The appeal of the original Spitting Image, beyond one-liners and puppets’ appearance, was acerbic satire aimed at authority and at celebrities’ pomposity alongside running jokes and exaggerated observations of personal quirks.
The UK royal family received plenty of attention at a time of continuous difficulties for its members and the humour aimed at them advanced the acceptability of laughing derisorily at the stupidity of the family’s existence.
Repeated visual jokes included Norman Tebbit wearing a leather jacket, David Steel depicted as much smaller than David Owen and all of Douglas Hurd’s family looking and sounding exactly like Douglas Hurd.
Crucially, the show was the first hearing for many viewers of weekly topical jokes. Competent writers, working close to time for recording a day or so before broadcast, were able to twist a current story for comedic effect or spot an odd characteristic of someone in the news. In hindsight, they were the meme and gif creators and hashtag originators of their (pre-social media) time, although more sophisticated: short, quick and sharp satirical comments, unfiltered and unashamedly rude.
Now, editing technology is available to all and worldwide immediate connectability means any satirical observations can trend rapidly. For example, a simple photo by a Tory MP of his incorrect posh plate of fish and chips encouraged the #6ChipTwat hashtag that can be reactivated at any time to reflect similar reactions to similar events.
Online humour, in response to politicians’ or celebrities’ actions, is usually less accomplished than that of professional comedy writers but its style means the new Spitting Image has lost its uniqueness of presentation, and the immediacy and reach of social media interaction always betters the speed of TV production.
Other satirical TV shows suffered in comparison with social media wit. Mock The Week is professional stand-ups’ witty remarks that were already seen elsewhere and The Last Leg, as admittance of no originality, uses the internet as a direct source of material via Widdicombe’s highlights of funny video clips.
Shorn of the exclusivity of its key appeal of three decades ago Spitting Image could have chosen to focus on intelligent writing and well-researched observations for its effect; that is, it could have utilised skills that most online wits eschew. The Mash Report took that approach and manages to remain relatively fresh, particularly the contributions of the esteemed Rachel Parris. But, Spitting Image hired Matt Forde as a writer.
Spitting Image will still be mildly amusing but instead of being the trend setter of a certain style of satire and instead of being the first to observe an amusing facet of a famous person’s persona the new series will merely repeat what has already spun around the world on social media. Undoubtedly, it will be excruciatingly centrist because that appears to be the law for modern British satire on TV.
And, what about the vegetables? Oh, they’ll have the same as me.
Related blog: Run-of-the-melts have suffocated satirical comedy