Outcry as France’s much loved puppets face axe

They have lampooned the political elite for decades, at home and abroad, but now the merciless puppets hosting France's favourite comedy show Les Guignols are threatened with redundancy, sparking an outcry on Thursday.

Outcry as France's much loved puppets face axe

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.

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


WTF France: What’s with the French and dubbing films?

Paris-based British comedian Paul Taylor has a new TV show about life in France and the idiosyncrasies of the locals. This week, he tackled their obsession with dubbing films.

WTF France: What's with the French and dubbing films?
Photo: Screengrab Canal Plus

You might remember Paul Taylor from his viral YouTube rant this January about the French greeting kisses. Now, he has been headhunted by French channel Canal+ for a new series about life in France.

The name of the show is What the Fuck France! and as the title suggests it involves Taylor taking a rather aggressive (expletive riddled) look at some of the quirky habits and idiosyncrasies of the French.

The first of the 10 mini-episodes aired on Saturday (see below) and was about Taylor's irritation with how the French film industry dubs movies and TV series, something it has to be said, many French people find just as bemusing as Taylor.

“For me dubbing makes no sense at all,” Taylor tells French viewers (with the use of subtitles rather than dubbing obviously).

“Now I get your dilemma, you want to watch a movie and not read a f””king book,” he goes on.

We asked him just what, exactly, riled him up so much about it.

Over to you Paul:

I can't get used to the mouth moving while different words are coming out of it. It's OK with cartoons, but when it comes to real people then I just can't watch it, it doesn't compute.

If I'm watching an English-language movie on French TV with my girlfriend, and it's one of the quarter or so that only offer a dubbed version, then I'll simply refuse to watch it. It's a pity if it's a good film that I really want to watch, because then I have to go and find it on iTunes and rent it instead. 

My theory is that the countries that dub TV and movies are the ones where the people speak the most horrific English.

If you look at countries in northern Europe, like Sweden, then you find that the people speak great English. They're used to English there, they've grown up hearing and mimicking it.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the French, the Italians, and the Spanish have such strong accents when they're speaking English. These are all countries that insist on dubbing their films.

In France however, I've met people who say they never even heard English until they were 12 years old when they went on a trip to the UK. 

The worst is when they dub something into French and leave the original English in the background. I first came across it when I was watching a dubbed version of Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares. You could hear him swearing his head off in English in the background, I mean, properly swearing, but the man doing the voice over was quite calm and polite. It was so weird.

As for the French, they seem to have quite a mixed reaction to dubbing. I've been reading the comments from the first episode of my show and a lot of people are arguing about whether they prefer to watch the original version or not. 

They can't seem to make their mind up. But they have to deal with dubbing problems, too, like how the same voice actor does Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwartzenegger – but if the two actors are in the same film then they need to hire a new voice actor. It makes no sense. 

My favourite example of it going wrong was with the TV show Friends, where the six voice actors went on strike after the sixth season. They didn't get their way, and the producers had to bring in a new voice actors from season seven to ten. We just don't have that problem because we don't dub. 

I think that letting people watch things in the original version lets them learn, lets them get a better accent. The more you watch, the more you get used to it, which is particularly helpful for understanding TV language and all those kind of expressions that you might not hear as much in real life.”

So, how did the first episode go down with French audiences?

Some commenters online stood firm besides the tradition of dubbing. 

“Sorry to say it, but sometimes the people who do the dubbing have better voices than the original actors,” one Facebook user wrote. 

“Take House of Cards, for example, the US voice is monotonous and easily puts me to sleep, but not in the French version.”

Most online comments, however, have been supportive towards Taylor and his distaste for dubbing.

Some even took to complaining too, with one ruing the fact that cultural references from the original version can be lost when they're changed to suit a French audience.

For the most part, the French seemed to agree that it's time to ditch the dubbing. 

Paul Taylor's new show, What the Fuck France, is on Canal+ on Saturdays at 12.20pm. Click here to see episode one or watch it below. 

Warning. Viewers who don't take kindly to swearing may want to just read the subtitles.