About 30 years ago, in the wonderful and cheerful 80s people were confronted with so many things on TV, not all of them good, not all of them bad, some of them even timeless. Spitting Image, being one of the timeless things for sure was quite a life-changer for me. An amazing puppet show with so much black humor in each and every episode.
Me, being a child of the 70s and growing up in Austria made it kinda difficult to follow all the things that happened outside of the country. Don’t get me wrong, we were not behind the iron curtain. Those were simply the pre-internet times where you have to get information from newspapers, magazines, TV, radio stations or books, which was not so bad at all, we didn’t really know what we missed. Fortunately, the austrian television called ORF had some people working there who made a very good job and made it possible for us to get a small but amazing view of high quality entertainment from outside the country. They confronted the audience in front of their TV sets at home once a week with many TV shows, movies, documentaries and … a show called Spitting Image. By watching this show I learned more about politics and society than I learned about what’s going on in my own country. I knew more about Margeret Thatcher, the Queen, Ronald Reagan, Mick Jagger, Frank Sinatra, Prince Charles and their impact on society, politics and environment by the age of twelve than about any politician in Austria. But to be honest and fair, the political landscape in Austria in those times was quite boring, too. They”just” worked on improving the situation and did their best to accomplish that goal. That’s what we thought, in some case we learned many years later what went wrong.
But, let’s get back to the show itself. Due to the fact that it was 30 years ago this year the BBC started the show the BFI (the British Film Institute) decided to celebrate this by organizing a 30th anniversary show with special guests, a panel and a documentary called “Arena – Whatever happened to Spitting Image“.
The opening scene of the documentary shows us a Margaret Thatcher puppet lying on a table in a hospital, right afterwards we see a “Once upon a time in the West” reference where the authors and producers meet at a railway station. From there on we see the difficult first steps, where they wrote the first scripts where the public opinion and the critics shared the opinion that the puppets are great but the script is crap. We see their hard work and how they never gave up, even when they were called communists and more. Thankfully they continued their good work and the figures started to rise to 15 million viewers, the respect from the audience and number of prices for their work, too.
In the first year, one of the producers was also invited to the Independent Broadcasting Authority Headquarters to be asked about the Show, especially some scenes.
Board Member (explaining a scene): … do you find that amusing?
Producer: Oh, no, Sir! I don’t find it amusing at all. It is not meant to be funny.
Board Member: Not funny?
Producer: It is actually an homage to Jonathan Swifts modest proposal of 1729, that if the Irish people are short of potato as because of the famine there are plenty of babies instead for them to eat.
Board Member: Ooh … oh, satire. How lovely, splendid.
Somehow I believe that’s one of the reasons why this stayed on air on British Television for such a long time .
In the documentary we also have the chance to meet the voice actors in person and it is hilarious when you see the real persons talking like Margeret Thatcher, Prince Charles, Ronald Reagan, Sadam Hussein, Gandhi, Sir Laurence Olivier and many more. Furthermore sitting face to face to politicians from this area, some of them even the ones they impersonated.
The TV Landscape nowadays in comparison, from my point of view feels like its lacking this kinda black humor. There are sit-coms & TV shows airing today which focus with quite an anarchic view on actual topics. Many of them are even on a very high quality level, having amazingly good scripts, dialogues, storylines and wonderful actors. But still … there was so much black humor in the ‘mostly’ 30 minutes episodes. Let’s have something like that again, wouldn’t that be nice?
Thank you and Good Night …