On Sunday 11th October 1992, when Bill Dare was producer of the TV satire series Spitting Image, he put Jesus Christ into the show for the first time – as one of the latex puppets.
The production company involved, Central Television, told the Independent newspaper: “As with all Spitting Image material, this short item has been checked at the highest level for taste and legality and considered suitable for transmission. Spitting Image is renowned for being controversial and viewers must make up their own minds.”
Central received 380 complaints about the sketch before it was transmitted, but only 20 complaints after the broadcast. Overall, according to Bill Dare, ITV received about 70 complaints after the sketch was screened.
The Rev Eric Shegog, Church of England director of communications, said afterwards: “I would have thought, generally speaking, most Christians would not have taken much offence at it because it was so innocuous.”
Legendary moral campaigner and veteran complainer Mary Whitehouse said the puppet show’s sketch – which was about God looking high and low in heaven for a copy of the Bible and failing to find one until Jesus suggests that he look in Yellow Pages – was ‘tasteless’ and ‘silly’, but said that she would not be making a formal complaint.
Nonetheless, Bill Dare asked Central if it was OK to use the Jesus Christ puppet in another upcoming Spitting Image show and perhaps as a regular cast member. Bill was told there would be no problem with using the Jesus puppet again.
But then ITV got complaints from a fundamentalist Muslim group because Jesus, as well as being a Christian icon, is regarded as a Messenger of God by Muslims.
ITV reversed their decision and told Bill he could not use the Jesus puppet in Spitting Image again for fear of… causing offence.
What this shows I do not know. But this was back in 1992.