Category:Punch and Judy

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"Punch and The Devil", an 1841 engraving from the front cover of the very first issue of Punch Magazine (1841-1992, and 1996-2002)

Punch and Judy is a puppet show of various origins and most popular in the United Kingdom. The show is defined by it's highly visible slapstick humor, audience participation and use of hand puppets. The show is performed by one operator, known as a Professor, using hand puppets typically from inside a tall rectangular booth. The exact story, and characters include within, differ greatly from performer to performer however the basic premise, as well as the inclusion of the title characters Punch and his wife Judy, always remain the same (therefore making it possible to differentiate between a ‘Punch and Judy’ show and other puppet shows with the same performance style).


The exact lineage of Punch is a little convoluted, but the character has his main origin in the performances of Commedia dell'Arte, an Italian theatrical troupe who roamed Italy in the 16th Century. Since the region didn't yet have a unified language, Commedia's performances couldn't rely on sophisticated wordplay, and instead lent heavily on comedic physicality and gleefully exuberant violence and non-verbal humor - the sort of "slapstick" performances that we now usually associate with the silent comedies produced in Hollywood in the early days of cinema. As with silent movies, there was a great deal of running, gymnastics, falling over, and hitting each other with big sticks.

Since the Commedia’s routines had been developed specifically to allow performances that worked across language barriers, the acts transferred well to other countries, and some Italian performers found that they could make a good living (and a good reputation) by introducing this style of entertainment to foreign audiences for whom it was a novelty. Following the travel of these performers to overseas, the acts and stories, over many years, developed into marionette-based versions of the shows which allowed performances to be put on more cheaply by smaller numbers of entertainers. It was one of these marionette shows which famous diarist Samuel Pepys witnessed in Covent Garden on May 9th 1662. Within his diary he recorded that he had watched the following "an Italian puppet play, that is within the rails there, which is very pretty". This particular puppet show is taken to be the first incarnation of ‘Punch’ in the UK and every year, on the closest weekend to this date, an anniversary party is held in Covent Garden to commemorate the first sighting of a Punch and Judy show.


However, the show Pepys' witnessed is still considered to be notably different from the modern incarnation and it is important to note that there have been major changes which have formed the show we know today; the first and foremost is the change from marionettes to glove puppets. It is unclear when exactly the Punch and Judy show began it’s transition from marionette show to glove puppet show although it has been documented that at least some performers began using glove puppets as it allowed them to perform the show by themselves, as opposed to relying on an assistant or other performer to control the other marionettes. As a performer, the reliance on other performers would have been seen as a burden whereas it was preferable to perform individually due to the added flexibility.

The marionette to glove puppet transition had many effects on the creation of the modern Punch and Judy show and the main one was that the use of glove puppets enabled the performer to effectively perform anywhere, at any time and from within (or on) any theatre. This was in contrast to marionette performances which necessitated a short, wide theatre due to the need to be able to control the marionette from standing over (or from above) the performance space. The theatre of preference which emerged was the tall booth that most people would recognise today. This was because it adequately shielded the performer from the audience, allowing swift changes of puppets and props without ruining the effect, and because a tall booth with a viewing window allowed people at a distance to see the show. The need for sight over a long distance became most prominent in the 19th Century when the popularity of Punch and Judy shows peaked.

With the growth of the new railway network in the 19th Century, small fishing villages and ports such as Brighton were transformed. Cross-channel shipping moved from Brighton's Chain Pier to Portsmouth and Dover, and new piers such as the Palace Pier and West Pier were designed primarily as entertainment locations that expanded the amount of effective seafront available for recreation. The birth of the ‘seaside town’ was one of the biggest milestones in the history of Punch and Judy as there was greater demand for compact portable entertainment and the now common collapsible and lightweight theatres used by performers in the cities allowed them to travel further afield to fill this demand. Red and white striped booths that allowed small children to revel in the simple, non-linguistic misbehavior of Punch became a common sight on beaches and it was through this that Punch and Judy became a staple of English entertainment, still recognisable today.

The 20th and 21st Centuries

The Punch and Judy show appeared to flourish for most of the 20th century just as it always had done. Numbers of performers increased and no beach was complete without one. With the birth of holiday camps such as Pontin’s and Butlin’s in the 1960s an added opportunity arose for performers to move into these arenas and introduce Punch and Judy to a relatively new concept. It was also during this time that the Supreme Magic company began to operate, who sold magic tricks and puppets on a commercial basis which encouraged many more people to take up Punch and Judy. However moving towards the millennium brought troubles for the show and the popularity of it fell. The advent of technology had big consequences for both holiday camps and the traditional beach holiday; developments in both sea and air travel now meant that it was increasingly more common for families to travel outside the country and arcade games were providing children with new and more modern forms of entertainment.

