I don’t think I know anyone who likes Punch and Judy shows; I would sometimes see them when I was a child, and although I shouted along with the rest of the children, I always thought it was silly and nasty, and I didn’t like people being hit. It seemed to me that people liked the idea of Punch and Judy, and thought that children ought to like it too. When we saw the booths at the seaside, we never went and watched, and gradually over the year my distaste has increased and I really actively dislike it. Just because it’s a traditional entertainment it shouldn’t necessarily have to continue.
I know that this puppet show has been popular for centuries, that it originated from the Commedia dell’Arte, the Italian theatre, and that there is a set list of puppet characters as well as Punch or Mr Punch and Judy – the baby, the policeman, the crocodile and Toby the dog, and there is one puppeteer concealed in the stripy booth, Mr Punch has a very distinctive appearance, a clown’s hat, a hooked nose and a hooked chin almost coming together, and he wears a jester’s outfit, and always carries a stick or truncheon that he hits everyone with. Although the other characters converse, he has a strange, nasty, squeaky voice.
On looking it up, I discovered there is a known date for the show, 1662, according to Pepys diary; however I guess the show could have been touring long before then and not been actually written down anywhere. I also discovered that Punch’s voice is produced by the puppeteer – who it seems is often called ‘the professor’ who has a squeaky thing in his mouth which he speaks through. Punch’s stick is called a slap-stick.
However, although I really don’t like Punch and Judy shows, and think they are now well and truly outdated – although you still see them everywhere, I guess that the character of Punch, the anarchic, disrespecter of the high and mighty, maybe the first alternative comedian, the puncturer of the pompous, does have a place in the history of British comedy; much as I like live performances of any kind, I’d much prefer to see him in a museum than on the seafront.