Mr Punch – Weymouth’s Oldest Resident
Published by: Curtis Williams 30/05/2018 at 10:08 am
Punch and Judy is as much part of Weymouth beach as the ice cream kiosks and the funfair. That’s because the town has the longest running association with the puppets in the UK.
Weymouth’s association with Punch and Judy goes back to at least 1881, only breaking during the two world wars.
Weymouth wasn’t the first place to welcome Mr Punch and friends. Covent Garden probably got there first when theatre and entertainment flourished during the restoration of Charles II.
Local author and historian Judith Stinton who has published a book called Weymouth and Mr Punch said, “I started writing the book when I discovered that Weymouth had a continuous history of Punch and Judy men from at least 1881, which struck me as very unusual and it’s still continuing which is even more unusual.”
Punch originates from a travelling Italian theatre company called the “Camaraderie dell’Arte”. Punch then called Pulcinella or “little chicken” was played by a real actor who spent so much time in character that he took on his persona.
The company’s tour spread to France in the 17th Century but by the time it reached England Pulcinella was a puppet and his side-kick Judy was known as Joan.
Punch and Judy became back street entertainment and continued to travel from town to town.
The first reference of their presence in Weymouth dates from 1877. There’s a painting on show at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester of Lodmor Racecourse and on it there is a Punch and Judy booth. By 1881 Punch and Judy is known to have become a permanent fixture.
The first known puppeteer or Punch and Judy professor was a man named James Murray from Bristol who worked from the late 19th Century to 1912. He was succeeded by a string of interesting characters who brought their own particular take to the Punch experience.
Frank Edmonds took over the job in 1926 and clocked up 50 years, entertaining the crowds. He holds the record for being the longest running Punch and Judy professor to date.
Frank came from a family of Punch and Judy men and used a script written by his father for virtually every show.
His successor Guy Higgins did another long stretch 1976 – 2005. His act had more variety. He even introduced a JR Ewing puppet when the TV show Dallas was at its height of popularity.
The current Punch and Judy professor Mark Poulton, while remaining true to tradition has a camp crocodile.
What has remained the same over the years is Mr Punch’s battles with authority. The show remains anarchic and anti-establishment which is perhaps why it has lasted all these years.
Author Judith Stinton said, “I think people like the traditional aspects of it, they associate it with the idea of the traditional English seaside and they also find it funny and colourful.”
We would like to thank BBC – credit for this information.