'Almost The End', 10 June 1962. 

Roger Law is a British caricaturist, editorial cartoonist and ceramist. He is most famous, alongside Peter Fluck, as the co-creator of the satirical puppet show 'Spitting Image' (1984-1996, 2020- ). 'Spitting Image' gained notoriety for depicting celebrities as grotesque caricatural handpuppets and marionettes. The show was often vicious and controversial, while its format was sold to many countries. In 1988, it also spawned an official comic book. Earlier in his career, with Michael Frayn and comedian Peter Cook as scriptwriters, Law drew the topical newspaper comic 'Almost the End' (1962) for The Observer. Later, he made cartoons for Private Eye and underground comix for the magazine Ink. He additionally co-designed the album covers of 'The Who Sell Out' (1967) by The Who and 'Axis: Bold As Love' (1967) by Jimi Hendrix.

Early life
Roger Law was born in 1941 in Littleport, a village in the Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire. His father ran a bricklaying construction firm. Roger didn't want to follow in his footsteps and, at age 14, studied at the Cambridge School of Art. One of his drawing teachers, Paul Hogarth (a descendant of William Hogarth), gave him his first paid drawing assignments in magazines; mostly commissions the teacher didn't want to do himself. Through these contacts, Law became the art editor for six issues of the magazine Granta. Among his main graphic influences were George Herriman, Al Capp, James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, George Cruikshank, Honoré Daumier, George Grosz, Robert Crumb and the artists of the French satirical magazine L'Assiette au Beurre. Later in life, he also expressed admiration for Jean-Claude Morchoisne. Two fellow students, both called Peter, would have an important influence on Law's career. One was future caricaturist Peter Fluck, the other future comedian Peter Cook. Fluck and Law were politically active and supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament by designing posters for this cause. In 1959 (some sources say 1960), Law dropped out of his final university year, since he had built up enough contacts to ensure enough work. He later tried to get in at Royal College and was accepted. Yet, he never attended a single class, realizing he didn't want to become a fine artist after all. He preferred being published in magazines.

Early career
In the early 1960s, Law moved to London. His illustrations and cartoons appeared in magazines like Queen, Town and Topic. He also worked as an artist-in-residence for Peter Cook's night club The Establishment in the Soho neighborhood. Cook's stand-up comedy was quite a hit, because he tackled many taboos in British society, including the Army, the Church and the Royal Family. Every week, Law designed 14 feet high (4.2672 meters) mural drawings to promote new shows. He also made caricatures of the performing artists, fuelling his love for this artform. Unfortunately, the Soho neighborhood was notorious for the presence of mobsters. One time, a fight broke out inside the club. When Law went to fetch his coat, it was completely tarnished. The incident motivated him to look for a safer job. Through Cook, he found work as cartoonist in the satirical magazine Private Eye, where both men worked on humorous articles.

'Almost the End', 17 June 1962

Almost the End
For the newspaper The Observer, Law drew a comic strip, 'Almost the End' (1962), scripted by Peter Cook and Michael Frayn. Many episodes were inspired by current events and quite risqué, like the gag in which two men discuss modern theater: "You know, I go to the theatre to be entertained. I don't want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction. I can get all that at home." Cook's media career took up so much time, that he usually sent in his scripts at the very last minute. After six weeks, 'Almost the End' came to an end. Editor David Astor objected to a gag in which a mental patient escapes from an institution, commits a robbery and is then declared sane as a result. After being sent to prison and flogged for his crimes, Home Secretary Rab Butler passes by and says: "The flogging is necessary, because he had offended so regularly he must be off his head." Astor didn't like this joke at the expense of Butler, because it also included the politician's wife. The editor even cancelled the entire satirical page in The Observer altogether.

The Sunday Times
Through his connections with The Observer, Law had met photographer Don McCullin and designer Dave King. In 1966, he joined them at The Sunday Times, where they livened up many articles. The cartoonist illustrated a serialisation of Graham Greene's novel 'The Comedians'. Law was additionally commissioned to make sketches at locations where photographers weren't allowed, such as courtroom trials and Chinese gambling dens. This was based on the misconception that people who drew sketches, would be permitted. Law quickly discovered this wasn't the case. Yet, he still tried to make some quick doodles, then finish the drawings at home from memory. As a courtroom sketch artist, he attended several trials, including the one against child murderers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. In 1967, Law left The Sunday Times, but returned in its pages between 1971 and 1975.

