Spitting Image: Must See TV
Louise Gold featured as ‘The Queen’ from Spitting Image, and, as herself (uncredited) a Spitting Image Puppeteer. Broadcast on ITV 1, from 22:00 to 22:30, on Thursday 15 December 2005. (Originally scheduled to have been broadcast at the same time a week earlier, it was swapped with a programme about Tommy Cooper).
Kate Robbins – Voice-Artiste
Steve Nallon – Voice Artiste & Puppeteer
Chris Barrie – Voice Artiste & Puppeteer
Jan Ravens – Voice-Artiste
Martin Lambie-Nairn - Producer
Louise Gold – Puppeteer (with the puppet of The Queen)
Director/Producer – Mark Tinkler
Series Producer – Tony Nicholson, and, John Kaye Cooper
Production Company – Talent Television
All the ‘Experts’ taking part in this programme had of course been a part of Spitting Image. Some of their work can also be found on the albums: Da Do Run Ron, Spit In Your Ear, and, Utterly Utterly Live Comic Relief; and on the theatre & television special Comic Relif 1986.
Leading Puppeteer Louise Gold has performed The Queen puppet in various places, including in her own cabaret act LOUISE GOLD...By Appointment.
Louise Gold, and, Martin Lambie-Nairn were both involved with the Spitting Image Pilots
Louise Gold and Steve Nallon helped with the Spitting Image Auction.
Steve Nallon also puppeteered on The Spooks Of Bottle Bay.
Louise Gold and Chris Barrie also lent their time and talent to the Fall Out Group.
Interestingly as an actor Sanjeev Bhaskar’s credits include the notable Mans Sauna episode of Daziel And Pascoe. Having seen that episode your webmaster can’t remember what Sanjeev was playing in it. It is a remarkable episode known for the presence in it of Norman Wisdom, and in particular Anthony Booth. However, in the first scene Anthony got rather outshone by legendary Unity Theatre actress Una Brandon-Jones (which was just as well given as it was that lady’s only opportunity to make her almost unique presence felt in the programme).
The Ghost Of Faffner Hall, The Bill, Up The Garden Path, ABBA The Reunion, ABBA – The Mamma Mia! Story, Best Ever Spitting Image, ITV’s 50 Greatest Shows, and, Coronation Street were also both first screened on ITV1.
A really fun well presented programme, packed with lots of interesting comments and clips. Quite early on Her Maj puts in an appearance saying that one of her favourite sketches was Trouping The Colour. I couldn’t help wondering if that was an indication, of what I’ve always suspected, as to who may have been voicing her in that wonderful sketch (it’s one of my favourites too). Besides the actual Spitting Image puppet of Her Maj, the programme also features contemporary contributions from quite a number of people involved with the show, namely: Writers Ian Hislop and Nick Newman, who actually appeared together, voice artiste Kate Robbins; And two gentlemen who were both billed as ‘voice-artiste & puppeteer’ namely Steve Nallon and Chris Barrie. This may well have marked something of a first; since it is the first time I have ever seen Chris Barrie publicly billed as a ‘puppeteer’. In fact his (and initially at least Steve Nallon’s) puppeteering duties were largely confined to being an ‘Assistant Puppeteer’, this point was not made clear, however the programme was only half an hour, so naturally some details have to be left out. Luckily both gentlemen were speaking only about their voice-work. The subject of the puppetry on this programme was left to a real expert in that field (at least as far as Spitting Image is concerned). There was also one other female voice-artiste, possibly Jan Ravens, who recalled that the voices for the programme were recorded on the unlit Crossroads set.
One really lovely thing about this half hour programme, was its light-hearted nature. It struck, what was to my mind, a nice balance between treating its subject seriously, but giving it a bit of deserved comic irreverence. The latter took the form of a skit performed by two experienced comedy performers who knew exactly how far it was appropriate for them to go, namely presenter Sanjeev Bhasker, and Spitting Image’s original Leading Puppeteer Louise Gold. This skit, in which Sanjeev interviews Her Maj (performed by Louise) occurs just after the commercial break. Anyone familiar with Louise Gold’s cabaret act, should have recognised the style and manner of Louise’s performance, it was very typical of the sort of things she has ‘The Queen’ say and do in her cabaret act. First Her Maj manages to get Sanjeev Bhasker confused with Martin Bashier. Then having established that he isn’t “that Bashier chappie” tells him to be quick as she’s got to go and “write ones address to the commonwealth and walk ones corgis”, this is followed by a very condescending remark to her interviewer about him being “part of the commonwealth”. To which Sanjeev retorts that actually he’s English. I couldn’t help thinking how naughty it was of whoever came up with that very un-PC remark, but of course in true political satirical tradition they were using it to send up racism (and obviously, I am sure that Louise would not have dared say such a line, unless Sanjeev had agreed to her saying it in their skit).
