'Thatcher loved it': Spitting Image victims on being lampooned

As the satirical puppets return, Edwina Currie, Neil Kinnock and Ken Livingstone discuss their portrayal in the original

Edwina Currie

The junior health minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government was portrayed as a vampire or Cruella de Vil.

As far as I was concerned, the fact that they were lampooning me on the programme was fine, because I was a very junior minister, and to get noticed was great – it suggested I was getting my little message across.

What happened was that those [members of the cabinet] who weren’t in it, really wanted to be in it. You felt that you had made it on to the top satirical programme, which meant that you were recognised.

Margaret Thatcher loved Spitting Image as well, because she realised very quickly that their image of her as the best man in the cabinet [Thatcher was voiced by a man and portrayed shaving and using male urinals] was one to pursue. From then on, she deepened her voice, she wore dark suits – basically she conformed to the image that Spitting Image had broadcast. She was very pleased with it.

A riotous scene from the House of Commons in the original Spitting Image.

Neil Kinnock

The then leader of the Labour party was relentlessly lampooned as a clueless and heavily accented “Welsh windbag”.

I welcome its return, especially if they can maintain the same sharpness, though I’d be quite glad if the opening titles had me walking on water instead of stumbling in the sea.

The clever acidity will be more difficult to achieve in a new series. Nationally and internationally, our times are perilously zany and so many leaders – especially the bad, the mad and the dangerous – exude a weird love of themselves and hatred of others which can hardly be satirised.

But lampooning leaders (and some of their sycophants and parasites) is essential to liberty. In democracies it exposes shams and manipulators, in authoritarian states it enables people to breathe and hope, and it gives the protection of wry mockery to places which are in danger of sliding to sour extremities. Orwell said ‘each joke is a tiny revolution’. Up the revolution!

Ken Livingstone

The then leader of the Greater London council was voiced by Harry Enfield and portrayed as obsessively devoted to newts and salamanders.

Thinking back, I don’t actually remember it very clearly, but I do remember quite enjoying it, even when they were rubbishing me. Don’t forget that at the time I was having to deal with absolutely vile lies in the Mail and in the Telegraph that I was a commie agent, supporting the IRA bombing campaign. This was quite lighthearted humour compared to the really venomous stuff I was having to deal with in the Tory press.

My partner and I watched it every week and quite looked forward to it. Being laughed at doesn’t necessarily damage you, it helps you be established a bit in the public mind.

It might feel like a tense time in politics now, but back then it was at the height of the cold war, tensions were very high. Though if back in the 80s they had depicted Trump as US president and Boris Johnson as prime minister, that would just have been taken as a funny joke.

Contributor

Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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