Spitting Image archive comes ‘home’ to Cambridge
Roger Law, one of the creative minds behind Spitting Image – the satirical puppet-led series that was essential viewing in the 1980s and 90s – has handed over part of the programme’s archive to Cambridge University Library.
The archive was unveiled at Cambridge University Library yesterday (November 13). It includes the previously unseen and unbroadcast script and video tapes of the 1984 pilot episode.
Running for 18 series on ITV, Spitting Image was nominated for nine BAFTAs (winning two) and four International Emmys for its biting political and cultural satire.
It launched the career of numerous comedians, actors, satirists and voiceover artists, including Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Steve Coogan, and regularly attracted millions of viewers in the UK and abroad.
Many more treasures from the ground-breaking series – including all the scripts, sketches and 400 video tapes – will be added to the archive over time.
University librarian Dr Jessica Gardner said she was “so excited,” telling the Cambridge Independent: “We’re really just opening up the first boxes today, just wanting to give a glimpse to the public as soon as possible.”
Jessica believes that the archive is something of a “national treasure,” noting: “It might seem strange to say that, but Spitting Image was so popular.
“We had it in our front rooms, we all watched it, we all talked about it – it was a real social event, as well as influencing the politics of the time. So it feels fantastic to have that here in Cambridge, where the programme actually began.”
Hailing from Ely, Roger attended the Cambridge School of Art – now part of Anglia Ruskin University – along with Peter Fluck, another co-creator of the series, who is from Cambridge (it was Martin Lambie-Nairn who was credited for coming up with the original idea for Spitting Image).
“They started here in Cambridge, making Spitting Image,” said Jessica. “They met people from Footlights here at the university as well, so a really fantastic story which has its origins in the city.”
Roger Law, who says he got his ‘big break’ at the age of 19 producing a comic strip for The Observer with Peter Cook, said: “I used to live on what we used to call ‘Orchard Straße’ [Orchard Street], down the road from Victoria Road and the University Hotel.”
On how Spitting Image first came about, Roger, who is “delighted” to be handing over the memorabilia to the University of Cambridge, said: “We got to the point where we were working for Der Spiegel in Germany, Time magazine, The Sunday Times, and we still weren’t making a living because the budgets in newspapers had dropped.
“So it was a necessity to survive. We loved what we did so we thought if we could make the move, we could do political satire on TV. We took the provincial cartoon from newspapers and magazines to TV – that is possibly our only achievement. Fortunately for us, it did work in the end.”
Present at the launch was a puppet of Margaret Thatcher, which dates from the 1990s. Does Roger have a favourite among the countless puppets that appeared on the show?
“Any puppet that worked really well was my new favourite,” he recalled, “because if it didn’t work well, you had to make another three to see if they worked well. There are over 5,000 puppets with the franchises we did in other countries, from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Japan...”
This writer always enjoyed the all-grey John Major puppet. “Yes, and he was very understated and rather English, wasn’t he?” said Roger. “He didn’t jump about. It was the only puppet you could put on and have it do nothing – people were still entertained.”
Roger concluded: “Normally when you have a successful comedy show, it’s run by the star – whoever that might be – but there were no stars of the show in Spitting Image. Everybody got a crack of the whip – and puppets don’t have agents!”
More by this authorAdrian Peel