© Spitting Image
26 Feb - 08 June 2014
LATE OPENINGS (until 8pm): 15, 16, 17 May (Museums at Night)
At 10pm on Sunday, 26 February 1984 British television witnessed the birth of a new phenomenon - a satirical puppet show which would push the boundaries of taste and decency, present the Royal Family, politicians and celebrities alike in surreal yet telling situations, and become one of the most talked-about programmes of the 1980s and 1990s. Artists Peter Fluck and Roger Law had joined forces with Tony Hendra of National Lampoon, producer John Lloyd of Not the Nine O’Clock News, and documentary producer Jon Blair to bring to life the satirical sculptures of ‘Luck and Flaw’ in London’s Docklands and Central Television’s Birmingham studios. The country had never seen anything like it.
This exhibition looks at the partnership between artists Peter Fluck and Roger Law, whose talent for three-dimensional caricature formed the bedrock for the complex creation that would become Spitting Image. It includes images of the satirical sculptures created by ‘Luck and Flaw’ in the 1970s and ’80s for magazines such as National Lampoon, Men Only, Der Spiegel, The New York Times, The Sunday Times Magazine and many others. Featured are Spitting Image caricature drawings and photographs of, amongst others, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Kate Moss, Saddam Hussein, Billy Connolly, Rupert Murdoch, Jo Brand and John Paul II, not forgetting the Royal Family, Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet and her political opponents. Also on show will be ceramic teapots of Margaret Thatcher, Royal eggcups, books and magazines, dog chews and other ephemera.
As Roger Law remembers, ‘While it was a wholly original show, it contained virtually nothing that was new’. Spitting Image’s great and novel achievement, however, was to assemble a vast community of creative people including caricaturists, writers, mould makers, foam experts, fitters, puppet makers, costume and wig makers, set builders, puppeteers, voice artists, directors and fixers. The first series saw the team learning through trial and error, but included gems such as Ronald and Nancy Reagan in ‘The President’s Brain Is Missing’ and the jet-set encounters between the likes of Robert Mugabe, John McEnroe and Joan Collins, suggesting the ‘surreal next-door’ universe that would become Spitting Image at its best.
The programme became a hothouse for young talent: Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, Steve Bendelack, Harry Enfield, David Stoten, Steve Coogan, Tim Watts, Rory Bremner, Hugh Dennis, Alistair McGowan, Jan Ravens, Steve Nallon, Kate Robbins, Chris Barrie and John O’Farrell all contributed to the programme’s satirical edge and madcap humour.
The programme divided the nation: from the audience’s point of view it was either the best thing ever or a ‘tasteless’, ‘degrading’ and ‘twisted’ programme which ‘exceeded the bounds of decency’. The hate mail piled up, especially on behalf of the Royal Family, who were ‘unable to answer back’. The Queen’s press secretary declared that ‘as far as I know none of the members of the Royal Family have ever seen the programme and therefore we have no comment to make on it’.
Spitting Image finally ended in 1996 after 18 series. Its success had spread around the world, earning it ten BAFTAs and two International Emmys in 1985 and 1986. The Spitting Image workshop created spin-off series in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Greece, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Japan and Russia. In 2014 the ‘bastard children’ of Spitting Image continue to thrive in series such as The XYZ Show in Kenya and ZANEWS in South Africa.
In 2000 and 2001 over 600 of the puppets were sold at two groundbreaking online auctions which saw celebrities, politicians and fans from around the world bidding on the foam creations of the Spitting Image workshop. The exhibition reunites some of the best-known puppets, including Margaret Thatcher, The Queen, Princess Diana and Mr Spock.