Seaside Special



The Punch & Judy College of Professors is delighted to announce that Traditional Punch & Judy Shows are featured entertainment at events run by the tourism authorities at three popular seaside resorts in the coming weeks.

Not only …. will there be no less than 10 (count 'em) Punch Professors – including College members Rod Burnett, Clive Chandler, Glyn Edwards and Bob Sacco – performing at the First Great British Fish & Chip Feast to be held at Morecambe and Heysham over the weekend of the 24th & 25th of June. (Plus all the seaside fun including pierrots, Edwardian sideshows, fish & chips galore and more Punch and Judy than you can shake a slapstick at. Full details from Lancaster City Council Tourism Service.)

But also…the Herne Bay Punch & Judy Day takes place on Sunday July 2
nd with College Profs Glyn Edwards, Bob Sacco and Des Turner amongst those appearing. Full details from the Events Office at Canterbury City Council)

Rumours of Mr. Punch's demise are greatly exaggerated. His health remains particularly rude. The College is proud to have a hand in seeing that our National Puppet remains chock full of vim and vigour as he enters the new Millennium.

Facing a knock out? Oh No We're Not!



Punch & Judy are far from facing a knock out blow as a Press Association report claims. It's as daft as claiming that journalism is at an end because the London press is no longer based in Fleet Street. The much loved traditional show has a thriving band of practitioners (both full time and part time) who work the year round bringing fun and laughter to family audiences

Punch only went to the seaside in Victorian times to earn a crust when the promenades of England were thronged with trippers. Before that he was an urban street entertainer, and before that he was an attraction at the great Agricultural Fairs of old England. You'll find him now as an attraction in Shopping Centres, at fetes, festivals, street parties, carnivals, galas, Fun Days and – of course – childrens' parties. He gave up on passing the hat round on deserted English beaches in uncertain weather conditions as soon as it was obvious that the Great British Seaside Holiday had lost its pulling power. (And because most councils wanted to charge him a hefty rent for the privilege of being there). The fact that researchers and social commentators have only just noticed this says more about them than it does about Mr. Punch - who is quite astute (thanks to his 'Profs') at keeping his finger on the popular pulse. There are one or two resorts where Punch performers still perform and Brighton only recently lost theirs through a personality clash between seafront traders.

In May this year the Millennium Punch & Judy Jamboree and Slapstick Symposium in Birmingham saw Punch meet several of his overseas cousin puppets (including his 'godfather' Pulcinella) as well as giving performers a chance to debate Punch and Political Correctness and a number of other topics. If you care to check out the various Punch websites you can find a true picture of this living tradition. Punch and Judy are no more destined to be confined to the history books as they are to end up like Mummers Plays and other bygone entertainments. They're still a vibrant popular attraction capable of having their audience in paroxysms of laughter – and still able to thumb their nose at ill informed press stories announcing their demise.

PS: "For all practical purposes the Punch & Judy Show has almost passed away" wrote Maurice Baring, in an essay published in 1924. Did he also work for the Press Association? Has anyone told Mr. Punch?


BRIGHTON UPDATE


The College wishes to make it clear that it is a particular Punch & Judy man - and not Mr. Punch himself - who has recently been told that he is no longer welcome to perform on Brighton beach. The performer in question is not a member of the UK Punch & Judy College organisations. Mr. Punch remains welcome both in Brighton and throughout the country. Rumours and scare stories to the contrary, there are no documented instances of a ban on our national folk puppet drama by any local authority.

SEASIDE DECLINE?


Social commentators should note that its is the Great British Seaside Holiday which has declined and not the Punch & Judy Show. When trippers in their millions no longer thronged the seafronts Mr. Punch saw little financial incentive to stay. Today he gets paid as an attraction at all manner of galas, festivals, parties and town centres. He doesn't have to pass the hat round on the beaches unless there are special circumstances that make it worth his while. He's moved into the 21st Century now.

JAMBOREE SUCCESS

The Punch & Judy College of Professors is delighted to have played a leading role in the 1st International Slapstick Symposium at the Millennium Punch & Judy Jamboree at the Midlands Arts Centre on May 13th & 14th. College members presented papers on Punch and Political Correctness, Punch's Home Truths, Punch's Women Performers and Punch in the 21st Century and let their hair down by joining in the communal String of Sausages Conga aimed at ensuring the success of the sausage crop for the next thousand years. The College will shortly be adopting a new Constitution and publishing its revised membership criteria, Details will be posted here first but for advance information contact Glyn Edwards at glyn@punch-and-judy.com For general Punch FAQs please read on.....



