Back when satire on British television was more about edge than crudeness, Spitting Image was big. This was a show that helped pioneer what the British do so well, which is to take the piss out of figures of authority and each other, and to use comedy to highlight the more ludicrous and underhanded aspects to politicians. However, it’s a show surely very much of its time, relying on context for most of its gags to work. So how does it hold up? This second series started in 1985, and it soon becomes clear that time has done it few favours. Too many of the jokes have lost their potency, removed from the social climate of the time. And some of the puppets, surprisingly, are quite hard to match to one or two of the faces they’re extracting the michael from. This is, of course, a problem which would apply to more or less any comedy satire when time has wore on, and is not a negative exclusive to Spitting Image. But it is a problem. The show itself was always hit and miss, but when it does hit, it hits very well. There are some absolutely brilliant scenes and characters which induce laugh-out-loud moments. Favourites include the uncontrollable breasts of agony aunt Claire Rayner, whose gasps for breath are expertly observed; Elizabeth Taylor demonstrating the correct way to eat a gateau (smash your head through it, gorge, and smother yourself with the cream); the spinning wig of creepy magician Paul Daniels; and Dustin Hoffman Lettuce. Far and away the highlight of the show is the Margaret Thatcher puppet. The aim was clearly to portray her as the most cold-hearted, vicious and insane political figure Britain has ever seen, and they do a great job. In much the same way as The Simpsons, where we look forward to any scene featuring Mr Burns because he steals the show, Margaret Thatcher proves the lynchpin around which the rest of Spitting Image revolves. One particular sketch, which involves Thatcher arguing that she does indeed have an arse but refuses to show it to the right honourable gentleman in the House of Commons, had me in tears. The removal of Thatcher, for many, marked the end of Spitting Image.
It should be said, there are quite a few jokes in here which, thanks to political correctness, nobody would dare show on television today. I’m thinking in particular of a sketch which involves Thatcher and her cabinet having dinner and a waiter asking her what she’d like to do with her vegetables, to which she replies “Which one?” I still find it difficult to decide whether humour like this is actually funny, or if it’s totally repugnant. Furthermore, the show edges on racist and sexist humour that doesn’t sit anywhere near as well in the modern day.
For those who loved the programme in its heydey, who can easily recall the context of the time, then this disc is clearly going to be worth picking up. What lets the DVD down is the special features, in that there aren’t any. None at all. So some will doubtless be disappointed by a lack of deleted sketches or unused characters, but the show itself, boasting twelve half-hour episodes, should prove to have sufficient replay value in its own right. The Show:The Extras: n/a