The history of Punch and Judy really goes back a lot further than people imagine.
The marionette puppet with strings, a chap called Pulcinella, came from the Commedia dell'arte tradition in Italy. The tradition was first introduced to this country way back in the 1660s and performed in front of King Charles II. We know this because Samuel Pepys was in the audience, and he loved it so much that he went back twice. So that was the birth of Mr Punch in this country.
He was then adopted by travelling entertainers who worked the fairgrounds, because the artform is very portable – you can take Mr Punch under your arm (by this time, he'd had his strings cut off). The entertainers would set up the booths in fairs around the country. When people started going to the seaside and the fairs lost their allure in local villages, agricultural communities etc, Mr Punch really got on the railways at the same time and travelled to the seaside. And that's where we get that seaside tradition from. He got his wife, Judy – a very long-suffering wife, since she'd been married him since the 1820s – and obviously the other characters like the crocodile, the baby, the policeman. They're all characters that have a long tradition within the art.
The people who are responsible for making that wonderful Mr Punch noise with a reed that they hold in their mouth called a swazzle are known as ‘professors’. So they're not Punch and Judy men, they are professors and there are still quite a lot of them around the place. If you go to particular seaside resorts, you will see them. If you go to Llandudno in Wales, you will see the Codman family, who are now in the fourth generation of performers.
This answer was excerpted from a podcast interview with Dr Kathryn Ferry. Learn more in the full podcast episode on British seaside holidays
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Dr Kathryn Ferry is a historian specialising in architecture, design and seaside culture