Baker spits back at 'Image' cartoonists

The art of satire has moved on from the cruel era of Spitting Image, the former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker - a prime target for the puppet show - claimed yesterday.

Mr Baker, the Tory MP for Mole Valley, is a cartoon enthusiast, but, as he made clear, his devotion to the art did not extend to the ITV programme which so memorably portrayed him as a loathsome slug.

He spoke out at the launch of a BBC cartoon documentary, We Are Not Amused, which offers an irreverent cartoon history of the Royal Family from the 16th century to the present day.

"Spitting Image is a transitory phase in satire and it has come to an end. It lacked subtlety, wit and all those things that maintained satire over the ages," Mr Baker said.

"It did not have very much impact - it is an art form that destroyed itself by its own cruelty. It kicked people and figuratively cut off their arms and legs."

He denied claims, however, that cartoons could destroy the confidence of the victims they caricatured.

"It can create an impression of a person or a character. If that person is weak then it can stick. But if that person is strong he or she can survive being cartooned."

His comments were taken with a pinch of salt by Giles Pilbrow, who produced the Spitting Image series which finally ended in February.

"The image of slimy Kenneth Baker as a slug is one which will haunt him long after the demise of Spitting Image," Mr Pilbrow said.

Mr Baker, 62, provided the narration and research for We Are Not Amused, which looks at the Royal Family through the eyes of 18th-century artists such as Gillray and Cruikshank, through to Ralph Steadman and Charles Griffen in the present.

The first part, to be shown on Friday, maps the decline from royalist propaganda to the gleeful cruelty and licentiousness of Gillray's work.

The documentary reveals that the Prince and Princess of Wales are not the first Royal couple to suffer at the hands of a caricaturist. George IV was a victim after he agreed to give up his Catholic mistress for a more suitable match. Cartoonists of the day freely satirised the situation.

Today the love triangle is paralleled in the relationships between the Prince and Princess and Camilla Parker Bowles - and the programme explores the way that contemporary cartoonists have made similar comedic capital from it.

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