Spitting Image: Series 2 Review
So what was going on in early 1985 when this series was first shown? Prince Harry, later 'Harry the Nazi', was born. In the US, Walter Mondale stood against the incumbent Ronald Reagan while Zola Budd, once of South Africa and then Guildford, competed in the Los Angeles Olympics where she tripped up Mary Decker. And in the pop charts, Frankie Goes To Hollywood released Relax. Or was it really 1985? Granted, this viewer had to look up two of those four events so as not to look entirely foolish but I do know my Frankie Goes To Hollywood. The greatest British band since, well, ever released Relax in 1984 and it remained in the charts, going up and down according to the whims of the British public for almost the entire year.
That's part of the problem with Spitting Image and its efforts to lampoon pop culture. By the time they'd actually got around to doing the puppets for Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Frankie Goes To Hollywood, time had moved on. Prince was heading around the world in a day, Springsteen was no doubt tired of Born In The USA and Frankie Goes To Hollywood were in tax exile. If it depended solely on its pop caricatures, Spitting Image may not have been as fondly remembered as it is. A fondness that, watching it for the first time since 1992 or thereabouts, comes in spite of it not actually being that funny.
First, the bad. Aside from the pop bands of the time, to best appreciate some of the gags in Spitting Image you need to know much more than who was in government at the time. Around our way, we spent most of the first two episodes not laughing but trying to remember the names of those in Margaret Thatcher's Goverment or those on the benches opposite. We did alright, even getting as far as Gerald Kaufmann, but found ourselves stumped with Norman Fowler. Then there's knowing who the Wets were, who's this 'Ed' that Ronald Reagan was capably assisted by (Edwin Meese), who the Moonies were and how one of the handful of leaders the Soviet people enjoyed before the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev was Konstantin Chernenko. And one doesn't really need to say it but if you only vaguely know who Margaret Thatcher is, there's probably very little for you here.
Things are much better in Spitting Image when they effectively create their own world with their characters. There are minor celebrities that enjoy a taste of Spitting Image caricature, such as Leonard Nimoy, whose pointed ears are forever twitching and who attempts to break out of Star Trek with a, "To be or not to be..eam me up, Scotty!" The gutter press are represented by pigs tapping away at typewriters, Lord Lucan appears at least twice per episode, Steve Davis comes up with his 'Interesting' nickname and Ken Livingstone bemoans having to stand against an opponent who is black, female and unemployed. Untouchable in Ken's world. But they're very much better when they let their characters inhabit a sitcom and wring the situation for laughs. No matter what might be happening in American politics, that Reagan has not the remotest idea of what is happening in the world and clings to Ed for guidance, even to taking him driving at the wheel of a Sprint 2 arcade machine. The arrival of Gorbachev sees Mikhail and Raisa planning the economic and social reforms of perestroika and glasnost to open the floodgates of the free market and allow swinging sixties records, beehive hairdos and paisley-patterned shirts into the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, back in Blighty, the royal family are headed by Phil the Greek, hippy Charles, Sloane ranger Di and evil mastermind Wills, who, in the manner of Blofeld, arranges for something nasty to happen to his younger brother.
The stars of the series, though, are Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet. The sight of Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lamont and ex-Chancellor Geoffrey Howe playing Trivial Pursuit and struggling to say what the FT Index is had this viewer almost on the floor. Norman Tebbit is welcomed back into Parliament by Norman Fowler not out of love or friendship but by saying that now he's out of hospital, that's one more Fowler can shut down. Tebbit smacks his cabinet over their heads with a truncheon and complements his boot-boys with, "Hmmm...nice leather!" Thatcher prefers a more direct approach, thumping Lawson in the ribs when he forgets his red briefcase. Later, she joins her colleagues at the men's urinal, all of whom confess to finding it difficult to go in her company. And Michael Heseltine gets more insane as the series progresses. He begins by attempting to cover for the loss of the logbook of the HMS Conqueror and later, in full camouflage, takes to throwing civil servants into mincing machines, hiding out underneath the cabinet table and meeting other members of the government dressed as a Dutch maid.
Add to that songs like I've Never Met A Nice South African - "I've had a nice Pot Noodle...but I've never met a nice South African!" - the groovy pope and Roger Moore acting both happy (left eyebrow!) and sad (the right!) and you have a fine bunch of comedy moments in a series that doesn't start particularly well but ends in such an assured manner that a third series was a given. But it's not all good news as I leave Spitting Image, least not for this viewer. Twenty-four years of Welcome To The Pleasuredome has left this listener knowing the difference between Ronald Reagan and Chris Barrie doing a Ronald Reagan. All together now! "After the end of the war..."
As Mike Sutton said in his review of the first series of Spitting Image, this looks pretty good, both cleaner and clearer than I would have imagined. Granted, Network don't appear to have done very much - this is far from able to be mentioned in the same breath as their reissues of Space: 1999: Series 1 and The Prisoner - but colours are good and though there are some tell-tale signs of its origins on video, it's certainly not shamed on DVD. Again, the DD2.0 soundtrack isn't bad, sounding clear during the song sequences and rising to a peak during some of Heseltine's increasing madness.
There are no extras on this DVD release.