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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Spitting Image Satire : ( The Original 1980s Satire Comedy Writing Style )

Spitting Image Satire : ( The Original 1980s Satire Comedy Writing Style )

( fair use for educational / research purposes )

Spitting Image was much more than just a parody sketch comedy show featuring puppet caricatures. It was political satire.

A show that started at the time of Margret Thatcher & Ronald Regan’s second term in office.

“There was a time bomb that was about to explode under all of them ! “ 

_ Jon Blair ( one of the original producers of Spitting Image ) ( Whatever Happened To Spitting Image ( 2013 ) ) , symbolizing Spitting Image as a Time Bomb…

“It was getting 15 million viewers. That was more people

then it took to elect the Tory government.” _ John Lloyd ( Comedy Connections : Spitting Image )

“ If we could make ( the caricatures ) move and get them onto television, It’s not going to be the kind of television that watches over you from the corner, you know, it’s not good morning BBC TV, it’s going to be to upset people. And that was my thing about it and that was exciting, that made you want to do it. I really wanted to do it.” _ Roger Law ( Whatever Happened To Spitting Image ( 2013 ) )

“ We’re satirists, we’re caricaturists, we’re going to change the world ! “ _ Peter Fluck ( Whatever Happened To Spitting Image ( 2013 ) )

“As television comedy goes, Splitting Image goes probably a lot further than “ That

Was The Week Went “ but people are less


you have to go further than that

to get people's attention. “

_ Ian Hislop ( 1986 television interview )

“Spit On Your Own and you can’t do anything, but if we all Spit Together, we’ll drown the Bastards ! “ _ Bob Crow


Roger Law & Peter Fluck were best known for their satirical sculpted caricatures who’s work appeared on magazine covers.

They were approached to develop a political satire puppet show in the format similar to satirical radio show “ Week Ending “.

The originator of the idea for Spitting Image can be recognized in the credits of the original run,

based on an original lunch with Martin Lambie-Nairn ( who worked on the show Weekend World )

“The politicians who were appearing would come and have drinks and chat afterwords. They’d always come with their wife or a secretary and their invariable first words on entering the Green Room were ‘How was I?’ - we thought that should be the name for the show. Anyway, I began to see that they were very different people to the public image that comes across on television. Things they were saying on the screen were not the things they believed. As a politically naive person, all this was an eye-opener to me. ( Tooth and Claw : The Inside Story of Spitting Image ( 1986 ) )

This lead to a small team of people finding the best satirical minds in Britain at the time and carrying an idea , a pitch, a proposal with them called “ Spitting Image “. 

Such a move towards the mainstream entertainment industry today would not be acceptable without a referral and agents / managers / production companies handling everything.

After a long exhausting journey with John Lloyd being the only professional in the television entertainment industry ( as a producer ) , Central Television was interested in Spitting Image.

Spitting Image has a history of being a disorganized group of artists, many who never had experience or knowledge working on television before. Even some people who were Leftist, including Roger Law.

The crew was very politically motivated.


Spitting Image’s influences are made up of two parts which are the traditional British satirical caricature political cartoons and modern day satirical comedy entertainment.

James Gillray / George Cruikshank / and other British Satirical Caricaturists at the time.

  • especially James Gillray’s caricature style * 

* There’s also a James Gillray Spitting Image puppet which appeared around the late 1980s which often served as as a stock character, often a politician or capitalist. The puppet is often recognizable for having a very low nose close to the mouth.

  • The British Modern “Satire Boom” starting around the 1960s relating to television ( Monty Pythons Flying Circus ) , print ( Private Eye Magazine ) , radio ( Week Ending ) and Alternative Comedy in the 1980s ( The Young Ones ) .

Juvenal style satire

  • Also I think there’s some influence too relating to the start of modern satire : Mad Magazine / Underground Comix of the 1960s ( like Robert Crumb for example ).
  • Also cartoon slapstick comedy like Looney Tunes and of course The Muppets.
  • Many people who worked on Spitting Image were Leftist. Even with Spitting Image influenced  show Les Guignols De L’info has been said to have Leftist leanings.

The show makes up of several types of humor which gels together harmoniously like music.

