Originally I was going to write this post in May and do more research but I have noticed recently that people have begun arriving at my blog searching for information already, including two visits today. I might update this post over the next few months but for now here is a potted history of 350 years of Mr Punch!
If you were following/reading my blog last May you will remember that I spent a lovely, albeit unusual!, Sunday afternoon at a puppet festival and May Fayre in Covent Garden. The puppet festival was in honour of Mr Punch’s 349th birthday, it has been held there for the past 36 years, taking over the gardens of St Paul’s Church. There are some photos of the festival in my original post, do have a look here if you haven’t seen it.
May 9, 1661 is officially known as Mr Punch’s birthday thanks to a reference in Samual Pepys diary. Pepys wrote that he had seen, and enjoyed, an Italian puppet show in Covent Garden. He went on to mention the puppet show on several other occasions in his diary.
One of the characters in that show was Pulcinella, he became a popular character with British audiences and eventually his name was anglicised to Punch. The show Pepys saw would have been performed from a tent, at this stage Punch was still a marionette puppet performed with strings.
Fairground performances were a very popular place for the puppet shows, however they eventually lost their appeal. Marionette puppet shows were also beginning to dip in popularity, the novelty was wearing off. Something new was needed and it was decided that Punch should become a glove puppet (no-one knows who’s idea it was) with a cast of other characters supporting him, including Judy (although orignally she was called Jean). The new show was a hit.
Mr Punch has been able to adapt to changes throughout history. The birth of the railways meant that trips to the seaside became popular with visitors from the towns. Punch and Judy performers saw an opportunity and began taking their shows to the seaside too, the shows were an iconic part of seaside entertainment for many years.
Although seaside performances are not so prevelent these days the show is still popular and can be hired for childrens entertainment. The shows can also be seen at puppet festivals, the puppet festival I went to last May is one of many that are held throughout the year. The people that run the shows ae known as ‘professors’ and are part of the Punch and Judy College of Professors. Take a look at the site, it is fascinating!
The 37th puppet festival will be held on May 12th and 13th, I plan on going again, it’s strange but also very interesting and a great atmosphere. Also, look out for other events taking place, you can find out more on the Big Grin website. I hope to be at a few of these with my camera, pen and note book in hand!
I mentioned at the beginning that I might update this as I follow the celebrations. However, please let me know if you would be interested in reading more posts on the celebrations, rather than this post being updated.