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Who were the people behind Spitting Image

01:00 Mon 31st Dec 2001 |

A.� A team of craftsmen, writers and actors began work on producing Spitting Image in 1984. The men who made the controversial puppets were Peter Fluck and Roger Law, produced by John Lloyd, who with Sean Hardie had previously made Not The Nine O'Clock News. The writers were mostly poached from the John Cleese, Peter Cook and Private Eye schools, combined with the skill of actors including Steve Nallon, who provided Mrs Thatcher's booming voice, Chris Barrie, Enn Reitel, Kate Robbins and Jessica Martin.

Q.� How big an audience did the show attract

A.� The show, which lasted five years, set out to outrage the royalists and offend the famous. One MP said it "would denigrate what we hold most dear". Central's Spitting Image attracted controversy from its first airing - the IBA censors asked for cuts including the deletion of a "bugger" and a scene of the Harold Macmillan puppet spilling soup on himself. Conservative MPs were furious at the mocking of the royal family - the Queen Mum was a Brummie horse-racing fanatic, Princess Michael appeared with a Hitler moustache and Prince Philip was featured swigging Ouzo - because they said "they couldn't answer back" and "looked so ugly". Mary Whitehouse was disgusted that when Princess Margaret was in hospital Spitting Image had her dancing and brandishing a gin bottle. There were few complaints, however, at the sight of Colonel Gadafi announcing International Terrorist of the Year Award (and being blown up opening an envelope). Eventually the show attracted more than 11 million viewers to its usual Sunday night slot and the number of protesters gradually petered out.

Q.� What did victims of the show think

A.� The show grew so successful that the Spitting Image Chicken Song topped the charts for six weeks in May 1986. The show then ran into trouble when it produced a book containing a nude caricature of Prince Andrew. Prince Charles struck back by withdrawing a volume of his collected speeches from the same publisher Faber & Faber. Victims pretended not to be stung by the scenes - Alastair Burnet said he was unfazed by the puppet with the exploding nose, Ian St John said puppets of himself and Ian Greaves were better than the originals, and Denis Healey, the only real person to apear on the show, pretended to be hurt that people mistook him for a dummy. Jeffrey Archer sent them a voice tape so they could improve their version of him.

By the show attracted a fair amount of litigation, they were forced to spend a fortune in libel damages and the cost of producing the half-hour shows grew to be phenomenal. By 1988 the �10,000-a-minute show's life-sized puppets were costing �2,000 a time to make.

In 1986, Spitting Image made a "special" for American viewers. In it they could mock Ronald Reagan (who could not differentiate between ordering a pizza and a nuclear attack) but they couldn't 'do' Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney lawyers warned. In fact the show provoked a number of complaints to NBCX second only to those about coverage of the Irangate affair.

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By Katharine MacColl

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