The show, known for its merciless and often humorous depiction of public figures, gained immense popularity during its time, with a whopping 15 million viewers tuning in each week. Producer John Lloyd, who was determined to work on the show from the moment he heard about it, even offered to work for free when they initially turned him down.
"Spitting Image" was a roaring success that captured the essence of its targets, such as former Prime Minister John Major, who was depicted living a terminally dull life, even eating peas with his wife, Norma. The show's puppets had a unique way of exaggerating the characteristics of their real-life counterparts.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, often portrayed as an all-powerful woman surrounded by bumbling male ministers, reportedly paid little attention to her portrayal. The exhibition also features original scripts, sketches, and letters of complaint received during the show's 12-year run.
Politician David Steel was one of those who objected to his puppet's portrayal, particularly the way it depicted him gazing adoringly at his political ally, David Owen. He also pointed out that his puppet was smaller than him, despite the height difference between him and then-Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
Norman Tebbit, one of Thatcher's loyal ministers, found his leather-clad, knuckleduster-wielding puppet quite amusing, effectively turning him into a working-class hero.
Exhibition curator Chris Burgess highlighted how "Spitting Image" managed to blend political satire with the everyday, the surreal, and the ridiculous. The show is often considered the most popular satire ever produced, thanks to its unique ability to highlight subtle facial features that made it impossible to take its subjects seriously.
While the show faced accusations of cruelty and going over the top, Lloyd explained that it mostly boiled down to playground insults and a universal sensitivity about physical appearance, particularly among politicians.
The show even satirized the royal family, portraying Queen Elizabeth II as "sensible and liberal-minded." This was a unique three-dimensional caricature of the royals, and the show's director referred to Her Majesty as "our Miss Piggy."
Lloyd believes that "Spitting Image" was a form of satire that brought laughter to a divided society during Thatcher's Conservative government, much like the polarization seen during the Brexit era. He emphasized the need for more satire on British television and the show's role in making people laugh and, in some cases, even changing lives for the better.
Spitting Image may not have made a lasting impact on politics, but it certainly left an indelible mark in the world of British television and political satire.
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