Punch and Judy show gets modern twist with slapstick, sausages and Boris Johnson

I am crouching in a candy-striped booth with a wet swazzle, a slapstick and a string of sausages .

My bottom is unnervingly close to a crocodile’s jaws, the Devil is at my elbow and I’m worried I’ve just trodden on the baby.

But, when the familiar strains of I Do Like to Be Beside The Seaside ring out, I feel a rush of excitement.

Because coming to life on my right hand is the world’s most famous puppet – while my left is rammed up Boris Johnson.

And mischievous Mr Punch and I are about to stuff BoJo the Clown into the sausage machine and turn him into chipolatas.

That’s the way to do it!

I’m trying my hand at becoming a Punch and Judy puppeteer – or a “Professor” as they are known – at a spot where generations of performers have delighted holidaymakers.

Punch has been a national icon for 356 years but the British seaside revival is boosting his hook-nosed profile and attracting new fans.

Yet the PC brigade still brand him a wife beater, child abuser and racist.

Good Morning Britain presenter Kate Garraway recently had a spat with a performer who took an “offensive” black minstrel doll on the show.

“Sadly, Mr Punch is at the mercy of whoever’s hand he is on,” sighs world-renowned Punch Prof Glyn Edwards, who is showing me the ropes.

He said: “That chap should have known better. Proper Punch Profs adapt their shows for modern audiences – which is why we don’t have a Hangman any more and why Judy gives as good as she gets. But the notion that it glorifies violence is rot.

“Punch has a wooden ‘slapstick’, split at one end to make a thwacking noise, hence the term ‘slapstick comedy’.

“It is pantomime, which involves falling down and whacking things.

“And it’s no different to cartoons – think about Homer Simpson strangling Bart until his eyes pop out. Kids understand it instinctively. They know when Punch ‘drops the baby in the dustbin’ it’s not real.”

Glyn, 74, became a Prof in his teens after being entranced by seafront shows as a child.

He’s married to Mary, a puppet maker, and their daughter, Katey 46, has her own show as Professor Peanuts.

He’s a member of the Punch and Judy Fellowship (patron Harry Hill) and travelled the globe with his show. He also teaches the art of Punch and Judy and has written the beginners’ “bible”.


And there’s no shortage of would-be Punch Profs who, these days, make a living from private bookings. Their seaside shows rely entirely on donations from the audience.

Punch first appeared in Britain in the 17th century, though anarchic characters existed in Stone Age and Roman times and a Lord of Misrule presided over ancient festivals.

In 1662 diarist Samuel Pepys described a puppet play he’d watched in Covent Garden, performed by Italian showman Signor Bologna.

The main character was Pulcinella (Little Chicken) who had a beaky nose and squeaky cry produced by a reed kept in the performer’s mouth, known as a swazzle. We Brits mispronounced it as Punchinello – Punch for short.

After Charles II became a fan, Punch was established as a national treasure.

He even entered the language – and we’re still pleased as Punch that there’s no party without him.

When the railway age came and Victorians went to the seaside, Punch went too. Brighton had a Professor John Carcass, who performed for Queen Victoria privately.

His family worked the seafront until the Second World War – on the spot where I’m helping Professor Glyn.

There is no official Punch and Judy script but, as with pantomime, there are plotlines and a cast of traditional characters – like the policeman, ghost, crocodile and Old Nick.

Guest appearances by contemporary figures have included Lord Nelson, Hitler, the Elf n Safety puppet Glyn created – and now Boris.


Glyn was a producer on TV’s Tiswas kids’ show and thinks Brits adore Punch because he’s a rebel – who still manages to outwit the policeman and thwart the Devil.

“We hate being told what to do, so seeing figures of authority being ridiculed is irresistible,” he says.

Before Glyn lets me loose in his booth I settle down to watch his show with a group of excited kids aged two to 12, and their parents. And I love every minute.

Toby the Dog spinning plates, the ghost stealing Punch’s pillow as he naps, the crocodile eating the sausages and the way we yell “He’s behind you!” when the Devil creeps up.

But the kids laugh most when Punch sits on the baby – called Asbo – after Judy makes him “babysit”.

He denies it, of course, and Judy says “Don’t tell fibs – you’re not a politician.”

I can’t wait to slip Punch on my hand and start whacking a few characters with his slapstick.

But I soon realise how skilled a Prof has to be, manoeuvring all the “dolls” in such a small booth and working two at once above your head (Glyn’s had surgery on both shoulders as a result.)

And then there’s the dialogue, and all those different voices.

Now, I’ve promised not to reveal the secrets of the swazzle – how a Prof actually makes Punch’s sound.

But let’s say my gag reflex meant I couldn’t get anywhere near doing a “Judy, Judy, Judy” or “Kissy, Kissy, Kissy.” I just dribbled.

“It does take a lot of practice,” Glyn says kindly. “In fact, the only beginner who ever got it first time was Robert Peston.” Sorry? Robert Peston the, erm, political journalist?

“Yes,” says Glyn. “His lifelong ambition was to be a Punch Professor and when he was down here for a party conference he came to try.

“Stuck the swazzle in and he was off.”

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Well I never. I thought Punch and Judy politics was what Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn get up to across the dispatch box at PMQs .

Actually, perhaps Mr Peston could tell the PM to roll up, roll up to Brighton seafront. She’d love to see Mr Punch clowning around with that sausage machine.

And, if she really wants to make mincemeat out of that blond berk Boris… well, that’s the way to do it!

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