It was during this period that associations were formed and events organised in order to promote and protect the history of the show. The two leading organisations in the UK solely committed to Punch and Judy are the ‘’Punch and Judy Fellowship’’ and the ‘’Punch and Judy College of Professors’’ both of which organise events throughout the year such as the May Fare, on the anniversary of the first sighting by Pepys. In the 1960s there was also an organised effort to get this sighting recognised by a plaque which was successful and can now be seen in Covent Garden. Into the 21st Century the Punch and Judy show has seen a certain amount of resurgence. Performers have had to adapt their practices in order to keep relevant and popular – such as moving from the beach to the shopping centre – and this has had an overall positive effect. Although there are very few beaches with yearly summer shows (Brighton and Weymouth being two of only a handful) there are hundreds of performers who put on the show daily around the country.

The Characters

As mentioned above, the story has had many drastic changes throughout it's history with the presence of Punch (and usually Judy) being the only constants. In the early days, and occasionally today, the shows were used for satirical purposes with characters sometimes imitating politicians, acting out the scandals of the day or generally commenting on the state of society. This use of the show brought about a whole variety of characters some of whom have persisted into the 21st Century and some who have not. This aside there is a general pattern that many performers follow and a group of standard characters who will appear in most, if not all, performances.

The following list of characters has been drawn up after considering a number of performances by known and popular performers both from the recent past and today. It describes their role in the play; for a more detailed history see Punch and Judy characters.

Mr Punch
The star of the show who is present in nearly all scenes. Typically dressed in red with a tall, pointed hat complete with tassel and carrying a slapstick. Husband of Judy.
The long suffering wife of Mr Punch, with whom she has a child.
The Baby

The baby of Mr Punch and Judy, occasionally assigned a gender but very rarely assigned a name.

Joey the Clown
A character based on Joseph Grimaldi, a real life and popular clown of the early 1800s. Mr Punch's acquaintance who interacts with the audience and sometimes moves the show along.
The Crocodile
A crocodile who becomes embroiled in a battle with Mr Punch after stealing the latter's sausages.
The Policeman
The Policeman arrives to caution or arrest Mr Punch after a string of incidents.
The Devil
Mr Punch has his final altercation with the Devil before getting the better of him.

All of the above characters would be sufficient for a basic show. However many performers will include several other characters to improve the quality and length of the show. Some of these additional characters are listed below but the list is not exhaustive and many performers create their own characters or introduce figures based on people from popular culture.

The Ghost or Skeleton
This character arrives by surprise and gives Mr Punch a fright.
The Doctor
The doctor arrives to cure Mr Punch of his fright.
Dog Toby
Mr Punch's faithful companion. In early shows this character was played by a real life dog which would sit on the play board and interact with the puppets, however this practice has now been discontinued and replaced by a puppet dog. Toby can play a number of roles in the show.
Mr Scaramouche
Toby's owner. This puppet was developed through the historical characters of the blind man or the foreign man. Giovanni Piccini's show, as described by John Payne Collier, contained both Toby and a blind man character. This character may have an extending neck used for comedic effect.
Hector the Horse
Punch's horse who may take him for a ride and lead to him requiring the assistance of the Doctor.
Pretty Polly
A historical character who played the roll of Punch's mistress.
The Boxers
Two boxers may appear and act out a comedic boxing match as an interval.
Jack Ketch/The Hangman
The Hangman, also called Jack Ketch after a real life hangman, used to be a mainstay of the show but was gradually phased out as dark humor became less popular. The purpose of this character was to carry out Punch's punishment for all his crimes but Mr Punch, always the wiser, gets the better of the hangman by tricking him into his own noose.

The Story

As mentioned above, the story of Punch and Judy has changed considerably over time and varies greatly from performer to performer with regards to performance length, amount of characters and main events. That said it is possible to extract an overall basic plot that many performances will be based upon. The plot described below contains more characters than is needed for a basic show to illustrate variety.

The show begins either with the performer standing outside the booth introducing the show to the audience or already in the booth starting the show straight away. After this Mr Punch is coaxed onto the stage through the performer encouraging the audience to call for him. Once he has appeared he will address the audience and play around with them, sometimes through song and dance. After this scene Mr Punch's wife Judy appears and they may engage in a dance together or begin to bicker. This exchange leads to Judy announcing that Mr Punch has to look after their baby and that the audience should keep a careful eye on him. The Baby is brought onto the stage and Judy exits. Mr Punch may then proceed to play around with the baby by throwing it, sitting on it or attempting to teach it. During this sequence the audience will be calling for Judy who will re-appear, only to find that Mr Punch has discarded the baby. A fight begins with Judy fetching a slapstick (so called because of the distinctive sound it makes) and ends with Judy disappearing out of scene, never to be seen again.

