Spitting Image: The Complete Sixth Series (TV)
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (9th May 2009).
The Show

This sixth series of the satirical puppet show Spitting Image (Central, 1984-96) was broadcast in 1989, and is a time capsule of the era. Alongside the usual skewering of politicians, this sixth series features sketches involving such celebrities as boxer Frank Bruno, Sting, Dustin Hoffman (whose 1989 appearance as Shylock in Sir Peter Hall’s stage production of The Merchant of Venice is skewered mercilessly) and Bill Wyman (whose marriage to Mandy Smith is parodied in the first episode). Right out of the gate, this series courts controversy, with a sketch revolving around the death of Ayatollah Khomeini; his death is announced to a group of Conservative politicians, followed by a declaration that ‘his condition is said to be satisfactory’.

The Chinese government’s line on the then-recent events in Tiananmen Square is also satirised, via a sketch involving Chairman Deng Xiaoping – the ‘News at Deng’ – who, in a nod to the politician’s seemingly perpetual ill-health, reads the news from a hospital bed (a caption tells us that he is broadcasting ‘just about live from Peking’). Chairman Deng declares that ‘Rabid counter-revolutionary students have attacked a defenceless tank regiment with Western-made bicycles. Many of these bicycles are fitted with powerful pump-action tyres and vicious wicker baskets capable of scratching the paintwork of a tank beyond repair. In one particularly violent incident, an entire peace-loving convoy of tanks was surrounded by at least one student, wearing a loud and dangerous t-shirt’.

In episode four, there is a fantastic satire of Sir William Rees Mogg’s appointment as the chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, part of Margaret Thatcher’s attempt to ‘clean up’ television. Presented as a song, the sketch has Mogg asserting, ‘Can Romeo kiss Juliet? / Well if it’s in good taste / I think that I’ll allow it / But not below the waist / You want to show Last Tango, eh? / Now that sounds rather hot / I hope you can assure me / the butter’s out of shot’. The sketch also manages to skewer the newly-implemented (in 1989) Clause 28, prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, via a mention of Channel 4’s broadcast of Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane (1976).

Media attitudes are satirised too. In a parody of long-running aggressive current affairs series The Cook Report (Carlton, 1985-98), investigative journalist Roger Cook is depicted knocking on the door of a house and being greeted not by an angry suspect but by a quiet man who invites Cook in for a cup of tea. When interrogated aggressively by Cook about his supposed wrongdoing, the man simply declares ‘It’s a fair cop’. Foiled by the man’s good nature and desperate to make the show interesting, Cook then proceeds to assault himself, before asserting ‘Have you seen the viewing figures?’

The hype surrounding Tim Burton’s blockbuster Batman (1989) is also skewered, via a sketch in which unnamed Hollywood bigwigs (dressed as Batman and Commissioner Gordon) are shown gloating over the money that the film has made before discovering that ‘There’s one tiny TV station in Albania that hasn’t yet shown a feature on the making of the movie’, which leads them to assert ‘No free advertising? Holy unacceptable!’ The merciless marketing of ‘spin-off’ products is parodied (‘Bat-kitchen tidy, Bat-towel, Bat-expensive item’). It’s slightly strange to watch this sketch now, when such media hype surrounding a film’s release is nothing more than a matter of course, and such aggressive hype and marketing is accepted without question.

Elsewhere, in ‘Tebbit, Tebbit and Bastard’, Norman Tebbit is shown working for an ad agency, writing ad copy: ‘Vote Tory, or we’ll set fire to your mother [….] Campaign for your toilet paper? No probs! “Buy the bog roll or we’ll shoot the puppy” [….] Water privatisation? Okay, how about “Flow’s straight from your toilet into the reservoir”? Cat food? “Eight out of ten owners don’t care if it’s made out of minced cows bollocks”. This advertising lark’s a doddle’. In another prescient sketch, Kenneth Baker (the then-Tory Party Chairman) is depicted in a parody of the Midland Bank’s ‘I want a new kind of bank account’ advertisements. Baker is shown approaching his bank manager, asserting that ‘I want a new kind of bank account, one where you lend half a million students lots of money and the government doesn’t have to bother giving them a grant. And then you have to spend thirty years trying to get the money back. So you have do all our dirty work and only rich people will be able to go to college: that’s one “k” in “college”’. The accompanying caption reads, ‘Student Loans: An Overdraft for Life’.

The Poll Tax is thoroughly satirised, and this sixth series also features the well-remembered recurring sketch ‘Dan Quayle in Space’, which features the Vice President in a series of Buck Rogers-style adventures.

This sixth series features the vocal talents of such notable figures as Chris Barrie, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dennis, Harry Enfield and Debra Stephenson.

Episodes:
11/06/1989 (25:05)
18/06/1989 (25:12)
25/06/1989 (25:06)
02/07/1989 (23:03)
09/07/1989 (25:19)

Video

The series is presented in its original broadcast screen ratio of 4:3. The episodes a relatively free from wear-and-tear. Colours are vibrant. There do not appear to be any edits. The original break bumpers are intact.

Audio

Audio is presented via a two-channel stereo track, which is problem-free. There are no subtitles.

Extras

There are no extra features.

Overall

Frequently very funny, this sixth series of Spitting Image suffers only from the fact that satire is by its nature so ephemeral: viewers may find themselves scratching their heads or conducting a bit of research in order to recall what events are being satirised by specific sketches. More pertinently, this DVD is a reminder of the absence of biting satire from today’s television landscape.


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The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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