No way back for Spitting Image
Friday May 20, 2005
Plans to resurrect satirical puppet show Spitting Image have been abandoned after one of its original creators dropped out and the estimated cost of the project ran into several million pounds.
Producer John Lloyd held talks with ITV about bringing back the show, which lampooned politicians and celebrities from Margaret Thatcher to Madonna during its 12-year run from 1984 to 1996.
But Mr Lloyd has been unable to persuade his fellow co-creator and puppet maker, Roger Law, to take part.
“ITV were very keen and there couldn’t be a better time to bring it back but Roger just doesn’t want to go there anymore,” said Mr Lloyd. “He lives on Bondi Beach in Australia and is having a great life painting kangaroos and duck-billed platypuses.
“You wonder whether it could be done without Roger but it just wouldn’t be the same. He is more than just a name on a piece of paper – he is a very inspirational guy and central to the whole thing.”
Mr Lloyd had the backing of a number of the comedians who provided the voices for the original Spitting Image, including John Sessions, Harry Enfield and Rory Bremner. He discussed bringing back the show with the ITV controller of entertainment, Claudia Rosencrantz, and Nigel Pickard, the director of programmes.
But reviving the show would have involved creating hundreds of new puppets at a cost running into millions of pounds, said Mr Lloyd.
“We were having to start right from scratch with at least a year of pre-production,” he said. “We would need to find several million pounds to get where we were when we finished. We had 1,200 puppets and even if we still had the puppets they would have aged 15 to 20 years. There’s no point having a puppet of Leonid Brezhnev any more.
“Everyone thinks it’s a good idea but Roger is 63 now and it’s not the time to start working 22-hour days again. I’m afraid we will never see its like again.”
Mr Lloyd had also held talks with a film financier ready to bankroll the new series, which would have cost around £400,000 an episode.
“You couldn’t possibly get all the money from one broadcaster. I have got nothing but praise for ITV. They were incredibly supportive and I have got a lot of time for Claudia Rosencrantz,” he said.
Ms Rosencrantz said: “We would love to have Spitting Image back on ITV and have been in discussions for some time to try and find a way to do this. Although this is an expensive show to revive funding is absolutely not an issue. The issue has always been trying to persuade [Peter] Fluck and [Roger] Law to let us bring it back.”
In the 80s Spitting Image’s biting satire provided a running commentary on the Thatcher years, taking in the miners’ strike and the poll tax and attracting audiences of up to 15 million.
Ronald Reagan was regularly shown in bed with wife Nancy searching for his missing brain, while Lord (then Norman) Tebbit appeared in full biker leathers and Kenneth Baker was morphed into a snail.
Accused of libel, blasphemy and sacrilege, the show even had a number one hit single, The Chicken Song.
But the show was axed in the mid-90s as the death throes of John Major’s government dragged on and it appeared to have lost its relevance and cutting edge.
Mr Lloyd, who produces BBC quiz show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, has been involved in some of the biggest comedy hits of the last three decades, including Not the Nine O’Clock News and Blackadder.
He is in talks with ITV about other projects.
Trust Media Guardian to say that Spitting Image was axed because it had “appeared to have lost its relevance and cutting edge”. It was axed because it wasn’t as funny any more.
Still, this is sad news presuming its true. I always said Spitting Image deserved a return; it’s a great shame that it’s fallen through. ITV might have had a show actually worth watching again…