Another interlude may take place with a short song or dance before Joey the Clown, Mr Punch's friend, appears and requests him to watch over his sausages. The audience may again be asked to watch over Mr Punch. Joey exits the scene. A similar sequence then occurs with Mr Punch playing around with the sausages and this seemingly attracts the Crocodile, causing the audience to cry out and warn Mr Punch, however he takes no notice. The crocodile then begins to get the better of Mr Punch by sneaking up on him and attacking both him and the sausages. A to-and-fro takes places and ends with the crocodile consuming Joey's sausages. The audience, through their shouting, cause Joey to reappear. He and Mr Punch then enter into another fight over the lost sausages (sometimes because Joey doesn't believe that a crocodile was ever there). Mr Punch gets the better of Joey with he use of his slapstick and once again emerges the victor.

Whilst Mr Punch is celebrating his success the Policeman finds him and announces that he is under arrest for his behavior. Mr Punch attempts to evade capture and a chase takes place (in some shows Mr Punch may become imprisoned, only to escape and take revenge on the police officer). In keeping with the rest of the show, Mr Punch beats the police officer and celebrates with a song or dance.

During his celebrations, a skeleton or ghost appears behind him (sometimes it is alluded that this is the spirit of Judy) in a spooky manner to which the audience respond by shouting and screaming. Overjoyed with his success, Mr Punch takes no notice. It is only when he comes face to face with the creature that he receives a massive fright, seemingly causing him to faint. The creature disappears. The performer may encourage the audience to call upon the help of the Doctor who, once he has arrived, attempts to revive Mr Punch to comedic effect. It then becomes clear that this is actually an elaborate trap set by Mr Punch to snare another victim, unbeknownst to the doctor. Whilst the doctor's back is turned, Mr Punch awakes and knocks him down with his slapstick.

An interval now takes place where two boxers appear and have a dramatic and comedic boxing match. This lasts for only a few minutes but adds another element to the show. Following the interval Mr Punch returns in his typical jovial manner. He may address the audience again. Following this, the Devil appears (historically the hangman) to finally punish Mr Punch once and for all over his bad and violent behavior. Mr Punch never to be backed into a corner responds to all of the Devil's allegations with comedic acts and phrases. The Devil becomes frustrated with Mr Punch's belligerent attitude and a fight breaks out. The Devil uses his trident against Punch's slapstick but to no avail and Punch wins over the more fearsome creature imaginable.

The show ends with one final celebratory dance from Mr Punch and then the performer calling him 'to bed'. The performer then thanks the audience for coming.

Physical Description

Punch and Judy glove puppets have always varied in size and construction. Historically this was because each performer would have made their own puppets using the materials that were available to them at that time. The materials available were effected by several factors including location and cost (it has been noted that some performers once used driftwood to construct their puppets because it was free of cost and readily available). However, despite this variation, it was nearly always the case that Mr Punch was larger than the rest of the puppets as he is always on stage and is the focal point of the show. Because of the need for Mr Punch to be visible at a great distance during the 19th Century he was constructed with legs and by using brightly coloured materials such as red and yellow. Both these traits have been continued by performers throughout the 20th and 21st centuries however, due to advances and the changing nature of materials, modern puppets can now be extremely different in construction to their much earlier counterparts, for example the development of wood and plastic composite liquids has meant that some makers now construct molds and pour the liquid in, creating a uniform look for their puppets (if creating on a larger scale). Using composite materials has the added benefit of durability and being light-weight - something which older puppets did not have. In these puppets the weight is considerably noticeable and you can often see various repairs. It is common for older puppets to have gone through one or two re-dresses (where the outfit is replaced whilst maintaining the wooden carved features). Despite the added benefits of using modern, improved materials it is wooden puppets that have prevailed as the most common and still prove to be the most popular both among performers and collectors.

The standard Mr Punch Puppet can range from 18 inches to 22 inches tall and is always built with legs. The costume can be made with a range of materials and it is common to find that there is a more firm material lining the outfit to help the puppet keep it's shape. The head, hands and legs are nearly always made out of the same material (commonly wood but also plastic or composite). The head can be hollow and will always have a hole in the neck in which the performer places their index finger. The thumb and third fingers are then placed in the arms. Some hands are constructed with a long base which extends into the costumer to allow great control of the puppet's movement (especially picking up items from the play board). Frequently the costume of the puppet will extend at the base so that there is enough material to cover the performer's lower arm so that it is shielded from sight. Mr Punch will have a carved nose, normally made separately and then pegged into the head so that it is less likely to become broken off. His face will be intricately painted (and sometimes varnished) with bold colours to increase visibility. The costume is completed with a large hat and humped back.

