A Talk by Peter Batty
Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Peter Batty to the Parish Room where he regaled us with a host of stories collected over many years as a Punch & Judy man, both from presenting the shows and from close association with other Punch men, or Professors.
- The character of Punch is believed to have originated in India, and was spread by gypsies who took it into Europe; many countries such as Russia, Turkey & Thailand have similar grotesque characters.
- Between the 10th and 13th centuries, drama was expressed in religious cycles of miracle plays that swept across medieval Europe.
- By the end of the 15th century in Italy, an impromptu form of drama appeared known as the Commedia dell'Arte; from which Mr Punch is generally believed to have developed;
- Soon thereafter, companies of players travelled beyond Italy, taking their lively comedies to France, Spain, Holland, Germany, where he is known as Kasperl, and England.
- Mr. Punch made his first recorded appearance in England on 9 May 1662, now traditionally reckoned to be his birthday; Samuel Pepys observed a marionette show in Covent Garden, performed by an Italian puppet showman, which Pepys described as “very pretty".
Peter demonstrated how the puppets are traditionally made, then assembled his trademark stripey seaside booth before introducing the many characters one by one, showing us where each was placed in the booth before unleashing a great traditional show which took everyone present back to their happy childhood roots amid fits of laughter and audience participation.
Peter then mentioned some of the daft comments made by the politically correct brigade and how this has changed over time, noting that Punch performers adapted shows to the spirit of their age:
- Celebrated Victorian showmen lamented that audiences had become genteel and wanted the Ghost and the Coffin dropped from the show, though this is now much less likely today.
- Simplistic arguments that Punch and Judy promoted domestic violence were akin to saying that Tom and Jerry promote cruelty to animals. Luckily for us, Mr. Punch has a keen nose for spotting humourless and flawed logic, and his opinion of them is as low as theirs is of him!
Peter wryly observed that Mr. Punch reminds critics slapstick is the weapon that gave its name to physical comedy; it is the clown's weapon used to assault each other and the dignity of opponents.
Everyone agreed this was our most entertaining evening to date, with an action-packed story following the antics of Mr Punch, Judy and the baby, Joey the clown, the policeman, the sausage-eating crocodile, the hangman (aka Jack Ketch), the devil and many more; all in all, a rare treat, as the following comment demonstrates: Dear Hon Sec: Just to say how much we enjoyed last night. Best so far. Keep up the good work.
The subject of our next talk will be Suffolk Poachers and Smugglers, at 7.30 pm on February 13th at the LW Parish Room, which will be presented by William Tyler. Additionally, and as a special treat for LWHS members only, there will be a free craft event, with cheese and wine, on January 16th, again at 7.30 pm in the Parish Room.
Andy Sheppard 6th December 2012