Prof Jesson

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Prof Jesson

Postby Chris » 18 Mar 2014, 23:13

The quote in "Youths and Maidens" was from an article I have just finished digitising. It is an article by Alfred Story writing in 1895 and describing the performance of Prof Jesson in some detail and commenting on the Punch scene of the period. This is very valuable historical evidence and is remarkable in several ways. Firstly it supports Geoff Felix in his belief that Bailey was the leading Punch performer of the period and secondly it gives a very good indication of the sequences of the show, and how they were changing.

It is fascinating to read, for instance, that by the late 1800s most professors were leaving out the hanging scene and the Devil, for fear of offending the audience's sensitivities. Yet by the mid 1900s I would guess that most shows did again include the hangman scene. Certainly all the shows I saw as a child included Jack Ketch being tricked by wiley Mr Punch and putting his head in his own noose.

We can also gather, from Jesson's remarks, how during this period had developed the various comic, largely non-verbal, action routines to take the place of some of the repetitive arguing and hitting: Specifically mentioned are the peeping routine with the Clown, and also the Counting the Corpses.

There is a fascinating aside by the author that Scaramouch often transformed into the clown. This isn't explained in any way, but it must be an echo of what was common in Victorian Pantomime. The usual pattern for pantomime of that period was to finish with a transformation scene where all the major characters of the pantomime changed into characters of the Harlequinade - Harlequin, Pantaloon, Colombine, Clown, Cassandino etc.

You can read the text, which is in Punch's Scrapbook, at http://www.punchandjudy.com/jesson.html
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby CvdC » 21 Mar 2014, 00:04

"There used to be a showman in the north named Bailey who made a great deal of this scene. Mr. Jesson remembered the man very well, and said that he was one of the best performers with the dolls to be found anywhere. He added that this artist died in London about seven years ago, and that there had been no one to touch him since."

Article 1895 - 7 = 1888 Is Jesson referring to Bailey the elder rather than the one we see in the 1901 film?

Although the author used the word "transmogrify" he may have meant that the character has been changed to Joey the Clown over the years rather than a transformation scene a la pantomime.

The author refers to seeing the Courtier scene as a child. Now Alfred T. Story was born in 1842. I think he may have been using his artistic license a bit recklessly there. He has certainly rewritten the text of the Collier script, which turns up frequently in most accounts of Punch and Judy all the way up to Fraser in the 20th century.
The rewriting of the script is interesting, although there is no mention in the piece of its source.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby Tony James » 22 Mar 2014, 13:12

Chris S - this should prove a very useful addition to the website. Thanks for doing it. The piece of Alfred Story has always interested me ever since I first fell across it several years before I even considered P&J, let alone started to work the show. I was going slowly through a stack of bound copies of The Strand Magazine looking for Sherlock Holmes stories which were originally serialised before being published in book form in the same way that Charles Dickens published his tales. Big pages, heavy leather binding, not easy to handle and best read on a table, using a slope. I turned a page and there was the Jesson piece.

I can understand Chris S seeing the possibility of a visual change from Scaramouch to Joey which would be interesting and visually effective but I too suspect that the use of the word "transmogrified" had more to do with the fashion among some Victorian writers preferring to use one rather long and complicated word than a couple of simpler ones. According to my dictionary it means "to transform in a magical or surprising manner" which means I suggest, the word is strictly inaccurate in this sense and perhaps "changed in time" might have been more appropriate.

What has puzzled me since being involved in the business is why Story didn't write up the Jesson show as he saw it. His narrative is excellent though the script is hardly a rewrite -more a slightly edited Payne Collier. I was able a decade ago to sit and compare my Payne Collier (1828) with my copy of John Alexander's published booklet of the Strand Magazine piece (Arcady Press 2003) and noted the variations.

Immediately obvious are the songs some of which are cut to a half and others cut altogether, odd lines have been removed though I can't see why and odd words modernised or made more polite e.g. "tummy ache" for "stomach ache" and there are some grammatical corrections. Story didn't appear to approve of the original use of contractions such as "you're" substituting "you are" and he removed passing references to the Devil as in "What the Devil....." Indeed the whole of the ending - hanging and Devil scenes - were cut though summarised.

