Free Raymond Briggs Retrospective and “Spitting Image” exhibitions lined up for Cambridge University Library

From the wonderlands of the late Raymond Briggs‘ imagination to the rubber puppets of Spitting Image holding politicians to account, Cambridge University Library is highlighting two beloved and subversive icons of UK culture during its 2023 exhibition and events season.

Art from The Elephant and the Bad Baby © Raymond Briggs
Art from The Elephant and the Bad Baby © Raymond Briggs

Opening first is Raymond Briggs: A Retrospective, a free exhibition running from Saturday 29th April until Tuesday 29th August 2023, touring from the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration. This exhibition highlights a selection of illustrator Raymond Briggs’ most significant works.

Inspired by illustrations in newspapers and Punch magazine, Raymond Briggs (1934 – 2022) applied to art school, aged 15. His interviewer was appalled by his desire to be a cartoonist, however Briggs’ illustrated stories have become enduring works.

Briggs never planned to write for children but his captivating storytelling and subversive humour made many of his books family favourites.

Rooftop page spread, Father Christmas © Raymond Briggs, 1973
Rooftop page spread, Father Christmas © Raymond Briggs, 1973

He is best known for The Snowman (1978), which has sold more than 5.5 million copies in 21 countries. However, over a 60-year, award-winning career, Briggs created illustrated books on a wide variety of different themes, from family relationships and grief to social mobility and political satire. 

His books have inspired, challenged and entertained readers around the world, and some have been the source of controversy. 

Raymond Briggs: A Retrospective features never-before-seen original illustrations from Briggs studio, which reveal his expert draughtsmanship, captivating storytelling and subversive humour.

Spitting Image - Margaret Thatcher

Savage, grotesque, hilarious: Spitting Image is an icon of 20th century television, and Spitting Image: A Controversial History will highlight the show, which first aired in 1984, will open at Cambridge University Library in September.

When it launched in 1984, Spitting Image revolutionised how royalty, politicians and celebrity were discussed and depicted. Loved and hated, it gathered 14 million viewers at its peak – while simultaneously attracting thousands of complaints.

Roger Law and Peter Fluck, Spitting Image’s founders, were political cartoonists by profession. They took the traditions of their craft which had been established in the 18th century and translated them for the screen.

It was an act that scandalised and enthralled in equal measure. Political cartoonists had long known you could push boundaries with pictures. Fluck and Law demonstrated that with puppets, you could say almost anything.

Spitting Image puppet Margaret Thatcher and series co-creator Roger Law
Spitting Image puppet Margaret Thatcher and series co-creator Roger Law

Through the collections of the University Library and other institutions Spitting Image: A Controversial History will explore the show’s development and impact. Visitors will see how Peter Fluck and Roger Law’s ‘cartoonist eye’ used puppets to satirise life in the UK and how few in British public life were left unscathed.

The exhibition explores the ongoing relevance of satire, the use of art to speak truth to power, and questions if mocking those who seek to rule really does make a difference. 

Cambridge University Library has been home to the Spitting Image archive since 2018, after Roger Law deposited the first 30 boxes of programme archive material with the library.

Among the archive are hundreds of rehearsal and post-production scripts, memorabilia, puppet designs and newspaper cuttings reflecting the controversial nature of the programme. Each script records who wrote each sketch and identifies the puppeteers and voice artists.

Raymond Briggs: A Retrospective Saturday 29th April – Tuesday 29th August 2023, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR| Free and open to all | Web:

Raymond Briggs: A Retrospective is a touring exhibition from the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration | Web:

Spitting Image: A Controversial History 30th September 2023 – 17th February 2024 Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR| Free and open to all | Web:

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.

Categories: Animation, Art and Illustration, British Comics, British Comics - Graphic Novels, Comics, downthetubes Comics News, Events, Exhibitions, Other Worlds

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