Cover comic strip for Ink Magazine #19 (October 1971).

Comics, book illustrations, album covers and sculptures
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Law's art appeared in magazines like Nova, Magnet News, Men Only, Vogue and Ink. For Ink, he drew in an underground comix style, showing obvious influence from Robert Crumb. He also illustrated Jeremy Sandford's book 'Synthetic Fun' (Baltimore, 1967). Law and David King additionally designed the musical album covers of The Who's 'The Who Sell Out' (1967) and Jimi Hendrix' 'Axis: Bold As Love' (1967). Because The Who's Pete Townshend posed on the cover with a deodorant roll-on to his armpit, some U.S. stores refused to sell the record. Law, King and Alan Aldridge also designed the cover of The Who's album 'Phases' (1984). Another artist who made graphic designs for The Who was Richard Evans

From 1967 on, Law made plasticine caricature models for Nova magazine. In the United States, he worked as artist-in-residence at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. There, he produced his first puppet film. He briefly lived in New York City too, where he offered his services to the Bush Bins Studio, Esquire and other publications.

Fluck & Law
In 1976, Law returned to England and, together with Peter Fluck, established his own art studio in Cambridge: Fluck & Law (sometimes jokingly named "Luck & Flaw"). They specialized in three-dimensional caricatural wax models of media celebrities. After completion, the statues were grouped together in a thematic diorama and then photographed. A grotesque version of Madame Tussauds, so to speak. Fluck & Law sold work to The Sunday Times, The Economist, Men Only and Marxism Today, but were also popular in foreign publications. In the USA, they published in National Lampoon and Time, in Germany in Der Spiegel and Stern and in the Netherlands in Panorama. For an anti-Nazi League rally, they designed huge carnival heads of Adolf Hitler. While most of their work was political satire, they also produced photo books based on the classic novels 'A Christmas Carol' (1979) by Charles Dickens and 'Treasure Island' (1986) by Robert Louis Stevenson.

'Spitting Image' puppets of U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. 

Spitting Image
In 1979 Fluck & Law were approached to make a satirical TV show starring puppets resembling famous politicians. Writer Tony Hendra (National Lampoon), documentary maker Jon Blair and radio and TV producer John Lloyd ('The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', 'Not the Nine O' Clock News') were involved. Most executives, however, didn't understand the concept, because they associated puppets with children's shows. To obtain some professional advice, Fluck and Law talked with Jim Henson during a lecture at the Edinburgh Festival. Henson's 'The Muppet Show' entertained both adults and children. But even he discouraged them: "You cannot make a puppet of somebody, it will not work." Nevertheless, two Muppet contributors, director Philip Casson and puppeteer/voice actress Louise Gold, joined Fluck & Law's project. Gold in particular would voice Elizabeth II. Central Television eventually greenlighted the show. On 26 February 1984, the first episode of 'Spitting Image' aired on ITV. It combined two prime British traditions: marionette theater (Punch & Judy) and editorial-political caricaturing (James Gillray, George Cruikshank, Thomas Rowlandson, Punch). As a special homage, James Gillray was made into a puppet too, playing a Royal servant.

Since nothing like it had ever been attempted before, it took a while before the show found its style. During the first season, production was very slow and labor intensive. Some puppets were made one night before broadcast, and everybody worked overtime. Certain episodes were so last-minute that the first half of the show was already broadcast, while the second half was still being edited. Each caricature had to be designed from three different points of view. Marionettes were modelled, moulded, dried, painted and clothed. Foam rubber and glazy eyes were added later. Some puppets were given special effects mechanisms, like wiggling ears, twirling toupets or blinking eyes.

By the second season, production was professionalized, so the creators were now able to make 20 new puppets a week. This allowed them to react to events that had been reported only days, even hours, before the show went on the air. Thanks to higher budgets, the puppets, sets and props looked fancier. Previously, puppeteers tried to perform while the voice actors were present in the same room. Now, they simply synchronized their movements to a pre-recorded soundtrack. The voice impressionists also exaggerated their imitations, so they were more in line with the cartoony looks of the puppets. A prime example was Pope John Paul II, whose original voice sounded realistic, but was later changed to an American accent, in reference to his pop star-like behavior. In 1986, Fluck and Law renamed their company Spitting Image Productions.

Sketch by Roger Law of TV personality Bruce Forsyth (whose name is misspelled on the drawing). 

The 1980s were a turbulent, highly politicized decade. U.S President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko heated up the Cold War. UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's conservative policies and privatisations were a burden for working class people. In South Africa, president Pik Botha kept apartheid in effect. The old-fashioned opinions of Pope John Paul II, Reverend Ian Paisley and Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie drew ire. Dictators like ayatollah Khomeini, colonel Qadaffi, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro left a trail of blood behind. Originally, Law only wanted to focus on politics. But at the advice of his colleagues, the show broadened its scope. Soon Hollywood actors (Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Meryl Streep,...), UK film actors (Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud,...), TV actors (Leonard Nimoy, John Cleese, Joan Collins,.. ), TV presenters (David Attenborough, Esther Rantzen, David Coleman,...), sports figures (Frank Bruno, Steve Davis, John McEnroe,...), pop musicians (Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson,...), activists (Mary Whitehouse, Bob Geldof,...) and businesspeople (Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch,...) were lampooned too. After a while, Fluck & Law had a colossal archive of over 900 puppets! Not all were celebrities, though. Some were common people used whenever the script demanded some. In a biting stab at the tabloids, for instance, paparazzi were portrayed as pigs and vultures.

The show was a brilliant satirical laughing mirror. Thanks to 24/24 hour TV channels, there was an oversaturation of news stories about celebrities. On the small screen, the world was already like a puppet theatre and many people close to self-parody. Reagan was permanently confused, Thatcher a bitchy manwife, Qadaffi a ridiculous-looking idiot in uniform, Ian Paisley a loud-mouthed zealot, Michael Jackson an infantile lunatic, Madonna an exhibitionist and Pope John Paul II a wannabe pop star on tour. The British Royal Family were so often in the news that they almost resembled soap opera characters. Fluck & Law's team exaggerated the mannerisms of these all these celebrities so convincingly that the line between the real people and their puppets became eerily blurred. Viewers who were outraged at daily politics or the ridiculous media attention surrounding so-called celebrities were relieved that 'Spitting Image' took the piss at them. It cut through all the façade and raised the political awareness of many viewers. Long before video cameras were allowed inside the real-life Houses of Parliament, the makers already featured puppet parlementarians in a replica of the building. Soon, even school children could recognize specific members of the government based on their puppet caricatures. The show didn't cause a revolution, but their 1987 Election Night Special was only allowed to air after the votes were counted. A sure sign on how influential they were as an opinion-making show.

Naturally, 'Spitting Image' also caused controversy. For the first time on British television, Elizabeth II and her family were mocked on a weekly basis. Initially, scenes with the Royals were removed from the pilot episode, because Prince Philip would open the East Midlands Television Centre a few days later. When the Royal Family did become regular characters on the show, some viewers objected to a puppet of Elisabeth II's mother, AKA "the Queen Mum". The Queen Mum was quite beloved and, because of her old age, critics felt it was cruel to mock her. But 'Spitting Image' just went ahead and portrayed her as a senile gambling addict. Another puppet that caused angry letters was God. Quite a number of celebrities also felt insulted by their puppets. Margaret Thatcher firmly claimed she never watched "that program". UK Minister of Trade and Industry Leon Brittan was hurt, while politician David Steele blamed the show for people not taking him seriously anymore. Illusionist Paul Daniels didn't mind jokes about his toupet, but did object to a sketch in which he fondled his female assistant. Pop singer Kylie Minogue was horrified about a parody of her music video 'I Should Be So Lucky'. In 1985, activist Norris McWhirther sued the show when his head was subliminally superimposed on a naked woman's body, but lost his case. 'Spitting Image' got away with many outrageous sketches, precisely because it was satire and, all things considered, a show about puppets. And, like one member of the staff memorably said: "If we don't get hundreds of angry letters every week, we're doing something wrong."

Some politicians showed more sense of self mockery. Norman Tebbitt, Ken Livingstone, Edwina Currie, Michael Heseltine, David Owen and Roy Hattersley loved their puppets. Princess Diana confirmed to Stephen Fry that 'Spitting Image' was her favorite show, "even though all the other Royals hate it." After a while, a puppet in 'Spitting Image' was the equivalent of receiving a wax statue in Madame Tussauds, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, appearing on the cover of Time Magazine, being spoofed in Mad, or like nowadays, being referenced in 'The Simpsons'. If you weren't featured as a puppet, you really were a nobody. Politician and writer Jeffrey Archer even sent in tapes with his voice so they could imitate him better. This actually motivated the makers to feature him a bit less, because they didn't want to fondle his ego. TV host Chris Evans wanted to voice his own puppet, which was rejected for the same reasons.