Is Mr. Punch under threat?
No. Mr. Punch - the UK's National Puppet - has been newsworthy for centuries. The occasional story about the 'banning' of Punch and Judy by various councils represent exceptions not the rule and are statistically insignificant. Punch is an imp of mischief whose brand of knockabout nonsense has its roots deep in world folk drama and yet is adored by countless children of all ages today. No stranger to controversy, there have always been those puritanical guardians of public morality who regard his flouting of society's rules as an outrage. Currently the argument is clothed in the jargon of political correctness. But Mr. Punch has not been carried down the centuries dependent on  the approval of academics, pundits, commentators and leaders. He is 'of the people' and has been truly kept alive by popular acclaim.

How do you answer the charge of wife beating and child abuse?
Remarkably similarly to the way in which Tom and Jerry answer the charge of glorifying cruelty to animals or a clown with a comedy car would answer the charge of encouraging road rage. The stick Punch wields is the very slapstick that gave its name to the whole genre of broad physical comedy. The domestic mayhem that made Punch and Judy a byword for tit-for-tat bickering and squabbling should be taken no more literally than the Keystone Kops should be taken as a representation of modern policing. Dysfunctional families, too, engender not only strong dramatic content (Oedipus, Macbeth) but have tremendous comic potential (The Addams Family, The Simpsons). Punch and Judy also have their role to play here.

It is certainly true that in the classic Victorian show Punch killed Judy and the baby and later hanged the hangman. In an era when public hangings were commonplace and divorce virtually unobtainable, these were grim jests with a certain topicality. Today, with capital punishment in the UK long-gone and in an era when you can win a bride on a radio programme and divorce her a few weeks, these once topical parts of the Punch and Judy Show are visited sensitively (if at all) by many performers. Punch has to stay in tune with what his public will or won't accept or he will lose his audience. Just as the telling of a joke depends for its effect entirely on who is telling it and to whom, so a good Punch and Judy Show stays accurately in tune with the mood of the particular audience for each performance.

Let us not forget, too, that the traditional ending of the show (which has undergone a revival in the latter decades of this century) has Punch confronted by - and defeating - the Devil. That's something even Faust never managed.

Is the Punch and Judy show dying out?
No, if anything there are possibly more performers than ever before. Once perceived as a hereditary occupation (or a secretive one), the Punch and Judy societies of today actively encourage new blood entering the old tradition.


What do Punch and Judy performers see as a threat?
Look in any Yellow Pages and you will find someone offering Punch and Judy. This is both Mr. Punch's strength and his achilles heel. He is in the public domain. Anyone can take the show up - thus Punch is very vulnerable to poor performers getting him and his tradition a bad name. No Punch performer wants to prevent anyone else from taking up the show, but there is a widespread public assumption that all Punch and Judy shows are the same. This is no more true than to assume that all musicians, clowns, or any other creative performers are the same. You can have terrible musicians and unfunny clowns - and Mr. Punch can have an inept performer working him. An inept performer performing a potentially controversial show is like sending a first day driver up the motorway on a Harley Davidson. The power to inflict damage is enormous - and any damage to Mr. Punch's reputation affects ALL performers.

The other threat to Mr. Punch's tradition comes from among the section of performers who spend all their time working as childrens' party entertainers to the under sevens. There is an enormous temptation here to self-censor the show down to bland Teletubby level in order to forestall real or imagined objections from parents. If done insensitively it looses the impishness of Punch the anarchic clown and replaces it with a simplistic presentation of Punch as a wicked man who must be made to reform at the end of the show, or with a so-called 'non-violent' Punch (which is rather like a taking the custard pies and buckets of water away from a ring full of clowns). In Germany the once robust Punch-equivalent of Kasperl has become a tamed and twee 'goody goody,. In Italy, however, Pulcinella - from whom Punch is descended - continues to flourish with traditional vigour. True Punch Profs prefer the latter.


SOME QUOTES

"Street Punch is one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life. I regard it as quite harmless and an outrageous joke"
Charles Dickens.

"There's no show without Punch"
Traditional English saying.

"For as long as people need to laugh there will be a place for Punch"
Michael Malkin 'Traditional and Folk Puppets of The World'

"That's The way To Do It"
Mr. Punch.

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