A Short History Of Punch and Judy
Punch and Judy has a long and colorful history and very much a tradition in this country having been around for over 350 years, you may be surprised to know that the show originated in Italy as a play, Mr Punch was originally called Punchinello. The first account in this country was by Samuel Pepys.
Samuel Pepys (23 February 1633 – 26 May 1703) was an English Naval Administrator and Member Of Parliament, now most famous for the diary he kept for over a decade which includes details of the Great Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London in 1666 and most importantly the first brief noting of a Punch and Judy show! The exert from his diary is below.
Friday 9 May 1662
Up and to my office, and so to dinner at home, and then to several places to pay my debts, and then to Westminster to Dr. Castle, who discoursed with me about Privy Seal business, which I do not much mind, it being little worth, but by Watkins’s —[clerk of the Privy Seal]— late sudden death we are like to lose money. Thence to Mr. de Cretz, and there saw some good pieces that he hath copyed of the King’s pieces, some of Raphael and Michael Angelo; and I have borrowed an Elizabeth of his copying to hang up in my house, and sent it home by Will. Thence with Mr. Salisbury, who I met there, into Covent Garden to an alehouse, to see a picture that hangs there, which is offered for 20s., and I offered fourteen—but it is worth much more money—but did not buy it, I having no mind to break my oath. Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the raylesthere, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw, and great resort of gallants. So to the Temple and by water home, and so walk upon the leads, and in the dark there played upon my flageolette, it being a fine still evening, and so to supper and to bed. This day I paid Godfrey’s debt of 40 and odd pounds. The Duke of York went last night to Portsmouth; so that I believe the Queen is near.
London's Covent Garden located on the Wall of the Church.
My show inside Covent Garden Market
The play Pepys saw was believed to of been performed by an Italian Puppet Showman called Pietro Gimonde, also known as Signor Bologna. Punchinello shows still exist in Italy and in France a similar Puppet is known as Guignol and Germany he's known as Kasper.
In the early 18th century large Marionette Theatres became popular being presented in large tents, taverns or town halls and most people would of known Mr Punch as being a stringed puppet similar to the Thunderbirds!
Towards the end of the century these large shows which required several puppeteers to operate and were difficult to transport and operate began to give way to the glove puppet shows which could be performed in a narrow puppet theatre now known as a booth and be performed by one Punch Showman on his own. It was at this time that Mr Punch made the transition from being a Marionette stringed puppet to the now common glove puppet. It was also around this time that Judy entered the Show having been previously known as Joan.
A Typical Victorian London Street Scene
These early booths were easy to move around and at the end of the day the Showman would pack his puppets away and carry the booth on his shoulders or on a cart. He would have an assistant with him known as a bottler who would help draw the crowds by maybe playing pipes or a drum and at the end of the show would go round with the bottle and collect money from the public for watching the show (in those days it was possible to earn a living from the generosity of the public, how times have changed!).
They would move from street to street or town to town performing the show setting up on a corner and drawing a crowd, they became a very common site in London and many of the Major towns and cities with the squawk of Mr Punch's voice which is produced from the mouth of the Showman by a small reed which is placed in the top of the mouth and blown through to produce words known as a swazzle, only Mr Punch's voice uses the Swazzle all the other characters have normal voices. A Punch and Judy Show just isn't the same without the use of a swazzle and it takes a lot of practice to master and has it's dangers, I've nearly swallowed mine several times!
Originally the show was intended for adults and they were often topical acting out the news stories of the day. It was also common to see a small real dog used on the show who's name was always Toby, he would be taught to bark or bite Mr Punch on order! Punch Showmen have often been known as Professors, it is said that the King granted permission for any person performing Punch and Judy could be know as a Prof!
Brighton Beach with the West Pier in the background
It was later in the Victorian times that the show changed from being adult entertainment to a Children's show, with the Victorians choosing to go on holidays to the Sea Side it wasn't long before the Punch Showman followed. Ask anyone to name the three top things they associate with the Sea Side and they would probably say Punch and Judy. It was in the late Victorian and Edwardian times that the Punch booths turned into the red and white striped with ornate prosceniums that we now associate with today. Also all of the characters that are still used in the show today started to creep into the routine with the Baby, Doctor, Beadle later followed by the Police Man, Hector the Horse, the Crocodile, Ghost and the grand finale with the Devil!
Punch and Judy was seen on most of the British Sea Side resorts setting up on the beach and entertaining the Children for a small fee right up to the 1950's and 60's, Brighton has a long history of Punch and Judy Shows. After time they began to disappear from the Beaches as it became harder and harder to earn a living from donations and became cheaper for the public to go to Sunny climates abroad and the Great British Weather doing it's worst!
This wasn't the end for Mr Punch, he's a tough old fella! With private bookings becoming more frequent in the 1960's Punch and Judy can still be seen today at many Village Fetes, Town Shows, Carnivals, Schools and of course Birthday Parties, still thrilling and keeping the Children and Adults entertained as much so as a hundred years ago. It really is interesting that in the era of modern technology we live in and all that the Children have to hand with Disney and the Simpsons there's nothing like the live entertainment of the Punch and Judy Show which still gets a laugh.
People often ask is it violent. Well it's no more violent than Tom and Jerry or the Simpsons and the term slap stick comedy was taken from the stick which is used in the Show known as a slap stick because it is two pieces of wood glued together with a slight gap that when hit even lightly creates a great slapping noise!
Isle Of White
My show is suitable for all age groups and audiences and still retains the Victorian and Edwardian look and feel combined with a script that has evolved over the many years to still appeal to today's audiences.
And so to today the history continues, Mr Punch is over 355 years old and I will be performing to many thousands of people throughout the year helping to keep the tradition alive for further generations. As Mr Punch would say "That's the way to do it!". www.mrpunchandjudy.co.uk