not use animal characters as extensively as Spitting Image.
- Chartzufim: An Israeli remake of Spitting Image that ran from 1992 to 1995 and focussed on affairs in the Middle East. The show's title literally translates from Hebrew to mean "Shitty Faces".
- D.C. Follies: An American equivalent of Spitting Image that ran from 1987 to 1989. Despite focussing on American politics, the show's humour was more subtle than it's British counterpart, which contributed to the show's demise for being too serious as a political sitcom.
- Hurra Deutschland: A German series that ran from 1987 to 1993, which focussed on affairs in West Germany and then Germany as a whole following unification in 1990. Where Thatcher was the main target in Spitting Image, so Hurra Deutschland featured chancellor Helmut Kohl as its main target of parody.
- Rubbery Figures: An Australian series that ran from 1984 to 1990, focussing primarily on various Australian politicians, but also including its own equivalents of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The puppets used in the series were of an inferior quality compared to those used in Spitting Image and Hurra Deutschland, but the series was a popular hit in its native Australia, where it has since developed a cult following.
- Spitting Image Series 2, Episode 4. First broadcast January 27, 1985