The shock value of the caricature ( Visual )

The slapstick comedy of the puppetry ( Visual )

Unique sound effects ( Audio )

Various background gags ( Visual )

Snappy Razor Sharp Satirical Dialog ( Verbal )

Creative editing at times when needed , visual gags, etc ( Visual )

and Vocal Voice Acting Performance ( Audio )


I would say this relates to my own personal taste in humor which is “ Creative and or Satirical “.

When there’s satire, there’s politics. Sometimes to understand a piece of art, it’s important to understand who the artist is as a person and where they are coming from, especially politically.

For example someone who makes horror movies isn’t necessarily someone who advocates or purposely reinforces violence, antisocial violence and crime but bringing across a message of wanting to prevent it. On the other hand , someone could be just making something for the sake of entertainment and commodity rather than art and entertainment. It’s interesting to think about.

South Park is known for completing a show in 6 days. But before computer technology has advanced, there was Spitting Image. A crew that also slept under their worktables with passion in what they do.

Even though both are satirical comedy shows, the political ideology is different.

South Park supports the Libertarian Party. Even though they were more punk and slightly Left Wing in the early episodes, the show has became more and more Right Wing.

The original Spitting Image crew however was clearly left leaning and POLITICALLY Motivated. 

In fact many people who worked on Spitting Image including Roger Law who was a Socialist ( mentioned by Steve Nallon in an interview once ) , were Leftists.

John Lloyd mentioned during the 30th Anniversary Spitting Image Film Screening in 2013 ( also seen in the documentary “ Whatever Happened To Spitting Image “ ) said the following…

  I was, you know, the liberal voting middle-of-the-road reasonable BBC trained producer trying to mediate between these lunatics and ( shakes raised fist ) they’d get all Marxist you know “ Che Guevara “ hats and all this kind of stuff. “

Spitting Image’s format style was based on the satirical radio show “ Week Ending “ which people like Jon Glover would join the Voice Impressionist crew.

Ian Hislop & Nick Newman who during the run would become known for editors and writers of Private Eye Magazine and they are still there to this day.

Rob Grant and Doug Naylor would join the writing crew later as well as a few others.


“ Ian Hislop and Nick Newman from Private Eye provided the sharp political stuff while Rob Grant and Doug Naylor, who would later go on to 

fashion Red Dwarf, provided what became one of Spitting Image’s richest ingredients - silliness. “ ( A Nasty Piece of Work (1992 ) )

In 1986 , Spitting Image made a rare documentary with the television series “The English Programme: The Writing of Spitting Image “ ,

 the original Spitting Image crew reveals the process of how they’ve written Spitting Image.

Writers contribute gags and jokes to a main idea. Then the script would be edited.

Many jokes and gags are changed and punched up before it’s finalized. 

The original idea is always intact however.

There’s 2 groups that write Spitting Image

The Commission Team ( The Full Time Professional Comedy Writer team ) that provides 80% of the material for the show.


The other 40% is provided by a Non-Commission Team that sends scripts out of the blue. A time when a TV show would accept unsolicited material which of course today is unacceptable.

Each writer is expected to write 10 minutes of material each week. ( Topical )

The Wednesday meetings for 15 minutes of extra material for the filler not-as-topical sketches.

Songs would typically be banked / saved for filler.

“The benefits of actually knowing what we were doing were almost immediately apparent in the second series, in which we achieved a rough balance of fifty per cent political

 material to fifty per cent media, entertainment and sport. This gave the front-line writers the range they wanted to aim at.” _ Roger Law ( A Nasty Piece of Work (1992 ) )

The ideas for writing material would come from a variety of sources. Mainly Newspaper and Television News 

( remember, this was before the internet like we have today ) .

They would come in on a Friday morning,  They would look through many newspapers for the big stories of the week and seeking who’s been in Ian Hislop’s words “Stupid“.

Ian Hislop also mentioned yoking two ideas together like a politician being against birth control and watching a dog food advert and then resulting in the idea that the politician is one of the country’s top breeders.

Or how a university refused to give Thatcher a doctorate while she was shutting down hospitals which makes Norman Fowler congratulate Thatcher.

“ Well that’s one less doctor. “ Says Norman to Thatcher, which of course, Thatcher smashes a picture frame over his head.


An unused sketch idea involved an announcement of the cancelation of Dr Who which the cabinet cheers “ Another less doctor ! “

Another thing regarding Spitting Image is that it needs to be written in a comic like style like Mad Magazine or Political Cartoon written style.

