Chris Barrie Talks About Spitting Image


Spitting Image, the classic ITV puppet satire show gets a special release on January 28th 2008.

The entire first series of the critically acclaimed program will be available on DVD for the first time ever.

Running for over a decade, it attracted up to 15 million viewers in its’ prime and shook a stick at politics and current affairs of the day. To celebrate the release, Ashley Partridge spoke to Chris Barrie, who voiced major characters on the show, such US President Ronald Reagan and Prince Charles.

As well as talking about how feels about Spitting Image, he also managed to share his thoughts on reality TV…

Spitting Image is getting re-released, are you looking forward to it?
“Yes. I watched the shows for the first time in over twenty years the other day and I was very intrigued at what I saw. So, yes, I am looking forward to it. I think it represents a wonderful little period piece, if you like, of Britain twenty years ago.”

What was your personal favourite character?
“My personal favourite character [Pauses]. I think there were a lot of great characters. I’ve got personal favourites on many fronts. But for me to perform, they were probably David Coleman and Ronald Reagan.
“Obviously David Coleman because we found something new to do with him and he was a good anchorman to have, and Ronald Reagan because he had a great, fun figure.
“I look at the programme as a whole and I look at the puppets, performed by the great puppeteers we had. I think the Queen is the most valuable, technically, puppet that we produced.”

If it was brought back today, whom do you think it would mainly satirise?
“We’re living in an era of an unduly, changing world. I think Gordon Brown would come off fairly badly with some of the problems with missing CDs and, basically, the country being in, my own humble opinion, passé sagness.
“We would be doing what we did twenty-five years ago, today, big time. Also, like any good satirist show, we’d be lambasting the opposition.”

Who do you think you’d want to play if it were around today?
“Well, I think since I did Red Dwarf, impersonation has not really been high and mighty on my list of things to do, in terms of performance. I still do occasional impersonations. I think to be looked at, as a whole, to be satirised today,
“I’d like to get my teeth into Alistair Darling. [He’s got] That kind of ‘surly, always too tired to answer questions’ voice. The awkward questions about Northern Rock that he has to do. He’s a man who’s kind of glided through life into a powerful position. Then suddenly, when Northern Rock came along he was required to earn his keep, y’know?
“I don’t think he’s got out of the woods yet, to be honest with you. So, someone like him and a bumbling Gordon Brown; constantly wanting to be a part of other people’s affairs. He still wants to be Chancellor really, doesn’t he? He feels satisfied knowing he’s gotten rid of the man who was born to be Prime Minister. That’s Mr Advertising, Blair himself.
“We’ve been harder on Blair than anyone’s ever been in newspaper cartoons and things. I think Spitting Image could have done that better than anyone.”

You did Red Dwarf on BBC and worked in ITV (Spitting Image), do you think there was a difference between the two stations?
“Well, not really. Spitting Image was made as an ITV program. But it was produced by John Lloyd, who was, essentially, a BBC man, having done Not The Nine O’ Clock News and Blackadder. He brought BBC values of thoroughness and the talent required. He made sure he covered all bases.
“I always say Spitting Image, in many ways, is an unusual show to be on ITV. Frankly, these days, ITV is utterly commercial. The beginnings of that were happening back in the 80s. It was very much a game show sort of channel. It was an extraordinary satirical puppet show in the one satirical, hard-hitting comedy slot, 10 o’ clock on a Sunday night.
“It never really felt like an ITV show. We [had] heard of the ITV directors Peter Harris and Bob Cousins. Peter was a great character. He was a classic character, very sort of ITV and much more flowery. Not the standard you’d expect from Oxbridgian types from the BBC.
“To me, I never really noticed that much difference. It was a case of two shows, working for two producers, trying to make the best show possible.”

Comedy has changed, in retrospect to what it was years ago. Now the focus seems to be more on silly characters and sketch shows, like Spitting Image, but much more dumbed down. Would you agree?
“Yes, I think it is. You can watch some sketches on the old Spitting Image and you kind of needed to know what had been happening in the news, to work out why they were doing in a sketch.
“There’s a lot of very knock-about stuff on Spitting Image like small puppets of Margaret Thatcher coming out of the door at 10 Downing Street, coming up with the prat flap. There’s lots of daft stuff like that but, essentially, we did sort of address what was happening in the news of the day.
“Where as now, there is, all over television, a lot of dumbing down to try and get as many bums on seats.”

You’ve been attached to non-likable, bumbling characters on Brittas Empire and Rimmer in Red Dwarf. Is there any stigma attached to that?
“Not really, no. I suppose it’s true to say that I have been typecast into these characters. Y’know, the grass is always greener. I still see some actors that, I can’t quite remember their names, but they’re in everything.
“They have been in everything for the last thirty years and I always walk up to them and say ‘I wish I’d had your career, whereas I do a bit here, a bit there and keep working.’ And they’ll say; ‘Well I wish I had yours, where you do two very high-profile, successful characters and that sort of sets you up for the rest of your career.’
“So the grass is always greener, in that respect. In some respects I would prefer it to have been the other way. Though, I’ve had the opportunity to [play] two, fairly, un-likable characters [in television programmes] that I don’t think I’d get the opportunity in today’s modern television climate to do.”

Comedy actors try to make themselves seem more believable as entertainers by moving into stand-up. Can you see yourself doing anything like that?
“To be honest with you; no. I did a little stand-up tour back in the 1990s because I just wanted to flex that muscle and see what the touring lark was about. I’m a different phase of my life. The main TV work that I do now is the presentation stuff for Discovery and Five: Massive Machines, Massive Speed. That’s where I’m at now.
“That combines my hobbies and interests in life, with my television route. That’s what I’m doing, so if I can take into that my comedy abilities with it being from Red Dwarf, Brittas [Empire] and Spitting Image, then it’s good. But it’s not the main thing.
“I’ll take any work, but, for me, the most interesting kind of work is the documentary thing. I’m not the kind of person who would do that Celebrity Love Island program.”

There are a lot of celebrities doing that to bring their career back. Have you ever been offered the chance to do something like that?
“Well, the truth is, I have had availability checks to do one of the high-profile shows you’re talking about. But, to be honest with you, the times I’ve watched them, it would take an awful lot of persuasion to get me to do one of those programs.
“I think, for a modern age, it does make for some reasonable television, such as Big Brother to see these people interacting. I did get quite hooked on the Michael Barrymore, George Galloway and Shilpa Shetty ones to see where it all went.
“But it just confirmed for me that if someone said ‘Do you want to come on this program?’ I really would not.”

Have you watched anything and thought ‘I want to do that’?
“I dipped my toe into feature films with Tomb Raider. I’m quite interested in the process of making a film and film work, on whatever level, will always attract me. Stage work, I’m not so keen on. Occasionally just a one-man appearance to exercise those muscles is fine, but stage work is really not that appealing.
“I’m open to a lot of stuff but, obviously, the reality TV stuff doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t see myself dancing on television.”

Have you ever thought about writing your own series?
“I hope that I’m going to be producing a documentary series and writing those myself, because then I can keep control of where it’s all going. If you do something that is close to your heart, I find that it’s quite important that you be able to write it yourself.
“Going out on Five from last week is Massive Speed, which is something that we did for Discovery a while back but it’s going out on Five for the first time. That might herald the production of something new, but I can’t confirm what that is yet.”

Spitting Image: Complete First Series is out Monday 28th January. Saturday Live: The Best of Series 2 starring Chris Barrie is out on 4th February 2008.


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