Still Spitting at Sixty, by Roger Law

When puppets were the stars of the show
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The Independent Culture

It seems inconceivable today, but for the best part of a decade, Fluck and Law's latex puppets set the news agenda of the nation. Their TV show Spitting Image was never remotely sophisticated, yet from the mid-Eighties to the early Nineties, it enjoyed the kind of political clout of which Newsnight could only dream.

It seems inconceivable today, but for the best part of a decade, Fluck and Law's latex puppets set the news agenda of the nation. Their TV show Spitting Image was never remotely sophisticated, yet from the mid-Eighties to the early Nineties, it enjoyed the kind of political clout of which Newsnight could only dream.

Spitting Image had more in common with Punch & Judy than Private Eye, but its playground ridicule made it the perfect satire for the brash, bombastic 1980s. The first episode went out at the beginning of the coal strike, and its slapstick style anticipated the confrontational politics that followed. Not all its assaults were successful (depicting Margaret Thatcher as a man merely bolstered her omnipotent image) but, at its best, it could be devastating. David Steel never really recovered from being portrayed as David Owen's pocket-sized lackey.

Peter Fluck and Roger Law ended up on telly more or less by accident. They had been making models for magazines when Martin Lambie-Nairn had the bright idea of transferring their meticulous caricatures to television. Central TV gave them their big break and, despite a panning in the papers, Spitting Image ran for 21 series over 12 years.

The list of contributors reads like a Who's Who of modern comedy: Rory Bremner, Steve Coogan, Harry Enfield, Alistair McGowan. For all the participation of writers like Richard Curtis and Ian Hislop, Spitting Image was often funnier with the sound turned down. The puppets were the stars, and although the voices were uncannily accurate, the scripts often reflected the frantic deadlines that topicality required.

Spitting Image was a curious by-product of Thatcherism. It staggered on until 1996, a year before Tony Blair's ascension, but - like alternative comedy and shoulder pads - it shared its heyday with the Iron Lady. Like the Tories, Spitting Image outstayed its welcome, but at a time when the Government was unassailable, it sometimes seemed like the nearest thing to an effective opposition.

After Spitting Image shut up shop, Law emigrated to Australia, and this undemanding memoir is imbued with breezy Antipodean bonhomie. The participation of "collaborative writer" Lewis Chester means you're never entirely sure how much of this "sort-of autobiography" is really biography. Between them, they have garnished Law's jolly life story with diverting details, from teaming up with Fluck at art school via encounters with Peter Cook and Jimi Hendrix to Law's current adventures Down Under.

Law sounds like he's having far too much fun in the sun to risk a return to gloomy British satire. But his superb illustrations suggest that, should he ever tire of Bondi Beach, another brilliant career awaits back home in the periodicals that spawned his grotesque yet loveable effigies.

The reviewer edited 'Goodbye Again: the definitive Peter Cook & Dudley Moore' (Century)

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