Spitting Image: Series 3 Review
"Hold a chicken in the air! Stick a deckchair up your nose!" Oh, the irony. Spitting Image lampoon the dreadful holiday records then being released by the likes of Black Lace and score a bigger chart success than Colin Routh and Alan Barton ever did. Yes, this is the series of The Chicken Song, which is proof enough to say that this run of episodes were going to be very different from those that had gone before. When writing about Series 2 of Spitting Image, I bemoaned a sketch about the Wets, who were then making as much trouble for Margaret Thatcher as anyone called the Wets could. In order words, not very much trouble at all when it came to the Iron Lady. But go back to the Spitting Image of 1985 and if you aren't accompanied by a Longman Study Guide on the sinking of the Belgrano and the loss of the log book of HMS Conqueror, much of what passes for its comedy may be lost on you.
An editorial change was certainly noticeable towards the fag end of that year's episodes. With the culling of several politicians, Spitting Image shouted a big hello to Steve 'Interesting' Davis, of Leonard Nimoy stretching his ability as an actor with "To be or not to be...eam me up, Scotty!" and of Roger Moore's magic eyebrows. Series 3 carries this on through an entire series. Those sketches set within the cabinet office and the House of Commons are still there but the Spitting Image of 1986 is less interested in the politics as much as the personalities behind them. And it's all the better a show for that, containing many more laughs per episode than those that have gone before it and a host of situations that remain memorable many years on.
"Mr President! It's your seventy-fifth birthday!" "Is it? How old am I?...That's terrible! Yesterday I was only seventy-four. Today I'm seventy-five. By the end of the week, I'll be in my eighties!" The success of this series of Spitting Image was founded in its portrayal of Ronald Reagan. The policies of the 40th President of the United States, other than his finger-on-the-button relationship with the USSR, were unimportant. What mattered was how stupid he was. Guided by square-headed Ed and pointy-faced Casper Poindexter, Reagan stumbled between crises, shootouts on the prairie and making obscene telephone calls over the hotline to Moscow.
By bringing this attitude to the British government, we had less of the minutiae of the Westland affair and more of Michael Heseltine sitting on the back benches with a toy helicopter on his head while Douglas Hurd was characterised by his having a Mr Whippy ice-cream on his head. It could be said that the likes of Tom King and George Younger were never fully developed but when Thatcher stares down the cabinet table to ask those present who they are, the show seems to confirm this. But the likes of Geoffrey Howe was perfect for those writing for Spitting image, with the then Home Secretary being portrayed as being impossibly dull. One of the highlights of the series is a dinner party between Geoffrey Howe and John Selwyn Gummer, which begins with Howe telling Gummer that that day's post brought him his lucky numbers for the Reader's Digest Prize Draw and a letter from American Express company asking him to join. "Now there's a pretty interesting thing!" There are many, many more examples of just how dull Howe is throughout the series and they get better and better as the episodes pass.
This isn't limited to Howe. There isn't a word of policies from the SDP-Liberal Alliance but, instead, tiny little David Steel fawning over David Owen, "So cruel...and yet so handsome!" Meanwhile, Owen wonders if, in the bed they share, Steel has burst the water bottle again or if something more unfortunate has happened. Neil Kinnock is more of a gasbag than ever and leads a party who have no better hope of getting into power than the Manson Family.
In amongst all this, we have the royal family. Diana name drops over breakfast. Charles talks to plants and playboy Andrew is reined in a little by the arrival of Sarah Ferguson. Elsewhere, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud, who, after Caligula, has been changed forever in these eyes, have tea and reminisce about, "Dear, dear beardy!" while, high in his office in Wapping, Rupert Murdoch lights his farts and wages war on the printers many floors below. Or PRITNERS as their picket signs say. But the highlight of the series is David Coleman. "Cue David...CUE BLOODY DAVID!!!!" is what we hear through his earpiece before he stammers into conversation with some sportsman he invariably fails to recognise, who's famous for a sport he confuses with another and who lingers a moment (or six) too long over the bulge in Alan Wells's shorts. It's a great example of Spitting Image's success in this series, of caring little for the reality. In a phrase that originated in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend!" In Spitting Image's world, what mattered were the characters they created and it's probably fair to say that we remember the caricatures of the Tory Cabinet better than we do the actual politicians.
No doubt David Steele suffered from his being portrayed as a figure of lovestruck fun and Paul Daniels has probably never forgiven the show for its regular showing of his wig rising up of his pate at the most inopportune moments but others, including Steve 'Interesting' Davis, David Owen and, above everyone else, Margaret Thatcher did rather well out of Spitting Image. Similarly, Michael Heseltine has spoken of how well he did out of Spitting Image, as has Norman Tebbit. Prince Philip has never been drawn on it in public but I suspect he probably had something of his straight-talking caricature. Having stuck with Spitting Image to this point, you'll probably enjoy it as much as did its subjects.
In keeping with the two earlier 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 but also remaining so throughout the series.
There are no extras on this DVD release.