Fast Pace, sharp, satirical and punchy.

Because they feel that puppets are limited compared to the facial expressions and body language of a human on screen.

However Les Guignols De L’info tends to do long monologue pieces. But of course the dialog written style would need to be sharp and punchy. Especially whenever

 Spitting Image made live appearances through out the mid - late 1980s like Comedy Relief, Saturday Live, and The Policeman’s Ballroom.

“The Lloyd argument, in belief, was that politics simply could not sustain the show, 

especially now that an attempt was being to make it as snappy as possible. 

We all knew that when the puppets trotted on the screen, the initial suspension 

of disbelief was colossal, after which it went very rapidly downhill. 

This was because they were lousy actors and, being legless, even worse dancers. 

Aside from popping up and bonking each other on the head, there was nothing

 they could do of themselves that was intrinsically funny. The only way to disguise their ineptness was 

to keep the jokes coming thick and fast. The problem was that putting good jokes into the

 mouths of characters with only the most limited range of expression required exceptionally

 good joke-writers. Writers of this quality were rare, and some of them had no interest in 

politics whatsoever. But if the show was ever to have a second series it would have to

 corral these writers and give them scope. And that inevitably meant brooding the show

 out beyond politics and into the areas of media and entertainment and beyond. 

We reluctantly brought the argument as far as entertainment figures were concerned, 

but when requests for sports stars started coming down, the workshop played merry hell.

 This, it was argued, was like being asked to caricature people for no better reason than that they were there.”

_ Roger Law ( A Nasty Piece of Work ( 1992 ) )

Steve Nallon mentioned on his blog post “ Satire or Just Spit,

on how the construction of satire starts off with “The Big Idea” and “The Moral Viewpoint” ( and also how Spitting Image’s satire relates to Juvenalian satire, which Ian Hislop has mentioned about his interest in Juvenalian satire in a video once. )

_ The controlling idea

What the simple idea of what the satire is all about.

Something you can describe in a sentence.

The story’s root.

The truth you want to express. A truth.

“  What though of the 1990s ( 1990s Spitting Image ) , and what if a sketch didn’t have a controlling idea based on a political truth? Well, that’s when the show, in my opinion, got a bit rubbish.  “ _ Steve Nallon

_ Moral Viewpoint

 What is it that the satirist wishes to correct? What they are for ?

_ The satirists’ morals and ethics

Ian Hislop who’s the satirist for earning the honor and reputation for being known as the most sued man in Britain , also has a method as a satirist.

Ian Hislop has said the following in his interview at Impact 2018,

“ The problem with Trump is you have to find the things that he doesn’t find funny. I mean, this is the job for satirists. If you say you’re ridiculous , overblown, fat, blonde, groper , you know his core vote loves that. You know, that’s why they vote for him , It’s true. That stuff won’t do , you have to find the stuff that hurts. A lot of people found this.

You say to Trump that you were always a flop at business, you’ve got a lot of money from your dad, you’ve invested it badly, you’re the only man in history who lost money running a casino. Trump failed , that’s the stuff he finds less amusing.

And that brilliant Michael Wolf book is filled with suggestions that the attributes that he claims about himself aren’t actually true.

He’s very successful with women except the ones who know him. 

“ ( When people say ) I thought that was very funny ( public life and lie about it ) 

“ Which is great because I shall use that in court if he ever sues me. “

“ The thing about Private Eye ( Magazine ) 

Is the thing we do is we do jokes and journalism and a sort of mixture of the two. You tell people what they don’t know and then you make jokes about it. “



" In the past most caricaturists ( satirical cartoonist ) had to work by themselves. 

The best caricaturists ( satirists ) are obsessive. The best ones work obsessively. They probably have a deeply distressful nature. 

Maybe romantics , idealists , moralists , or social reformers. They object to what’s around them. 

But the ability to make people laugh at a funny face is a very fascinating tool and a weapon. “ 

_ Peter Fluck ( Satirist / Caricaturist / Puppet Maker / Co-creator of Spitting Image

( Whatever Happened To Spitting Image ( documentary ) ( 2013 ) )

“ Somewhere in the satirist’s heart there must be an anger about the way the world is. 