All of the other characters are usually completed in a more simple and less developed way. They will all be without legs (expect the hangman who has legs in order for them to be seen when he is hung from the gallows) and mostly the same height (around 12 to 15 inches). Judy usually resembles Punch in the sense that she also has a hooked nose, but will be smaller. It is common for the other characters to have similar sized heads (round) just with different expressions and designs for example Joey, the Policeman, the Doctor, the boxers and the hangman. One obvious exception to this is the crocodile which is constructed out of two long pieces, hinged together at the mouth and then completed with an adjoining body. Most crocodiles will have an opening at the mouth which allows them to 'swallow' the sausages and other props during the show.

Some puppets, such as the skeleton or the policeman, will have additional features such as an extending neck or removable hat which can be pulled off by Punch.

It is important to note that individual performer's styles will change considerably from one to the other and the descriptions offered here are based on puppets that have been produced by prolific makers who construct many similar puppets.

The Supreme Magic Company

The Supreme Magic Company was a business started by Edwin Hooper in 1953 and specialising in the production and sale of magic acts and effects. The company was hugely popular among children’s entertainers of the 20th Century and was an influence on many magicians still operating today. Edwin, himself a Punch and Judy performer prior to the company’s inception, made the decision to branch out into the production of Punch and Judy puppets after the success of his magic tricks and in the 1960’s he approached Joe Parsonage, a maker of ventriloquist dolls, and asked him to copy his own set of Wal Kent figures which he had used during his beach performances. Wal Kent was noted for his talented and skillful construction of Punch and Judy figures (as well as marionettes) and because of this his figures were highly popular, and still are to this day. Joe Parsonage agreed and set in motion a production of puppets which had a significant effect on the accessibility of Punch and Judy figures. Prior to this performers made their own puppets, making many sets unique, and very rarely made puppets for other performers or gave their own away. Many sets were passed down within their families and were used in performances for generations (The Codman's of Llandudno and Liverpool still perform to this day with puppets passed down through their family). The availability of quality puppets through Supreme allowed many more aspiring performers and people of other professions, who would have previously been put off by having to carve their own figures, to become involved with Punch and Judy. The boom in the popularity of Supreme’s puppets allowed them to expand the range offered and Edwin came up with many novelty characters which could be added into just about any Punch and Judy show. Examples of these puppets include dragons, sailors and even Santa Claus. The production of puppets for Supreme changed hands during the history of the company starting with Wal Kent, then Joe Parsonage in the 60’s and 70’s, Tony Green until the late 80’s and finally Bryan Clarke in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Each of these makers brought their own unique style to the Supreme puppets and many of them are now highly collectible.


Glove puppetry is common in many countries around the world largely due to it's ease of performance and large visual appeal. This popularity has led to many countries developing their own 'national' puppets in a similar way to Mr Punch in the UK. Some of these shows follow a similar plot to Punch and Judy whilst some take a different direction both in terms of style and humor. Below are some examples of Punch's counterparts from around the world.

Kasper/Kasperle is Punch's equivalent in Austria and Germany. Before the 19th century Kasperle's ancestors were very similar to Mr Punch in the way that they were rude, violent and commonly used a slapstick. However at the end of the century Kasperle had developed into a very different character, one who was the hero of the show in a heroic manner, in contrast to Punch's violent demeanor.

Guignol is the French national puppet. Guignol shows heavily feature wordplay and wit, making them appeal to both children and adults. The Guignol story is similar to Punch and Judy in terms of plot (the main character emerges the victor after beating many opponents) but, like Kasperle, Guignol is smart and courageous.

Petrushka is the Russian equivalent of Punch. These shows can trace their origins back to the 17th Century however the character of Petrushka was made popular by the ballet of the same name by Stravinsky. Petrushka features slapstick comedy in the same way the Punch does, making it popular with children.

External links

  • "The Big Grin" ( - is a project to celebrate the legacy of Punch and Judy in the UK over 2012. The anniversary (May 1662) is based on the date of a diary entry by Samuel Pepys, in which he describes seeing a street-theatre forerunner of Punch and Judy.
  • "Punch and Judy on the Web" - a website built and maintained by Chris Somerville which includes a wealth of information and pictures relating to all aspects of Punch and Judy. The website also includes a forum.
  • "The Punch and Judy Fellowship" - the website of the Punch and Judy Fellowship which provides information about the history of Punch and Judy, a directory to find local performers and the option of becoming a member which gives you access to the fellowship's newsletter The Swazzle
  • "The Punch and Judy College of Professors" - the website of the Punch and Judy College of Professors, an invite only organisation with the aim of promoting Punch and Judy. The site has information on some of the leading performers in the UK.
  • "Punch and Judy Online" - the Punch and Judy Online website includes pictures, videos and other materials relating to Punch and Judy, notably school resources and academic research.
  • "The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild" - the website of The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild, an organisation devoted to puppetry in general with a site that includes a myriad of information on all aspects of puppetry