Spitting Image – Maggie Thatcher impersonator Steve Nallon recalls how he got the job

Posted on 12 April 2013
By Pierce King
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The voice behind Maggie Thatcher’s Spitting Image puppet Steve Nallon has revealed he got the job impersonating the Tory leader after convincing them she should have a male voice.

Spitting Image producer John Lloyd admits the puppet and was ‘the star of the show, which pulled Maggie apart with vicious aplomb from its first episode in February 1984.

The Iron Lady’s rubber counterpart was re-imagined as everything from Winston Churchill, puffing on a fat cigar, to a bullying headmistress, steamrolling her ‘class’ of ministers into line.

Her masculine attributes – wearing pinstripe suits and using urinals – were contrasted unflatteringly with her emasculated colleagues.

Spitting Image attracted 15 million viewers a tall order for its late-night Sunday slot on ITV and higher than audiences tuning into the TV news bulletin.

The show ran until 1996 and featured puppets of others in the public eye, such as Ronald Reagan and the Royal family, but their Mrs Thatcher remains its iconic puppet.

Spitting Image also vulcanised young Steve Nallon’s reputation. He was a struggling comic when he wrote to Lloyd, asking to do Mrs Thatcher’s voice.

He remembers: “They thought ‘How can a 22-year-old possibly do Margaret Thatcher?’

“But at the interview I told them to ask me questions aimed at Mrs Thatcher, and I improvised her answers.

“They loved the idea of a man doing her voice and I got the job on the spot.”

He soon became adept at his act, spotting how she would deploy different tones for every occasion.

“She had an interview voice, which could be very excitable. She would be very, very natural talking with Robin Day [the BBC interviewer], but every so often she would jump up and get excited and that would come through in her voice becoming higher.

“But when she was at party conferences, she would be very statesmanlike and have a much deeper voice. She was even louder when she was speaking in the Commons.”

The Spitting Image impersonation infuriated as many viewers as it delighted. John Lloyd was responsible for responding to a vast mailbag each week, split equally between abusive rants demanding his exile to Russia and plaudits that praised the show as a “safety valve”, allowing viewers to vent their frustration with the government.

John Lloyd said: “Mrs Thatcher thought it was a dreadful programme, but I know plenty of people in the Cabinet who thought it very funny.

“Leon Brittan and Norman Tebbit were fans.” When Spitting Image was canned in the Nineties – John Major’s government was deemed too dull for satire – Michael Heseltine even agreed to auction the puppets.