'Spitting Image' lent its name to several spin-off projects. In 1986, many of the puppets appeared in the music video for the Genesis single 'Land of Confusion'. The show recorded two hit singles. 'The Chicken Song' (better known as 'Hold A Chicken in the Air...', 1986) parodied irritating nonsensical hits, until it ironically became one itself. Its B-side, 'I've Never Met a Nice South African', attacked the country's apartheid policy. Spitting Image also made teapots, coffee pots and figurines based on Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Elizabeth II, Charles & Diana, Juan Carlos and Pope John Paul II. Under the slogan "Throw a Politican to Your Dog", they made rubber chew toys for dogs, based on politicians' faces. In 1989, a video game was released. They also created puppets for non-political media, such as the children's specials 'Peter and the Wolf: A Prokofiev Fantasy' (1993) and 'The Periwig-Maker' (1999) by Steffen Schäffler. In 1985, Roger Law and Peter Fluck hosted 'Political and Social Satire Through Caricature', a documentary about the history of caricature and political cartoons.

Comic art by Paul Cemmick (from 'Spitting Image: The Giant Komic Book', 1988).

Spitting Image Comics
On 23 September 1988, a Spitting Image comic book was released, titled 'Spitting Image. The Giant Komic Book' (Pyramid Books Ltd & Octopus Publishing Group). It was made by the show's creators and mostly featured satirical comics and articles about celebrities. Among its many contributors were David Austin, Neville Astley, Pablo Bach, Jeremy Banx, Steve Bendelack, Steve Bell, John M. Burns, Paul Cemmick, Rowen Clifford, Simone Cooper, Steve Dillon, Mark Draisey, Hunt Emerson, Alex Evans, Brett Ewins, Phil Gascoine, Charles Griffin, Colin Hadley, David Haldane, John Higgins, David Hughes, Rian Hughes, Graham Humphries, Ionicus, Ian Jackson, Johnny Johnstone, Tony Joswick, John Lawson, Tony McSweeney, Harry North, Charles Peattie, Arthur Robins, Gerald Scarfe, Paul Sample, Geoff Sims, Neville Smith, Paul Stone, David Stoten, Lee Sullivan, Graham Thompson, John Watson, Tim Watts, Janet Woolley and Oscar Zarate.

Foreign versions
Right from the start, 'Spitting Image' was dubbed or subtitled and broadcast in other Western countries as well, such as Canada, the USA, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria and New Zealand. Usually within the same week, since it was topical satire. However, since so much referred to British politics and culture, some foreign broadcasting companies only showed the parts of the program that were understandable to their local audiences. Others, like in the Netherlands, added short explanations on top of the screen. Between 1986 and 1988, 'Spitting Image' made a few TV specials trying to crack the U.S. market. Despite positive reviews by critics, general audiences found it too offensive.

However, the show's format was bought by many countries in almost all possible continents, from South America, Africa, Tunisia, Russia, Cameroon, Lebanon, Iran, India, Japan to Australia. Yet it didn't always catch on: either because of low ratings, or because governments banned it. The longest-running foreign versions were made in Australia ('Rubbery Figures', 1984-1990), France ('Les Guignols de l'Info', 1988-2018), the Czech Republic ('Gumáci', 1994-1999), Hungary ('Uborka', 1992-2002), Portugal (since 1992 various versions have been made, the longest-running was 'Contra Informação', 1996-2010), Spain ('Las Noticias del Guiñol', 1995-2008), Russia ('Kukly', 1995-2002), Israel ('Chartzufim', 1996-2001), Kenya ('The XYZ Show', 2009-ongoing, with participation of cartoonist Gado) and South Africa ('ZANEWS', 2008-2017).

End of Spitting Image
Topical comedy is dependent on the satirical possibilities of current events. Heated political issues can suddenly be resolved. Colorful personalities may suddenly die or disappear from the public eye. 'Spitting Image' faced the same problem. In 1989, U.S. President Reagan left the White House, while Thatcher resigned a year later. The Cold War ended, Eastern Europe became democratic again, Iranian ayatollah Khomeini died and apartheid was abolished. Some media stars from the past decade still fed news stories, but their surprise effect was gone. Audiences only tuned in to see new puppets. The 1990s had its fair share of wars, scandals and dictators. New colorful media figures turned up. Politicians like U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Royalty members like Camilla Parker-Bowles. Sportsfigures such as boxers Chris Eubank, Mike Tyson and association football players Paul Gascoigne and Eric Cantona. Pop stars like Björk and Oasis. And fashion model Naomi Campell, general Norman Schwarzkopf and film director Quentin Tarantino. But for the most part, the makers were stuck with dull replacements, like South African president Nelson Mandela, U.K. Prime Minister John Major and U.S. President Bill Clinton (who wasn't tarnished with sex scandals yet). Some of the original writers and voice actors left. When ratings went down, the final episode aired on 18 February 1996. Several contributors later became well-known British comedians, comedy writers, voice impressionists and/or satirists, among them Rory Bremner, Chris Cunningham, Steve Coogan, Harry Enfield, Ian Hislop, Alistair MacGowan and Pamela Stephenson.

 Self-portrait of Roger Law. 

In 1996, Roger Law moved to Sydney, Australia, where he worked at the National Art School as an artist-in-residence. He travelled the country and sketched local fauna and flora. His love for Chinese porcelain and a meeting with Australian-Chinese ceramicist Ah Xian motivated his move to Jingdezhen, China. There, Law devoted his career to working with porcelain and making watercolor paintings.

Revival of 'Spitting Image'
Whenever Law was interviewed, he expressed no nostalgia for 'Spitting Image'. He often downright claimed he "hated puppets", though this might have been because he still had an archive full of now useless puppets staring at him with their ugly faces. He considered throwing them all on a bonfire. Luckily, somebody had a better idea and in 2000 the majority of the puppets were auctioned. Several celebrities actually bought their own puppets. Surprisingly enough, the highest-selling one wasn't Reagan, Thatcher or the Queen, but bestseller author Barbara Cartland. In 2001, Law also made a puppet of terrorist Osama bin Laden for charity. In 2018, Law's archive of sketches and scripts was donated to Cambridge University.

In the 2000s and 2010s, 'Spitting Image' enjoyed a remarkable revival. Old episodes reran on Comedy Central and PuppeTV and were reuploaded on YouTube. All seasons were collected on DVD and documentary specials were broadcast. In the fall of 2020, 'Spitting Image' made a triumphant comeback, broadcast on the streaming service BritBox. Part of the show is recorded in the United States. Some of the new writers and actors were previously involved with Matt Groening's animated TV series 'Futurama', including David X. Cohen, Billy West, John DiMaggio and Phil LaMarr. Of course, many celebrities from the past had now died or retired, and their puppets were sold. Among the few familiar faces that returned to the show are Elizabeth II, Prince Charles (later Charles III) & Camilla, Prince Andrew, Prince William, Prince Harry and Donald Trump (though all remodelled according to their current age). Among the newcomers are U.S. President Joe Biden, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Russian president Vladimir Putin, rapper Kanye West, singer Adèle, Princess Kate, Princess Meghan, reality star Kim Kardashian, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and activist Greta Thunberg. Just like in the old days, viewers are either delighted or outraged. Minor controversy arose about the inclusion of Greta Thunberg, who is a young autistic girl. But Thunberg herself found her puppet very funny. The success was enough for the show to continue for a next season.

"Travelling light" (print), featuring two self-portraits. 

In 1967, Roger Law won a Designers' and Art Directors' Association Silver Award for his plasticine caricature models in Nova. He additionally received the Society of Illustrators' Award for Consistent Excellence (1983). In 1998, he and Peter Fluck won the Cartoon Art Trust Lifetime Achievement Award.

Legacy and influence
Roger Law remains one of the most influential satirists of the late 20th and early 21st century. He co-created a TV format which was bought by many foreign TV companies. He shaped the political conciousness of many people and broke many TV taboos. In British comedy, 'Spitting Image' therefore takes up a unique place among the predominantly live-action shows. Roger Law was a strong influence on Richard Yeend

Books about Roger Law
In 1992, Edward Booth-Clibborn and Roger Law published 'A Nasty Piece of Work. The Art of 'Spitting Image'' (1992), which delves into the craft behind the puppets. In 2005, Law published his autobiography in collaboration with Lewis Chester: 'Still Spitting At Sixty: From the 60s to My Sixties, A Sort of Autobiography' (Harper Collins, 2005).

Roger Law. The puppet depicts terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Photo credit: Australian Broadcasting Corporation.


Series and books by Roger Law you can order today:


If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.