The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has acquired an extensive Punch & Judy archive made up of scores of artworks, photographs and books. In some ways the puppet show, with its traditional costumes, the grotesque visages of the characters and the lack of hi-tech tricks, looks like very old-fashioned entertainment. Avatar it is not. But on the other hand the show's bold approach to themes such as domestic violence, child neglect and disrespect for the law might be said to give it a strikingly contemporary feel.
Whatever; the enduring importance of the puppet show to our national life cannot be doubted. Samuel Pepys called it "very pretty". Charles Dickens said it was "one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life which would lose its hold upon the people if it were made moral and instructive".
And so it continues today. Our politicians periodically declare that, we, the public, are fed up with "Punch & Judy politics". This is usually followed, shortly after, by those same pious politicians launching a vicious and nakedly partisan attack on their opponents. And does anyone complain about the hypocrisy? Not a bit of it. And why? Because as a wise political commentator puts it: "That's the way to do it."