Cambridgeshire

Spitting Image archives donated to Cambridge University

Roger Law and the Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher
Image caption Spitting Image co-creator and caricaturist Roger Law with the donated puppet of Margaret Thatcher

The co-creator of TV satire series Spitting Image is donating his entire archive to Cambridge University.

The collection - including original scripts, puppet moulds, drawings and recordings - will be conserved and held in the library.

Spitting Image parodied political leaders, celebrities and royals over 18 series, and was broadcast by ITV from 1984 to 1996.

Roger Law said the material would be "in the right place, it's come home".

Among the archives is a rubber puppet of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, caricatured with a wide-eyed stare and prominent nose.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSpitting Image co-founder Roger Law says the show could work with today's politicians
Image copyright Toby Melville/PA
Image caption The TV show parodied big names from the 1980s and 1990s, including members of the Royal Family

No-one in her cabinet or opposition was immune to the show's satirical scrutiny and exaggerated impressions.

The often-controversial programme also featured prominent sports stars and celebrities, as well as senior members of the Royal Family.

Much of the donated collection has been kept in boxes at Mr Law's home, or in "three sea containers out in the Cambridgeshire Fens".

Image caption An original sketch of footballer and pundit Jimmy Greaves
Image caption A pencil sketch of French footballer Eric Cantona

Mr Law, who studied at the Cambridge School of Art and began his association with co-creator Peter Fluck in the city, said the university's library was the best place for the collection.

"I was hoping the banks of the Ouse would break and it would all go into the North Sea but this is better," he said.

"I also thought the show would die a death because no-one had done it before, I never thought it would be like a heater in the corner of the room, gently warming your knees.

"I knew people would react to it, like Marmite."

Image caption An excerpt from the 1984 pilot script for Spitting Image
Image caption The collection includes original scripts from the show's 18-series run

The body of donated work comprises every script from the show, including that of a 1985 pilot that was never broadcast.

There are thousands of visual images, as well as individual sketches, magazines and books and more than 400 videos.

Image copyright Ian Ellis/EMPICS
Image caption World leaders and TV personalities were not immune from the satire

The University's library is home to some of the world's most important public records, including the original work and correspondence of Charles Darwin, and the papers of Sir Isaac Newton.

Librarian Dr Jessica Gardner described the collection as a "national treasure".

"Spitting Image was anarchic, it was creative, it entered the public imagination like nothing else from that era," she said.

"It is an extraordinary political and historical record. Great satire holds up a mirror, it questions and challenges."

Image caption The collection includes dozens of photographic slides
Image caption This slide shows former Labour leader Neil Kinnock

Mr Law's wife, archivist Deirdre Amsden, listed and organised every item in the donated collection over the course of five years.

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Mr Law said he was not a fan of puppetry but it was a "means to an end".

"The great thing about Spitting Image was that there were writers, puppet makers and puppeteers but there were no stars," he said.

"You could say the things you wanted to say with knobs on with puppets - like Mr Punch.

"Puppets have no agents, they don't answer back, and you could put them in a cupboard. Great."

The anarchic show that pulled a punch - and 15 million viewers

  • Spitting Image was created by caricaturists Peter Fluck, Roger Law and Martin Lambie-Nairn
  • At its height it pulled in an audience of 15 million viewers
  • It was nominated for nine BAFTA Television Awards (winning two) and four Emmys in 1985 and 1986
  • Much of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet was parodied, with Douglas Hurd depicted with "Mr Whippy ice cream" hair, and her successor John Major caricatured as a grey, dull puppet with a penchant for peas
  • World leaders were also stereotyped, with Mikhail Gorbachev's forehead birthmark redrawn as a hammer and sickle
  • The series was axed in 1996 because of declining audiences

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