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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests