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An exhibition pays tribute to the British puppets that inspired “Les Guignols”

Margaret Thatcher smoking a cigar or the Queen Mother caricatured as an inveterate gin drinker.

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An exhibition pays tribute to the British puppets that inspired “Les Guignols”

Margaret Thatcher smoking a cigar or the Queen Mother caricatured as an inveterate gin drinker... The puppets of the British satirical show Spitting Image, which inspired television programs around the world, such as "Les Guignols de l'info" in France, are making their return in an exhibition paying tribute to their fierce and caustic humor.

For twelve years, between 1984 and 1996, Spitting Image (“spitting image” in French) had fun caricaturing political leaders, athletes, artists, and even the royal family. At the height of its success, the show, created by Peter Fluck and Roger Law, attracted 15 million viewers each week on ITV.

The exhibition, running from Saturday at Cambridge University, features some of the puppets - although most were sold at auction more than 20 years ago - but also original scripts, drawings and letters of complaint received by the show during its 18 seasons. Among the program's recurring targets is former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, depicted in a boring daily newspaper. A famous episode showed him eating peas with his wife Norma.

“I met him once and he was a tall, rather handsome man, while his puppet was short, gray and boring. She didn't look like him but in a way, she reflected his nature,” John Lloyd, who produced the show, told AFP. Margaret Thatcher, who preceded John Major to Downing Street, was not very interested in her puppet, which showed her as an all-powerful woman, surrounded by a band of male ministers, all weak and clumsy.

Former US President Ronald Reagan appeared as an idiot who narrowly missed starting a nuclear war, while the last USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev displayed a hammer and sickle on his head in place of his characteristic, well real, birthmark.

The program succeeded in “combining politics, everyday life, anarchy, surrealism, ridicule... It was the most popular satire ever produced,” underlines Chris Burgess, curator of the exhibition. According to him, much of its success lay in the talent of its authors for choosing a person considered ordinary and "catching a nose or a little something in the eye and suddenly you could never see them again." take seriously". The show has often been accused of crossing the line, particularly when it attacked the royal family, and in particular Queen Elizabeth II.

“No one had ever directly and three-dimensionally caricatured the royal family, and especially not the Queen. But if you look at the way we caricatured the royal family, the Queen was the heroine (...) kind, sensible, with a liberal spirit,” says John Lloyd. The producer says it would be “a good idea” to have a satirical show like Spitting Image these days.

The United Kingdom today appears very divided, for example on Brexit, as British society was in the 1980s, particularly on the policies of Margaret Thatcher's conservative government, he believes. “Today, people are quick to take sides. I think it's partly due to the fact that there isn't enough satire on television,” he adds, believing that Spitting Image managed to find its way into a sometimes tense public debate, and make people laugh.

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