Good though that skit between Sanjeev and Her Maj was, for me, the highlight of the programme occurred a little later. After a selection of other clips and comments, we find our presenter still by the backdrop used for the ‘interview’ skit. Sanjeev leans forward, and looking downwards says “Louise! – unburden yourself.” At which point Louise Gold emerges from underneath her puppet. Pulling off a navy-blue cloth hat and shaking loose her chestnut curls (the hat was clearly to keep her hair out of the way), she remarks “I’d forgotten how hard it was”. Unlike most of the contributors, puppeteer Louise Gold does not get a screen credit flashed up (which I thought a little unfair – but at least Sanjeev addressed her by her forename). Sanjeev comments that “it looks uncomfortable down there.” Louise admits that it was. She explains that on the show she would have done the head and the right hand (in a glove). One assistant puppeteer would have done the left-hand (currently stuffed); while another assistant would have done the eyes. At this point Louise gets out the puppet’s eye mechanism, and puts the ends of it in her mouth the demonstrate it. – I couldn’t helping thinking one can see why Louise really could do with that missing bulb) that she asked Peter Fluck for, live on stage at the BFI event). It is perhaps worth noting, that in this little description Louise omits to clarify that she is left-handed (and puppeteers that way), so her description of who would have done what reflects that. The majority of her colleagues would have operated their puppets doing the head and left-hand, not right. However, that’s a minor point, and one shouldn’t be too hard on Louise. For it’s really very good to see her really trying to take her rightful place as one of the great puppeteers in (British) TV history.
It was a super little half hour tribute to Spitting Image. I also felt it was one of the best, if not the best, performance that Louise Gold has given to date as a puppeteer talking about her work. So often when Louise attempts to take her rightful place in television history she comes across as a little unsure of herself (like she did at the BFI event). Yet for once she appeared relaxed and confident in what she was saying. I think it helped that they put her in a situation where she was one to one with an interviewer on camera. In interviews Louise always seems to function best when she is one to one and in the sort of situation where we actually hear the questions the interviewer asks her. The latter is important because it means the interviewer can steer the interview; and Louise’s answers are specifically to that person rather than to the more general audience of the camera. While the former means that the focus is on Louise alone without the sometimes off-putting interruptions of anyone else. But the other really great thing about this interview is Sanjeev, he seems to be very gentle and friendly to Louise. And well she’s such a kind gentle thing herself, that she needs that in an interviewer. Jean Cocteau is once supposed to have said “An artiste cannot talk about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture”, as a puppeteer that statement does rather seem to apply to Louise Gold; and yet, in this programme, for once, Louise really did seem able to talk about her art. To actually get Spitting Image’s original leading puppeteer appearing so relaxed while talking about her work on that programme was a great way of making this Must See TV tribute to Spitting Image something special. Full marks to Sanjeev for presenting what in my humble opinion is the best TV tribute (if not one of the best overall) tributes to Spitting Image, that I have ever come across.
Links about Spitting Image: Must See TV
DigiGuide’s page for this episode of Must See Tv: http://library.digiguide.com/lib/episode/488447
BFI Database’s entry for the programme: http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/817006
Observation Dome thread about this episode of Must See TV: http://www.observationdome.org/blog/2005/november/30-1005.php (or course all the comments are a bit of a free-for-all, but we all have our own opinions)
Southampton Solent University Library’s catalogue entry for this programme: http://libopac.solent.ac.uk/is/WWALL/full-sh.asp?base=lib,wab,prj,ken&fn=6918239
Pipex’s TV viewing guide entry for the programme: http://entertainment.pipex.com/Pipex/News/Story_Page/0,13319,5430_863735,00.html
The Sunday Mail’s TV Highlights for 4 December 2005: http://www.sundaymail.co.uk/entertainment/sevendays/tm_objectid=16444246&method=full&siteid=64736&headline=tv-round-up--name_page.html
MightyTV.com’s page for the programme: http://www.mightyv.com/program_info/78154/16806