Punch & Judy: 350 years of hard-hitting entertainment

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

When Samuel Pepys came across a captivated crowd watching the street performance of an anarchic little puppet called Punchinello and his beleaguered wife Joan, the diarist chronicled the event in his diary, dated 9 May 1662.

Over the years, the marionette morphed into a hand-puppet, Punch, and his wife into Judy, and together the outrageous, squawking couple provided street entertainment for over three centuries. Now, a paper archive has emerged that reveals how the Punch and Judy phenomenon grew and waned in popularity, with remarkable Victorian photographs, rare books, scripts, drawings and newspaper cuttings, which have never before been seen by the public.

The archive of about 200 items has been acquired by the nation and will be kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was painstakingly collated by the eminent late historian George Speaight, and experts say it provides a significant record that traces the development of Punch and Judy's performances as marionettes in the Restoration era, to their 18th-century reinvention as glove puppets in fairground booths and on London streets and as children's seaside entertainment in the 20th century.

The material includes the earliest known Victorian bioscope photography of a Punch and Judy show and coloured prints from the 1790s. The collection was recently accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the V&A's Theatre and Performance collection.

Catherine Haill, the museum's curator of popular entertainment, said Punch and Judy were born out of the flamboyant Italian tradition of Comedia dell'arte of the mid-16th century, and provided dark entertainment that gripped the imagination of viewers of all ages.

Crowds of adults watching shows in Covent Garden and Bartholomew Fair in London would laugh and tut at Punch, a thoroughly reprehensible character who is known for hitting his wife and his baby over the head with a stick. The public slipped coins into a bottle at the end of each street show to show their appreciation.

"This was entertainment for adults and children. It was basically knock-about comedy and Punch certainly got his comeuppence, when he had the constable, the devil and the hangman come for him. He didn't get away scot-free; he was a real villain and he was hanged for it," she said.

The performances included a repertoire of stories, some of which had biblical themes; one 18th-century tale featured Joan caught up in Noah's floods.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back