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Saturday, 8 July, 2000, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Like a puppet with a sting
Of the 200 or so Spitting Image puppets up for auction, some will not be missed by their real-life counterparts.

Tony Blair's government has endured its toughest week since coming to power in 1997. But things could be even worse.

On Friday, the team behind the notorious satire show, Spitting Image, began selling more than 200 puppets that once appeared on the programme.
Roy Hattersley puppet
Roy Hattersley has called himself the "eponymous hero"

In its 1980s heyday, the show mopped up each week's political events and mirrored them back to an eager TV audience of up to 12 million as razor-sharp satire.

Using its trademark latex-moulded caricature puppets, the show's savaging of politicians, royalty and celebrities became essential Sunday night viewing.

Writer John O'Farrell, who once worked on the show, has said satire can be effective only when a politician is already in a weakened position.

In which case the mind boggles to think how Spitting Image might have torn into Tony Blair's current run of bad luck - Ken Follet's attack; the plan to instantly fine yobs; Euan Blair's drunken celebrations.
Spitting Image facts
Show started in 1984 & ran for 14 years
Its creators were Roger Law & Peter Fluck
It took three years for Fluck & Law to develop technology to get puppets on TV
Show was franchised to Japan, Portugal & Greece

Although former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley insists he always enjoyed the show, other politicians were less magnanimous.

Often the problem was that the public found politicians inseparable from their Spitting Image caricatures.

Norman Tebbit was a backstreet bruiser, with a leather jacket and a chilling snarl; former education secretary Kenneth Baker was an obsequious slug; Hattersley sent forth a torrent of saliva every time he opened his mouth.

Former Liberal leader David Steel has blamed Spitting Image for destroying his credibility, after he appeared week in, week out, as a finger puppet poking out of David Owen's suit pocket.

Iain Dale, who run's London's Politico's book shop, says Spitting Image stands head and shoulders above any other satirical television programme of recent years.
Prince study
The show was not just about politics: A study for the Prince puppet

"Yes Minister would have been on a par, but it was a different. Spitting Image was a topical show, driven by the week's news," says Mr Dale.

The programme was effective in calling into question Margaret Thatcher's sanity, as it had done with Ronald Reagan.

"They had several puppets of Margaret Thatcher and with each one she got steadily madder. The perception now is that she is mad, which of course is completely untrue."

But Douglas Hurd was one of a handful to actually profit from his Spitting Image character, he says.

The puppet, which sported a "Mr Whippy" ice cream-style hairdo and a gratingly flat voice, "gave him a personality and raised his profile".
Margaret Thatcher puppet
Mrs Thatcher was portrayed as a bald man with a wig

Although the show ran until 1998, it lost its edge with the passing of Thatcher's premiership.

"Under Major they had difficulties because there wasn't as much material. And while they were split on policy, they actually quite liked each other."

The absence of a "must see" satirical TV show today means "Labour has got off very lightly", says Mr Dale.

"It's a great shame because if you think about it, the government has got some great characters, like Mandelson and Robin Cook. And they all hate each other."

See also:

05 Jun 00 | Media reports
Kremlin pulls strings on TV puppets
07 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Online sale for TV puppets
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