France's satirical TV puppets celebrated 20 years on the air this week with a marathon tribute to themselves and a new puppet – me.
Les Guignols de L'Info, the most insolent and creative programme on French television, startled its viewers on Monday night by persuading real-life personalities – including Nicolas Sarkozy and Karl Lagerfeld – to stand in for their own puppet characters.
A retrospective of 20 years of the show, stretching over more than five hours, demonstrated that there has only been one true hero in French politics in recent times: Jacques Chirac. The rascally, lovable, irascible, gravel-voiced Chirac puppet – creepily close to the real thing – emerged as the most compelling character in what the programme's creators call the "sitcom of modern French politics".
But who was the enigmatic, soft-spoken puppet who made a brief appearance early in the Guignols' tribute to themselves on the cable channel, Canal Plus? The puppet was introduced as "John, the correspondent of a British newspaper in France". He was tall with curly grey hair and glasses.
Could it be... ? Surely not. Was this the first puppet in the history of the Guignols to be less grotesque than the original? My wife and work colleagues insist that the "John" puppet is either an uncanny coincidence or a better-looking and better-dressed version of me. Immortality beckons.
The British correspondent was shown teaching an allegedly-biased French radio interviewer how to write a newspaper story during the presidential election campaign in 2007. The interviewer wrote: "Ségolène Royal is a tart." "My" character said primly, in poor French: "No, you will have to change that. It's a personal opinion and not generally accepted." The interviewer changed his words to: "Everyone knows that Ségolène Royal is a tart." The British correspondent looked exasperated. End of my 30 seconds of fame.
Les Guignols de L'Info began as a French homage to Spitting Image, the British satirical puppet show. The French show, which appears for about eight minutes each weekday, has far outlived the British original.
Over 300 people work on the show. To remain topical, it is mostly made on the day of broadcast. Up to 3 million viewers tune in each night. In a television landscape notorious for its blandness and obsequious approach to politicians, Les Guignols de L'Info (literally, "the news puppets") is an island of inventiveness and insolence.
Perhaps surprisingly, it is adored by most of the politicians it mocks. Part of Monday night's marathon tribute was a spoof of a spoof in which real celebrities stood in for their puppets.
After a long sequence of puppets answering emailed questions from viewers, an unmistakable Nicolas Sarkozy "puppet" was shown, from behind, responding to the question "Do the Guignols influence voters?" The "puppet" turned out to be the President in person, who replied: "Unfortunately, yes."
Maybe they will allow me to appear in person next time. Or would that be too grotesque?Reuse content