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Outcry as France's much loved puppets face axe

The Local/AFP · 2 Jul 2015, 13:05

Published: 02 Jul 2015 13:05 GMT+02:00

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Several French media outlets reported that France's longest-running comedy show, "Les Guignols de l'Info," a satirical 10-minute newscast peopled by latex puppets, was going to be pulled off the air in September.

The move is a decision by businessman Vincent Bollore, who owns the Canal Plus television channel from where the show has provoked mirth and often ire with its send ups of hot topics and politicians since 1988.

"The captain of industry has very little appreciation for the programme", reported the Metronews website, adding Bollore would rubberstamp the decision to kill off the show at a shareholder's meeting on Friday.

Bollore recently criticised "the spirit" of Canal Plus, saying it went too far with its mockery and derision.

The news of the puppets imminent demise came two days after the death of their show's inventor and former Canal Plus number two Alain de Greef.

"Les Guignols" is a mirror-image of France's most-watched evening news show, hosted by a puppet of its long-term anchor Patrick Poivre d'Arvor and has taken on cult status in France.

The prospect of losing their beloved puppets sent French citizens straight to Twitter where the hashtag #touchepasauxguignols (Dont Touch The Guignols) quickly went viral.

Even National Assembly speaker Claude Bartolone called for the show to be "saved".

"Les Guignols" has an "acerbic side that us politicians react badly to when we are the target but that lightens the news and political commentary," he said.

'Very clever, very fierce

Modelled on Britain's 1980s puppet show "Spitting Image," the Guignols took off during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

As Western news coverage of the war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq went into overdrive, the Guignols countered with mock reporting, hosted by a flak-jacket wearing Sylvester Stallone whose character has reigned over their puppetland as a warmongering American or, more recently, as a Moody's analyst.

Former French president Jaques Chirac was one of the show's biggest stars, portrayed as a beer-guzzling corrupt rogue who changes into the SuperLiar hero when the need arises but nevertheless is well-loved.

"They are very clever, very political, very fierce," Chirac told AFP in a 2009 interview. "It's true they weren't always tender with me... But mostly I find my puppet pretty likeable."

The show has raised hackles across the globe, angering Japan whose embassy wrote to Canal Plus to complain of a show making fun of its deadly earthquake and nuclear disaster.

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The show portrayed the workers at Fukushima in the guise of the Mario Brothers and joked that Japan had not rebuilt since the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Spain was angered in 2012 by an episode that ridiculed doping by its sports stars after cycling champion Alberto Contador was slapped with a two-year ban for drug use.

In a satirical advert the puppets asked people to donate blood to Contador and thus share in the glory of his cycling victories.

In another sketch a puppet likeness of tennis star Rafael Nadal refuels the tank of his car from his own bladder.

Similar shows have been broadcast in Spain, Portugal, Cameroon, Kenya and South Africa.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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