Or should that be how people are? 

The targets of satire are often seen to be of political systems, institutions or class structures

 but equally there are of the human failings of hypocrisy, greed, piety, pride and pretension.

The satirist isn’t a cynic, but a disillusioned romantic who 

deep down wants the world to be better than it is 

and is pretty pissed off that it isn’t. 

The creative forces of the satirist come from a sublimation of anger and indignation 

refined and combined with a talent for the comic or caricature. 

But sometimes the anger isn’t too far below the surface. Indeed, on a personal level,

 the weakness of the satirist is often how easily he ( or she ) is riled. 

They seek to correct the culture around them that threatens their own 

values rather than the prevailing ideology. The very fact that satirists 

are allowed to say the things they do within the framework of a 

dominant socio-economic capitalist structure merely

 proves they are ultimately servants of the system rather than its enemy. “

_ Steve Nallon ( Satire or Just Spit blog article from his website )

“ If I had a message to young satirists, it would be …. Learn to care.

 Learn to care about the world and not be so cynical about it. ”

 _ Steve Nallon 

( Television interview talking about The Daily Show with John Stewart ( 2013 ? ) )

“Satire is about exposing vice, folly and humbug.” _ Ian Hislop ( various interviews )

“Satire is about exposing Vice, Follie and Humbug.” _ Ian Hislop ( various interviews )

  • Spitting Image and Leftist politics
  • Most people would think that Spitting Image only lampooned mainstream politics and entertainment.
  • If they were allowed to be, Spitting Image would have helped out Leftist political movements.
  • But as Roger Law & Peter Fluck mentioned, they felt censored and the journey was like a rollercoaster.
  • “ What bothers Fluck and Law more is what Spitting Image is doing to them. After five years spent developing and making caricatures for 
  • Britain’s most original and disrespectful television comedy, they sometimes find it hard to see the funny side of things. The endless hassles and 
  • compromises involved in working for television are no recipe for what they regard as the best work. Sometimes they just know they are losing their edge. “
  • ( Tooth and Claw : The Inside Story of Spitting Image ( 1986 ) )
  • Roger Law was a Leftist / Socialist / Communist / and in his words from the 1992 book “A Nasty Piece of Work “
  • “An irresponsible Anarchist”.
  • Steve Nallon mentioned that Roger Law was a Socialist in an interview once.
  • Even today whenever Roger Law appears on camera, he is famously known for wearing his Che Guevara hat.

According to the 1986 book Tooth and Claw : The Inside Story of Spitting Image,

Roger Law & Peter Fluck had a leftist art teacher named Paul Hogarth, who often would tell stories of his experiences 

including driving lorries during The Spanish Civl War ( which was a proven Anarchist Society in modern history ).

When Roger Law tried to “advance his political education by joining the Cambridge branch of the Communist Party, he was shrewdly turned down as being ‘too irresponsible’.

“I could not bring myself to join any political party, partly on the Groucho Marxist principle that I should not belong to any organization that was 

willing to have me, but mainly because I knew I was congenitally incapable of toeing the party line. But I was also very grateful for the existence of 

the parties of the far left, and I would readily supply “Ink “ and “Newsline” and other similar organs with low-cost cartoons and caricatures.

It seemed to me then, and to some extend now, that they were the only agencies though which working-class people could get an education in what 

capitalism was all about. Unfortunately, they had no talent whatsoever for telling people what Communism was all about.” _ Roger Law ( A Nasty Piece of Work ( 1992 ) )

According to A Nasty Piece of Work ( 1992 ),

When Roger Law was living in America during the late 1960s, he visited the

“ Peace and Freedom party “ , a radical group which was closely

 allied to The Black Panthers.

During Roger’s stay, he heard about the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Chicago riots ( which would result into the famous 

Chicago Seven Trail which included Anarchists of The Yippies Abbie Hoffman & Jerry Rubin and Black Panther 

member Bobby Seale ) as events that brought awareness to Roger’s political consciousness as a Leftist.

Fluck & Law also had work in an Anti-Fascist Protest.

“We had a requisition for three carnival heads for an Anti-Nazi League rally in Victoria Park. We did them an expresses-only 

Hitler and two home-grown fascists, John Tyndall and Martin Webster.” _ Roger Law ( A Nasty Piece of Work ( 1992 ) )

If Fluck & Law were allowed to, perhaps 

Spitting Image could have brought awareness

 about Leftist politics more. Perhaps possibly a Revolution ? 

