BBC News

TV lacking satire, says Spitting Image creator John Lloyd

By Ross Hawkins
Political correspondent, BBC News

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One of the creators of Spitting Image has said he does not believe any of the television programmes broadcast in the UK today are truly satirical.

John Lloyd, who also produced QI and Blackadder, said BBC Two's Mock the Week was merely rude.

BBC One's Have I Got News for You provided "great remarks", he said, but there were no "considered" satires.

But Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye who was a writer on Spitting Image, said Lloyd was "unduly pessimistic".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's the World at One, Lloyd said: "I don't see anything I would really call satire on television at the moment.

"Mock the Week can be very funny, but it's just rude boys, isn't it, poking fun at everybody.

"In the 1980s it was conviction politics, the Tories particularly, and Spitting Image was a conviction television programme.

"And it's interesting you don't get either now. There are very few conviction politicians it seems to me and very little conviction television."

A lot of the joy had gone out of television, he said.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of Spitting Image.

At its peak the show, broadcast between 1984 and 1996, drew audiences of 15 million people to ITV.

Hislop said: "I think Lloyd's being unduly pessimistic. I think satire has a tendency to break out all over the place."

He cited the work of Armando Iannucci, Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker as more recent examples of successful TV satire.

image captionFictional MP Peter Mannion enjoys a team-building exercise on Armando Ianucci's The Thick of It

Spitting Image was, Hislop said, a Punch and Judy affair. "Essentially the puppets couldn't really deliver a line," he said.

"They looked great but they couldn't act."

In many of the sketches he created with co-writer Nick Newman: "We just wrote at the bottom: 'Puppets hit each other over head.'"

Satire was still available on television, said Hislop, but it was presented differently.

"Have I Got News for You is a sort of long-running soap opera and panel show but we manage to get some satire into it. There are other shows that do it as well.

"I think the days when a broadcaster said: 'This is satire now. It's That Was the Week That Was. Put on your dinner jackets and listen.' - You can't really do that any more."

Commentators suggested satire was dead on television in the 1960s after That Was the Week That Was - a satirical show starring David Frost - came to an end on British television.

"I think you have to be careful not to be sort of grumpy old man with a misty-eyed view of how great you were in the past and I don't want to be that," said Hislop.

"I was lucky enough to start work at Private Eye with people who had worked on That Was the Week That Was, and I used to say: 'That was amazing,' and they said: 'It wasn't that good.'

"These things are easily romanticised."