From the archive
Punch and Judy is a traditional, popular puppet show featuring the characters of Mr. Punch and his wife, Judy. The performance consists of a sequence of short scenes, each depicting an interaction between two characters, most typically the anarchic Punch and one other character. It is often associated with traditional English seaside culture.
The show is performed by a single puppeteer inside the booth, known since Victorian times as a “Professor” or “Punchman,” and assisted sometimes by a “Bottler”, who corrals the audience outside the booth, introduces the performance and collects the money (“the bottle”). The Bottler might also play accompanying music or sound effects on a drum or guitar and engage in back chat with the puppets, sometimes repeating lines that may have been difficult for the audience to understand. In Victorian times the drum and pan pipes were the instruments of choice. Today, the audience is also encouraged to participate, calling out to the characters on the stage to warn them of danger, or clue them into what is going on behind their backs. Also nowadays most Professors work solo since the need for a bottler became less important when busking with the show gave way to paid engagements at private parties or public events.
Along with Punch and Judy, the cast of characters usually includes their baby, a hungry crocodile, a clown, an officious policeman, and a prop string of sausages. The devil and the generic hangman Jack Ketch may still make their appearances but, if so, Punch will always get the better of them. The cast of a typical Punch and Judy show today will include:
- Mr. Punch
- The Baby
- The Constable
- Joey the Clown
- The Crocodile
- The Skeleton
- The Doctor
Characters once regular but now occasional include:
- Toby the Dog
- Hector the Horse
- Pretty Polly
- The Hangman (a.k.a. Jack Ketch)
- The Devil
- The Beadle
- Mr. Scaramouche
Characters only seen in a historical re-enactment performance include:
- The Servant (or “The Minstrel”)
- The Blind Man
Other characters included Boxers, Chinese Plate Spinners, topical figures, a trick puppet with an extending neck (the “Courtier”) and a monkey. A live Dog Toby which sat on the playboard and performed ‘with’ the puppets was once a regular featured novelty routine.