30 facts for 30 years – The truth about 'Spitting Image'

Some of the characters from the satirical puppet show Credit: Spitting Image Productions/ITV

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the satirical puppet show 'Spitting Image'. It was made by ITV in its Midlands studios and first aired on Sunday 26 February 1984.

30 facts for 30 years:

  • The programme began in 1984 and ran for 12 years until 1996.

  • There were 131 episodes over 18 series and 10 one-off specials.

  • Its creators were satirical artists Peter Fluck and Roger Law, who met at Cambridge School of Art.

  • It took three years for Fluck and Law to develop technology to get the puppets onto TV screens.

  • The first series cost £2.6 million - almost double the cost of other prime-time shows.

  • Each puppet was moulded in latex and cost around £5,000 to make.

  • Many of the puppeteers and voice artists became famous after their time on the show. They include Harry Enfield, Steve Coogan, Kate Robbins and John Sessions.

  • The first episode aired with a laughter track. This episode was shown to a preview audience before transmission. The laughter track was dropped in later episodes.

  • It was originally filmed at a warehouse in London’s Docklands, where the puppets were made - but moved to the Birmingham studios of Central Independent Television.

  • The show’s first director, Peter Harris, was chosen because he had worked on many episodes of ‘The Muppet Show’.

  • All the Royal puppets wer cut from the first episode because HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was due to open Central’s new Nottingham studios the following week.

  • After the first series, production moved to those studios in Nottingham, although some editing was done in London.

  • To maintain topicality the show’s production schedule was extremely tight. Often the second part was still being edited as the first part was being transmitted.

  • Musician Sting was persuaded to sing a re-worded version of "Every Breath You Take", for the show entitled "Every Bomb You Make".

  • In 1986, the show had a Number 1 hit in the UK charts with "The Chicken Song", parodying "Agadoo" by Black Lace.

  • Puppets of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were successively manic, and were often dressed as a man – an idea suggested by one of the puppeteers.

  • Steve Nallon, who provided the voice for Margaret Thatcher also impersonated Birmingham MP Roy Hattersley and the Queen Mother for whom he used a Black Country accent.

  • Steve Nallon also dressed as Margaret Thatcher to perform at events and in the media for many years, even after the show ended.

  • In an early episode the producers stated they definitely had not made a puppet of the Queen Mother but she popped up at the end of the same show, expressing grief as she was “looking forward to seeing it."

  • In 1992 a Spitting Image Election Special was performed in front of a studio audience - the first time that had happened.

  • When Tony Blair was the leader of the Labour Party he was often portrayed as a naive, nervous public schoolboy. A year after Spitting Image ended, he won the General Election and became Prime Minister.

  • Sotheby’s auctioned 200 Spitting Image puppets in July 2000. Margaret Thatcher, former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, and David Steel were all bought by the art committee of the House of Commons.

  • Lord (then Roy) Hattersley, a Birmingham Labour MP at the time, loved his puppet - which spat profusely whenever it spoke.

  • But Lord (then Kenneth) Baker hated his puppet, which portrayed him as a slug.

  • Former Tory health minister Edwina Currie bought and still owns the puppet of herself.

  • A puppet of Osama Bin Laden was made but was never used on the show.

  • A US version of the show was produced for the NBC network, introduced each week by David Frost.

  • The format of the programme was also franchised to several countries including Japan, Portugal & Greece.

  • The UK version of Spitting Image won ten BAFTA Awards and two Emmy Awards.

  • The first ten series have been released on DVD but the subsequent eight are so far not available.

'Spitting Image' Credit: Spitting Image Productions/ITV

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