To hang or not to hang

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To hang or not to hang

Postby Nick Jackson » 24 Jun 2014, 18:11

Chatting to a friend earlier, he said he's been getting negative comments about his hanging scene. I do know a couple of people who don't do it and end with the devil. But, to be honest, it's the funniest part of my show – much business with Toby stealing gallows, sliding coffin etc. So are we hangers in the minority or the majority?
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Chris » 25 Jun 2014, 13:27

Minority or majority if you use the hanging scene you are playing for yourself, not your audience. It isn't anything to do with political correctness but with common sense. Punch hanging Jack Ketch is a good joke so long as the mechanics and context of hanging are understood. But hanging in Britain was abolished in 1965! This means that children and a good many young adults have no awareness of hanging. They have no concept of a public executioner and don't know what the word gallows means. Even the idea of improvised hanging by lynch mob is no longer common currency since Cowboy films are no longer a staple of children's entertainment. Execution by Hanging as an idea is no longer a concept in most young people's minds and this removes the point of the joke. When the hanging scene was developed hanging was accepted as a common form of punishment and the public hangman was someone to be avoided. There was also a folk memory of Jack Ketch being a particularly cruel and inept at his job which gave added poetic justice to his being outwitted by Punch. To today's children the hanging is irrelevant, not particularly funny, and to many parents quite tasteless and unnecessary. I would tend to agree with them.
It is not as though you can't have your audience screaming with joy and laughter without the sequence.

If you are working schools and presenting Punch as an example of Victorian Street Entertainment to key stage 2 pupils then it would certainly be appropriate to include the Ketch scene - but in that case you or the teachers would surely have prepared the context. But most schools book Punch workshops for key stage 1 where the historical justification cannot be applied.

Now I know some will argue that they don't work exclusively for children, and that many of the older members of the audience enjoy the show too. This is true, but the ones who remember the hanging with nostalgia are the older members of the community. But it is the children who the show is booked for, and the parents of those children who book and pay for the show, which makes a good proportion of a family audience to whom the hanging is either an irrelevance or maybe even distasteful. There is quite a good show biz rule of "If in doubt, cut it out!"

Don't get me wrong, I don't think kids are going to be corrupted, frightened or brutalised by seeing Punch hang Jack Ketch. If well done I have no doubt they will be amused - but they won't really know what its all about.

Then there will be some people who insist it is traditional and therefore should be included. Nonsense. The tradition of Punch doesn't depend upon any particular sequence. There is a tradition for Punch to be topical - and hanging ceased to be topical in 1965, half a century ago, shouldn't Punch be seeking more relevant targets?

The Llandudno Codman show includes the hanging and I think they should. My reasoning is that Llandudno has become a mecca for the elderly and the hotels are full of saga coach parties. Consequently the majority of the Punch audience in that location is likely to be people who not only have nostalgic memories of Punch hanging Jack Ketch, but also of the reality of judicial killing by a public hangman. Such people will get pleasure from the show being as they remembered it, and hopefully they will thus contribute generously to the bottle.

But most of us won't have a pitch in a seaside town for the elderly, we're more likely to be entertaining 3 to 9 year olds at a First Communion party in West Kirby where, I maintain, the gallows scene is irrelevant to the children and possibly offensive to some parents.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Trevek » 25 Jun 2014, 13:37

I've pondered this myself, especially some time ago when the discussion arose because of real-life events.

I'm not sure whether young people are as unaware of hanging these days. It's included in a lot of period fiction and TV series (Game of Thrones) which some of the teens are watching.

A few years ago, when this topic became hot again, I did a show for a secondary school without having considered the current news. As I brought the gallows on I heard giggles and whispers of "Saddam Hussein". As I say, it hadn't been my intention (despite what some folk seemed to believe later on) to capitalise on the events, but I was aware that a lot of the kids would have been on Youtube that week.

That said, as Chris says, I tend to choose the audience as to whether I do it. I certainly don't do it for kids (although I saw Bruno Leone do it for primary schoolers!). Must admit, even some adults have said they were shocked by it.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby James » 25 Jun 2014, 14:39

I agree with Chris.

The only things I would add, are that sadly nowadays hanging is as much associated with suicide as it is punishment, and that's not really an area I'd want to see Punch trying to make light of. And whilst some teenagers may be watching Game of Thrones I'd hope the 6ry olds in my audience aren't.

And all the business with Toby moving the coffin and pall could easily be replaced with another prop and be just as funny. How about a box Joey keeps the sausages in?
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Chris » 25 Jun 2014, 15:30

Trev,
You question my proposal that hanging is largely irrelevant to today's children's experience:
I'm not sure whether young people are as unaware of hanging these days.