Missing too is that funny and delicious remark by Punch to Judy about the missing baby and there being plenty more where that came from. A Victorian blue pencil!

Pretty Poll and the Courier were also cut but again summarised in narrative. As a piece it's confusing and contradictory between narrative and script. There are references in the narrative to changes and developments suggesting the Jesson show was unlike the old (Payne Collier) script but it is that same script which follows - Scaramouch is still there though no sign of Joey which might be expected by 1895, Toby is clearly pictured as a live dog though the script uses a puppet dog (of course) but there is no crocodile which again, by this time, one might have expected. As there is no picture of the crocodile I wonder if this suggests that Jesson wasn't using one. The Jessie Pope book shows a crocodile but that was much later.

I can only think that Story used the Payne Collier script because either he wasn't able to write down the script at the time - didn't have shorthand or the interview was not when the show was working - or perhaps Jesson had refused permission. Or was it simply easier to copy? Somehow, I've always felt copying the script was a cop out but perhaps I do Alfred Story an injustice. There may have been another reason.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby Chris » 22 Mar 2014, 18:44

Surely that other reason could have been the most obvious - that Jesson used a version of the Collier script?

I am puzzled that you say the script uses a puppet dog and add, "of course". Why? Surely that sequence could easily be done by a live dog, in fact it has been so done many times. Also I am puzzled that you say there is no sign of Joey. He is mentioned several times, as the Clown, and pictured twice. True he is not given the name Joey by Story - but it wasn't obligatory for every Punch prof to call their clown Joey, nor to call their hangman Ketch. I rather suspect those names have gained in importance along with red and white stripes among twentieth century preservers of tradition.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby Tony James » 22 Mar 2014, 20:31

I think we may be at cross purposes here Chris. You like the narrative and pictures and so do I. It's the script that lets it down.

As you say I too would have thought that the root of Jesson's show would have been the Payne Collier script. I imagine it was at the root of most shows then as it still is today, though rather further removed if only because of time and events. Story's narrative explains some of the changes and developments during the intervening years including Clown superseding Scaramouch but once we get to the script these changes are not reflected. That's because it's not Jesson's script - it's Payne Collier's from almost 70 years previously.

That's why I said the dog was a puppet "of course" because in the 1828 script the dog was a puppet - not a live dog. Pike and his dog(s) came much later. But Jesson was using a live dog, with pictures to prove it. Because of copying the old script Jesson's 1895 show was not reflected in the script. The same applies to other aspects of his show. We can see he was using a clown from the pictures but there's no clown in the script. The clown came later but, in his footnotes, Payne Collier referred to Clown and named him Joey Grimaldi. (Page 109 in my edition).

There wasn't a counting routine in the Payne Collier script either but Jesson had one and there's pictures to confirm it. Just as there is a picture of a policeman But Payne Collier didn't include one because Robert Peel hadn't established policemen when the script was written.

Story inserted a figure he called "policeman" in his edited script but all he did was follow Payne Collier and when he came to the "Servant, in a foreign livery", renamed that "policeman" and used the old servant dialogue - "My master. he say he no like dat music" as Punch rings the sheep bell. And he adjusted the dialogue to remove the "dis and dat" foreign influences.

Story's narrative I like and it throws light on Jesson's show and Bailey too. It is a shame the script doesn't reflect Jesson's 1895 show and I simply wonder why Story didn't use Jesson's own script instead of substituting and copying the 67 year old script that tells us nothing about Mr Jesson's own performance. Why did he do it? Mayhew didn't copy Payne Collier.

I made a few suggestions in my first post and Chris has made his suggestion. Has anyone any other ideas why Story ended up doing this?
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby Chris » 22 Mar 2014, 21:54

Mayhew wasn't writing in the Strand Magazine.

Story was writing a general interest piece for popular consumption, not a history for specialists. His job was to make his article interesting above all. He probably felt (and was probably right) that the literary concoction of Payne Collier would be more entertaining on the page than would a verbatim rendering of Jessop's actual show. I think he is quite clever in his selection, and how he works in what he learns from his interviewing Jessop, on the ways the show has changed and is changing.

