Mr Punch’s “Big Grin”

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Punch & Judy

Big Grin

One of the abiding memories of going to the seaside when I was a kid was the Punch & Judy Show when we all cheered on whoever was about to clout the other and jeered when the constable came on.
I knew Punch went back a long way but 350 years? And that’s only because I have learnt that Aberystwyth’s Ceredigion Museum is running an exhibition celebrating the Mr Punch, Judy, their baby, the policeman, the dog and the string of sausages plus all that goes to make up the well-known puppet show. It couldn’t be in much more of an apprpriate location because the museum there is in the old Edwardian theatre and cinema just back from the seaside. It seems Samuel Pepys – the great Stuart diarist – say the Italian puppet play in 1662 in London’s Covent Garden. Because he wrote down in his voluminous diaries all that interested him, we know that Mr Punch and family have been settled on our shores for at least that length of time.
Because of that Covent Garden link that was where the Big Grin was launched in May and runs around the country until September. Aberystwyth is one stop on the way – but an important one- because the town has in its museum the puppets of one of the great Punch & Judy men, Bill Dane. And it’s the place where many Punch & Judy conventions have been held. So the fun kicks off there this coming Saturday (21st July) in the museum and the bandstand on the prom.
But if you can’t get to Aberystwyth (a shame because it’s a great place although I’m biased since I went to university there), the Big Grin is at other towns and cities over the summer. If you are in London for the Olympics of on a day visit, then the V& A which houses the old Theatre Museum and has an exhibition lasting till the end of Big Grin. There are also exhibitions at museums in Worthing, Cannock Chase and Tavistock. In addition there are lots of weekend events such as the Weymouth Big Grin Maritime Mix in the first weekend of August, the same time as the Southend Pier Puppet Festival. The 6th Lincoln Punch & Judy Fair takes place the last weekend in July and they even crop up at the WOMAD festival in Malmesbury that weekend.
What it goes to show is that we’ll still be hearing falsetto faces uttering the immortal words, “that’s the way to do it,” for decades to come.

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