I find that very few children who are the target age for Punch and Judy are watching or reading much period fiction, also I cannot agree that hanging "features in a lot of TV series". Also I would point out that Saddam Hussein was hanged in 2006. I don't know how many 6 year olds watched it on Youtube at the time, but would point out that today's children with whom I am concerned weren't even born.
I don't know in which country you are currently based, or how many shows you actually do - but in Britain the bulk of work for children's entertainers is for 3 to 9 year olds. Also at public events (such as the Covent Garden May Fayre) audiences include a large proportion of the younger age group. I maintain that to these children hanging is not a method of execution with which they are generally familiar.

James,
I'm not sure that the association of suicide with hanging is very relevant since I don't think young children have much awareness of suicide either. It's more a teenage and upwards problem. Although I do take your point that such a thought might pop up in adult minds and this is not a happy image to be associated with Punch.
However I think you pointing out that a lot of the associated fun that Nick mentions need not be lost is a point very well made.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby James » 25 Jun 2014, 16:21

Sorry Chris, I should have clarified. Yes, it's an adult association, rather than one made by the children. As you said it's the 40 somethings paying and hopefully rebooking the show, rather than the 6 yr olds. And it's unlikely they'll rebook if they find the show in poor taste. And similarly they're often unlikely to rebook another Punch show even with a different performer after a bad experience. Once bitten...
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Nick Jackson » 25 Jun 2014, 17:15

Will answer this properly later but two brief points:
1) if the hanging is OK for shows like the Llandudno Codmans then it must be OK for me - should stress, I don't do schools or parties, I only busk
2) if the children don't understand the hanging, do they understand the murders of Judy and Baby at the beginning?
And I'm not meaning to sound obtuse - I really do welcome the debate.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Chris » 25 Jun 2014, 17:30

James:
You are right of course, bookers tend to assume all children's entertainers are the same and, as you say, if they are dissatisfied with one magician, for example, they don't think "I'll get a better magician next time" but rather they say, "No more magicians, I'll get a bouncy castle next year".

Nick:
You didn't read what I wrote. I carefully made a special case of the Llandudno Codman show and pointed out why I made a special case for them - because of their location and the age of the visitors attracted to Llandudno and the very unsusual make up of their audiences. ie largely people who remembered hanging, and remembered its part in the Punch show when they were kids, and watching the show for a nostalgia kick. Jackie does also get audiences of older school children staying in Llandudno and specifically studying in as a Victorian seaside resort. In these cases hanging is relevant.

The fact that you are busking has nothing whatever to do with it.

If you are working to an audience who are mainly children and adults under 50 then hanging has never been a reality to them and humour based on avoiding strangulation by stringing up the other chap becomes less relevant or funny the younger they are.

As for whether children understand the murder of Judy and the baby, well I hope not. Not unless some idiot Punch man presents them as murders!
The kids know the difference between puppets and real people. I'm sure they know that puppets cannot die or, or at least don't stay dead. Surely I shouldn't be having to explain this to you Nick?
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Trevek » 25 Jun 2014, 20:40

Chris wrote: This means that children and a good many young adults have no awareness of hanging. They have no concept of a public executioner and don't know what the word gallows means.


Chris, there seems to be a slight confusion here. I took the term "young adults" to refer to teens (as it does in some circles. I realise what you meant, but it still goes with my point) and I thought it was clear in the first half of my post that I was referring to teens, those students one normally finds in secondary schools (especially as I state at the end of the post that, in agreement with yourself, I would not show the show to "kids" - meaning, as I did, small children/pre-teens). I am not sure where James got the idea that I said anything about 6 year-olds watching Game of Thrones. Obviously, I need to watch my phrasing.

Furthermore, I was not suggesting hanging and public execution played an important and relevant role in their lives... merely that they may be a little more aware of it than you suggest, as my personal experience seemed different.

You point out you were talking about British kids, which is an important factor here. I live in Poland and perform predominantly to teens and adults. Certain aspects of Polish education (set texts of patriotic authors, recent films and TV shows on patriotic history, explicit pictures in history books and museums from WW2 and post-war) might make Polish students more aware of these things (some students tell me merrily how their high school was built on the town gallows... it was). In one school I showed the principal the hangman and gallows, meaning to ask if he felt it appropriate. Before I'd even asked, he said, "Oh yes, they'll understand!"