Most Punch scripts are not much fun to read, although they can be hilarious when seen with the action. I am sure this would be true of Piccini's actual script too, I am convinced that the Payne Collier script is a literary work concocted to accompany Cruikshank's cartoons and is not an accurate record of an Italian street puppet show. This is not a criticism of Payne Collier, his was a work of great worth, and the whole project took much effort and great talent. The fact that book ran to so many editions is testimony partly to this, as well as to the wholesale plagiarism of publishing at that time. I am a little critical of those among us who treat the Collier text and the Cruikshank drawings as holy writ.

Story probably had neither the inclination, nor talent, to create an entirely original dialogue for his article and so he took what was the generally recognised "standard" Punch script and adapted it for his purposes and his readers. Also it may have been that Jessop was using chunks out of Collier, with some scenes missed out, and some of hs own creation added - just as hundreds of other Punch men have done. It may have been Jessop who showed Story the script.

While it is true you and I would have much preferred an accurate record of every detail of the Jessop show I am sure Story knew his readership and had them in mind when he penned his piece.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby geoff.london » 23 Mar 2014, 18:31

Thank you for posting this article Chris. Jesson returned to the subject of Professor Bailey several times in the interview. Its almost as if he was trying to recall that particular show above all others. James Baily was already dead by the time of the article but his son was alive and the show was filmed. It can be seen on the V&A website. Henry Jesson, his son, introduced a number of novelty routines, probably to distinguish his show from others. But it is interesting to note that James Jesson kept to the original show.
I've often wondered what 'washing his hands in brown October' meant. Any suggestions? Geoff.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby CvdC » 23 Mar 2014, 21:42

I get the impression Brown October was a brand of dark ale.

So you think it was James Bailey who originally moved to Buxton? Then died in 1888. Son Henry (Harry) took up the glove and the pitch outside the baths and the Broad Walk there. Then adopted son Harry (also a Henry?) Russell took over to continue the tradition briefly.
I guess he could have moved there with his son (Henry), who I gather was born in 1854 in London?

In the 1881 census we have James Bailey, aged 56 (b 1825) originally from Warwickshire living in the parish of Mary Le Bone in Middlesex.
Source(http://www.ukcensusonline.com/search/index.php?fn=James&sn=Bailey&phonetic_mode=1&event=1881&year=0&range=0&b9946=5c3b2dcd7db9946&page=21 )
So in 7 years he had moved North and died at the age of 63 - his reputation assured.

Ally Sloper began: " The strips, which used text narrative beneath unbordered panels, premiered in the 14 August 1867 issue of Judy, a humour-magazine rival of the UK's famous"(Wikipedia)
So it is possible the booth and puppets were that of James Bailey. ? Although more likely it was made for the Buxton shows as it doesn't look all that portable. Although I notice the frame was likely to be a lazy tong type construction.
Last edited by CvdC on 24 Mar 2014, 00:42, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby Chris » 24 Mar 2014, 00:28

Brown October was an ale. October ales were strong ales which continued to mature in the bottle. Brown October Ale is celebrated in song in the comic opera "Robin Hood" composed by Reginald de Koven (1859 - 1920). de Koven was an American, educated in Britain and who lived much of his life in Europe. He style was inspired by that of Gilbert and Sullivan, and he was prolific in his writings.
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Re: Prof Jesson

Postby geoff.london » 24 Mar 2014, 18:33

James Bailey, as well as appearing on the Halls, had a pitch at Harrogate assisted by his bottler and musician Edward Candler. After James Bailey died, Candler took over the pitch and played there for many years. Its interesting that both Buxton and Harrogate were spa towns with a lot of visitors. James Bailey continued to tour and was in London ready for his booking at Crystal Palace the day he died.
I think that James Bailey may have visited Buxton during his extensive travels but it was his son Henry that made Buxton his home.
I had the pleasure of showing the current residents of Bailey's old house the film of him doing his show.
We do not know what became of Harry Russell and any help with information would be much appreciated!
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