Banksy’s opening sequence for The Simpsons was inspired by the film he directed, the cartoon’s executive producer has said.

Fans in the US saw a darker-than-usual opening to Sunday’s episode, depicting the animation process for the Fox cartoon series as sweatshop drudgery performed by an exploited Asian underclass.

Executive producer Al Jean said he asked the British street artist to create a so-called ‘couch gag’ after seeing Exit Through The Gift Shop, which was released earlier this year.

First, the Simpsons casting director had to track down the famously elusive artist, and a few months later his work was submitted.

Although Mr Jean said the segment was ‘toned down a little’ for broadcast, there was nothing unusual from the network in terms of delays.

“Fox has a remarkable ability to make fun of itself and be gracious,” he said.

The show began with the sight of hometown Springfield covered with graffiti – and tagged by Banksy himself.

Then, when the Simpson family gathered on their living room couch, that image became a reference shot for legions of workers in a grim industrial complex where they churned out Simpsons merchandise, including Bart dolls stuffed with the fur of kittens tossed into a wood chipper, and DVDs whose centre holes were punched by a forlorn-looking unicorn’s horn.

The entire enterprise was housed in a dreary-looking factory sprawl surrounded by barbed wire and identified by the looming 20th Century Fox logo and searchlights.