As I said before, when I do perform to smaller children I certainly do not use the scene, not just because they may not understand it, but for matters of taste and parental approval etc (and my wife would kill me). Bruno Leone did the routine in Poland in-front of primary kids and their teachers. The result was a little muted. So, as I have said before... I do not do the scene for children and I am not suggesting anyone else does.
Last edited by Trevek on 25 Jun 2014, 21:38, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Trevek » 25 Jun 2014, 20:48

Nick,

with reference to your comment about Llandudno. A few years ago there was a Shropshire based Prof who had a show cancelled because (allegedly), the headmaster of the school which booked him thought it too extreme.

I wrote to the Prof in question and he commented how funny he found it that the school had decided not to book him but to spend the money on a school trip... to Llandudno, where they could see a show for free!
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Chris » 25 Jun 2014, 21:33

Trev,
I thought I made it clear that by young adults I meant adults under 50. In other words the parents of the young children they are booking you to entertain. My point is that not only children, but also a generation of parents of young children have never lived under the reality of hanging and capital punishment. This being in contrast to the over 50s who may have a nostalgic fondness for the the Hanging scene in the Punch Show, if not for the real thing.
Your point that teenagers may have some idea of hanging is totally irrelevant. All your remarks about war museums and other sources of information about methods of execution are surely not the domain of the 3 to 9 years olds I was talking about. Older children are in no way a target audience for Punch and Judy. The people who matter are the kids for whom you are booked to perform, and their parents or teachers who are paying you.

Re. your remarks to Nick - well actually it was I who brought up the Llandudno show. Your anecdote regarding the school trip while amusing, is based on a misconception. They don't get the show for free!
School trips are in school time, mostly in June and the beginning of July, before the schools have broken for the holidays and before Codman show starts for the Summer Season. The schools can contact Jackie and arrange a special show. I don't know how much is charged per head, but obviously a fee is required. I am also sure that if a party of children arrived during a public show Jackie would expect an appropriate contribution to the bottle from those in charge. This could happen if the weather is as good as it is now and they make an earlier start to the season.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Trevek » 25 Jun 2014, 21:45

Sorry Chris, I was editing my post as you posted.

Yes, I realised later, when I re-read, what you meant, but what I wrote is not irrelevant to me, as teens and adults are my main audience. They are largely the young adults you speak of and the teens who grow out of the young children you mention. The entrance of jack ketch is usually greeted with a laugh or a "whoooo!"

Most of my shows (not that there's that many, as I'm usually working during the day) are done in schools as a way of giving the students exposure to English and aspects of British culture and history.

As I say, I don't use the scene when performing to smaller children.

Thanks for the information on the Llandudno show (I was referring to Nick asking why it was ok for Codman's show to show it).
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Chris » 25 Jun 2014, 21:47

Pure serendipity, but I was browsing a 1978 copy of "The Magic Circular" and came upon a reference to letter from an American visiting Britain in 1963 who wrote "I also went to Gravesend, a few miles away, to see an old man who makes Punch and Judy puppets - apparently an expiring craft. He carves them, paints them and costumes them, and the costumes are extremely elaborate. I am getting him to make me some. He is also an operator. He doesn't do the Devil and the Hangman, and only puts Punch in the stocks."
The Mecca of the pilgrimage to Gravesend may be readily identified as the home of Wal Kent in Brunswick Road.
Perhaps this will placate the traditionalists a little.
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Nick Jackson » 25 Jun 2014, 22:02

Chris wrote:Nick:
You didn't read what I wrote. I carefully made a special case of the Llandudno Codman show and pointed out why I made a special case for them - because of their location and the age of the visitors attracted to Llandudno and the very unsusual make up of their audiences.

I did read what you wrote, Chris, and that's why I responded by saying that, as a busker, one generally has a mixed audience.
As to those under 50 not remembering hanging, I would say that even those over that age do not remember it as a public spectacle: Wasn't the last such event in the 1860s?
Chris wrote:As for whether children understand the murder of Judy and the baby, well I hope not. Not unless some idiot Punch man presents them as murders!

My bobby (and others'): I have a warrant for your arrest.
Punch: What for?
Bobby: For the murder of your wife and child. You have been tried by the laws of your country, found guilty and sentenced to be hanged by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead.
Punch: (Hitting thrice) Oh dead, dead, dead.

So if I remove the murders and the hanging, what do I have left? Is it still Punch? Perhaps that idiot Punchman is me!
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Re: To hang or not to hang

Postby Chris » 25 Jun 2014, 22:10

That's not my script. And having consideration of my audiences I am not tempted to adopt it.
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