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“I think you got a bit of a bargain”

How I came to own Maggie’s Last Supper, a piece of Spitting Image history

In the olden days (2010) when I didn’t have children and therefore had some money, I used to work in Soho and used to walk past Andrew Edmunds’ restaurant and art gallery on Lexington Street every day.

The restaurant is particularly wonderful — when someone recently asked on Twitter which restaurant one might choose to be in to see out the apocalypse, Andrew Edmunds is what I chose — but the gallery is a delight too.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t go in very much, but one day in 2010 I was walking past it and something caught my eye — there was an exhibition inside of artworks from Spitting Image, the satirical TV show of the 1980s and 90s that is about to return to British screens in 2020.

There were lots of amazing works in the show — one that caught my eye was of Rupert Murdoch urinating, and the puddle forming the shape of the island of Britain. I didn’t think I particularly wanted that one on my wall.

Incidentally, the picture to the left and the one below come from a blog post that describes a Spitting Image exhibition that took place some years later, and which includes some of the same artworks and some different ones.

The picture that did catch my eye was not titled but which depicted the Last Supper, as painted by Leonardo in the work he did for the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan.

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Leonardo’s Last Supper (Wikimedia Commons — public domain)

In this one, though, Margaret Thatcher takes Jesus’s place, and the rest of the cast are Maggie’s apostles: Norman Lamont, Ken Clarke, Kenneth Baker, David Mellor, Douglas Hurd, John Major, Virginia Bottomley, Neil Kinnock (head), Thatcher, Nigel Lawson, Cecil Parkinson, Geoffrey Howe, Norman Tebbit, Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten, Denis Thatcher (under the table, natch).

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The picture above is from the same blog post, and is not in fact the same shot as mine, but mine was sold to me framed and isn’t easy to photograph, so I have used the above to illustrate it. In mine, Michael Portillo is seen standing up and pouring wine from a jug.

It was expensive — having bought two houses in the intervening years, I have since spent more on things that brought me considerably less joy, but still, it cost about what one might pay for a new washing machine — but I bit the bullet and bought it, and gave the gallery my email address for the receipt. I took it home and hung it up and thought no more about it, until a few months later, out of the blue on a Sunday morning, an email arrived, with the subject line Maggie’s Last Supper, from a name I recognised, and which I hope he won’t mind me sharing:

Dear Anthony Dhanendran,

Maggie’s Last Supper is a high quality digital print, matt finish.

At the moment your print is the only one that exists. Spitting Image workshop made the life-size tableau for an exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London titled Cutting Edge. Steve Bell, Ralph Steadman also had work on display.

The photograph, if I remember correctly, was taken by the Spitting Image workshop. There was a rather good catalogue produced for the exhibition also called Cutting Edge.

The Spitting Image Last Supper caused some controversy at the time with the clergy. I think they felt it was blasphemous. The curator of Cutting Edge, to his credit, stuck to his guns.

To make the tableau from scratch for a photograph would be cost prohibitive these days. I think you got a bit of a bargain.

Pip, pip Roger Law.

Roger Law, of course was, with Peter Fluck, the co-creator of Spitting Image. I was delighted to receive his email, and I wrote back (some months later — I couldn’t think what to say) to say as much. I ended up picking up from eBay a copy of the catalogue for The Cutting Edge, which turned out not to feature “my” picture but which was a good read nonetheless.

And it was interesting to read that the picture on my wall was not the result of any manipulation but was the painstaking result of having arranged a whole load of spitting image puppets behind (and beneath) a real table in an art gallery — a thought borne further by finding the blog post which revealed a very similar but subtly different image.

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I used to be a journalist. Now I’m a product manager.

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