France's Spitting Image drops offensiveness - and angers fans

‘Les Guignols’derided as 'too obsequious' after return from enforced six-month break

John Lichfield
Tuesday 15 December 2015 18:33 GMT
The new version of ‘Les Guignols’ has not been warmly received in France
The new version of ‘Les Guignols’ has not been warmly received in France (Getty Images)

A much-loved French satirical television puppet show has returned after an enforced six-month break – to angry protests rather than laughter.

Les Guignols de l’info, based on the long-defunct Spitting Image show in Britain, was almost killed off in the summer after the billionaire businessman Vincent Bolloré took control of its parent cable channel, Canal Plus.

Mr Bolloré, a friend of the former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s, complained that the nightly skewering of successive generations of French public figures was “wounding and unpleasant”. He finally agreed that the show could continue if it became less self-regardingly “Franco-French”, more internationally saleable and – implicitly – less offensive.

The old writers resigned or were pushed out. The new team have been practising for months for a seven-minute show which is written on the day and performed live. The first edition of the new Guignols appeared on Monday night to an angry reaction from fans on social media and cold reviews in the French press.

Behind the scenes on the satirical French puppet show, 'Les Guignols de L’Info' (AFP/Getty)

The show was declared to be “too obsequious” and not funny and even “bof” – the expression which goes with a Gallic shrug of the shoulders. Miss Blablabla tweeted: “Tell us, Canal Plus, what you have against your subscribers that you should want to inflict on us this new version of Les Guignols?”

The newspaper Le Monde declared the humour to be “low-flying” and “anodyne”. The great surprise was that – against advance billing – the show was just as “Franco-French” as before. It contained a long and laborious swipe at the Le Pen family, with new puppets which scarcely resembled Marine Le Pen or her niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen.

There were brief dull appearances for François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy. Most of the running time was used to lampoon television news presenters and commentators.

Advance billing for the show in moving ads on the Paris Métro and elsewhere had included a Donald Trump puppet hugging a Barack Obama puppet. The Trump puppet, which made no appearance on the first night, looks more handsome and less bizarre than the man himself.

All in all, based on one night, it is difficult to imagine Canal Plus’ selling the new show to foreign stations.

Other newspaper commentators said the new team should be allowed time to find their cruising speed. The centre-left newspaper Libération pointed out that, almost from its first episode in 1988, Les Guignols had been declared “not as good as it used to be”.

Les Guignols was inspired by the Spitting Image puppet show, which ran on ITV in Britain from 1984 to 1996. The scripts for the latex puppets are written and rewritten to reflect the day’s events up to a few minutes before the show is broadcast.

Mr Bolloré, whose holding group took over Canal Plus in January, has set out to reverse sliding ratings by toning down the cheeky, unconventional tone of most of the station’s current-affairs programmes. The result so far has been to send the ratings into an even steeper fall.

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