The show was getting at most 15 million viewers after all.

“Our original idea was that the show should be almost entirely politics, and they should be as radical 

as we could manage without being obvious. To this end the Queen was conceived as a sort 

of benevolent Marxist who had to endure the insufferable woman who happened to be prime minister. 

Despite this felicitous invention, it became clear, especially as John Lloyd grew in confidence, that politics was being edged to one side. We had some vigorous debates on this

 subject in Birmingham, during one of which I was alleged to have tried to strangle him, 

though I was only feeling the quality of the lapels of his jacket.“ _ Roger Law ( A Nasty Piece of Work ( 1992 )  )

John Lloyd mentioned in the documentary “Whatever Happened To Spitting Image ( 2013 ) 

“ that Roger Law tried to throw a sofa at him once.

“ John and I used to have incredible stand up

screaming matches. And he'd say “ Your just a

left-wing diatribe Rog. ” 

And you’d say “ ( Margaret Thatcher ) is not interested in the left-wing

anymore John, she interested in people like you ! The reasonable liberals ! She's after your now tale mate.

She's finished with us “. And so those

conversations I doubt

happen even in the

newsrooms in television these days. ” _ Roger Law ( Whatever Happened To Spitting Image ( 2013)  )

“It might be through that after so many compromises of our political and aesthetic outlook, 

Fluck and I should have lost all stomach with the show. “What on earth are we doing here?” 

did become a kind of catchphrase of the partnership but on my side it was all a joke 

and it usually, though not invariably, was with Fluck. Despite all of the disappointments, 

there was always a sense of participating in something quite extraordinary. It might not be the acme 

of caricature or the most hard-edged political satire but it still seemed like a creation worth persevering with.

 And many of our conflicts had not been so much over principle, as coming to an understanding of what the creation could do, and what it couldn’t. “

“Another thing that militated against a consistent radical line was the fact that the show was made with the direct input 

of literally scores of people - ranging from devout monarchists to hard-line Marxists - who would be quite unable to 

agree the political time of day among themselves. “ _ Roger Law ( A Nasty Piece of Work  ( 1992 ) ) “

Spitting Image in my opinion relates to Cultural Anarchism in a way for being Anti-Authoritarian culture.

As mentioned in An Anarchist FAQ Section B relating to Cultural Anarchism

I quote the following…

“We will define cultural anarchism as the promotion of anti-authoritarian values through those aspects of society traditionally regarded as belonging to the sphere of "culture" rather than "economics" or "politics" -- for example, through art, music, drama, literature, education, child-rearing practices, sexual morality, technology, and so forth.

Cultural expressions are anarchistic to the extent that they deliberately attack, weaken, or subvert the tendency of most traditional cultural forms to promote authoritarian values and attitudes, particularly domination and exploitation. Thus a novel that portrays the evils of militarism can be considered as cultural anarchism if it goes beyond the simple "war-is-hell" model and allows the reader to see how militarism is connected with authoritarian institutions (e.g. capitalism and statism) or methods of authoritarian conditioning (e.g. upbringing in the traditional patriarchal family). Or, as John Clark expresses it, cultural anarchism implies "the development of arts, media, and other symbolic forms that expose various aspects of the system of domination and contrast them with a system of values based on freedom and community." This "cultural struggle" would be part of a general struggle "to combat the material and ideological power of all dominating classes, whether economic, political, racial, religious, or sexual, with a multi-dimensional practice of liberation." In other words, an "expanded conception of class analysis" and "an amplified practice of class struggle”.

Cultural anarchist ideas are shared by almost all schools of anarchist thought and consciousness-raising is considered an essential part of any anarchist movement. For anarchists, its important to "build the new world in the shell of the old" in all aspects of our lives and creating an anarchist culture is part of that activity. Few anarchists, however, consider consciousness-raising as enough in itself and so combine cultural anarchist activities with organizing, using direct action and building libertarian alternatives in capitalist society. The anarchist movement is one that combines practical self-activity with cultural work, with both activities feeding into and supporting the other."

And not only do I consider myself a Cultural Anarchist but a satirical puppeteer as well. :)


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