Headcases? We were miles better, says Spitting Image creator

The lampooning puppet show returns tonight – but Peter Fluck says it's not a patch on the Eighties original

By Ian Johnston
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:11

As one half of the famously anarchic creators of Spitting Image, Peter Fluck was never one to hold back. So ITV bosses who decided to bring back the show to the same Sunday evening slot as the original Eighties show, but renamed Headcases and "modernised" by computer-generated imagery, can hardly be surprised that he has cast a critical eye over the new version.

His initial assessment is decidedly lukewarm: the CGI puppets "look pretty dead", it might not be rude enough, and, if he were younger, he would bypass television and broadcast on YouTube instead.

Fluck, who lives a quiet life as an artist in Cornwall, does wish the show well, hoping it will go on to emulate his and Roger Law's 12-year run. He is encouraged by the likes of Rory Bremner among the impersonators.

But the use of CGI technology instead of real models operated by skilled puppeteers leaves him unimpressed. "The CGIs look pretty dead to me. I just wonder how they are going to bring them to life," he said, after watching clips released ahead of tonight's broadcast.

"What matters is if they can convey the lines successfully and if the visual appearance is recognisable. It's all to do with performance.

"With a caricature made into an artefact, a performer could manipulate and put his own personality into it, which many times was important to us. Characters would evolve and would always be used by one puppeteer.

"Louise Gold always did the Queen and the mannerisms and facial expressions she put into it were wonderful. It was very exciting because this lump of clay we modelled with a fairly neutral expression came to life. I don't know how that process could fit into CGI."

Working in television meant having to tone down some of the strongest material, he added, but being too easy on celebrities was also a risk. "Whoever is writing, producing and directing Headcases should always be as rude and cruel as possible; go for the jugular all the time," he said. "If they don't do that, then it won't work.

"If it was my turn to do it again, I wouldn't do it on TV. An awful lot of what they are taking the piss out of is TV celebrity. If you are taking the piss out of that, you are taking the piss out of the media that's paying you. If I was their age, I would be inclined to do it on the street, use hand-held video cameras and put it out on YouTube."

Among the targets of Headcases' satirists are a highly select band of people who were also lampooned in Spitting Image: Gordon Brown and Tony Blair join Robert Mugabe, Prince Philip, Madonna, Bono, Bob Geldof and Sir Trevor McDonald, among others. But how much they and newcomers such as Amy Winehouse and Daniel Craig will come to fear their CGI doubles, or be secretly thankful for them, remains to be seen.

"There used to be a video of our programme delivered to Hansard so it was there, available for the MPs to watch. It became part of the critical system," he said. "It's often been quoted that one disappointment a politician could have would be not to have a puppet made of them: 'If you haven't been caricatured, who the hell are you?'"

Responding to his comments about the lack of real puppets, a source at Headcases said: "He would say that, wouldn't he?" She added: "No familiar face will be spared – no one is safe, really."

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