Object of the Month – February 2014

February 2014 - Harold Wilson Spitting Image puppet

Harold Wilson Spitting Image puppet, Main Gallery Two @ People's History MuseumThis year marks the 30th anniversary of Spitting Image. Created by Peter Fluck and Roger Law, the satirical television series ran from 1984 to 1996 and won a host of awards for the caricatures it created of the politicians of the time. Satirical mockery of politicians has always been a part of the media, but Spitting Image revolutionised this by bringing the politicians to life with puppetry and its creators became figureheads of the anti-establishment overnight.

The show’s creators were supporters of Labour and their portrayal of Conservative politicians, most famously Margaret Thatcher, were outrageously cruel. Thatcher was shown as a bullying cross-dresser who tortured her Cabinet and had a close friendship with Adolf Hitler; the show’s creators were said to have wanted to show her as evil as much as possible.  Despite their support of Labour, they still portrayed famous Labour politicians, such as former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, in a vicious fashion. Wilson was portrayed as a decrepit elderly man; along with other ex-prime ministers, predominantly Conservatives, he resides in a retirement home. As he exclaims in the first episode: ‘Spending my twilight years with Tories, there can be no shame worse than that!’ James Callaghan, his successor, is also shown as living there and constantly aggravating Wilson.

Michael Foot Spitting Image puppet @ People's History MuseumThe museum has two Spitting Image puppets – Harold Wilson and Michael Foot both created for the pilot episode of the show. Whilst Wilson was created by Fluck, the Michael Foot puppet was created by Law in two hours when Fluck dared him to create a puppet overnight. The Harold Wilson puppet, currently on display in the galleries, highlights how brutal the portrayals of the politicians were.

Due to the deterioration of materials, the puppets are both in a fragile condition, particularly Michael Foot who has been taken off display. The puppets are made from foam and raw latex painted with acrylic paints – the latex is now cracking and the foam is crumbling due to age. Due to the weight distribution and the other factors mentioned, Michael Foot’s head is now completely detached from his body. Whilst Harold Wilson is still able to be on display, the fragile materials will also deteriorate over time.