The basic history of Punch & Judy at the seaside
The origins of Punch & Judy in the UK can be dated back to 1662.
Mr Punch was first seen at the seaside in about the 1840s and certainly by the 1880s most fashionable English Seaside resorts had a Punch & Judy show working on them and Weymouth was no exception.
‘Professors’ Murray, Staddon, Edmonds and Higgins have all performed there own unique interpretation of Punch & Judy on Weymouth’s beach.
The shows have always been ‘busked’ on the beach (operated by the audience contributing money in to the showman’s hat or box) and is still worked this way today!
Weymouth is probably the very last resort in England that has had a continuous run (apart from the war years) of Punch & Judy on it’s beach.
Professor James Murray - 1880’s - 1912
Professor Maggs - 1913 -1914
Professor Bert Staddon - 1921 - 1924
Professor Beavis - 1925
Professor Frank Edmonds - 1926 - 1975
Professor Guy Higgins - 1976 - 2004
Professor Mark Poulton - 2005 - present
Guy regularly helped out at The Lanchester Marionette Theatre which was near to his childhood home. It was Alf Peters who introduced him to and helped him get started with Punch and Judy and magic (I believe Guy used to help him out on occasions). Guy attended boarding school and, on leaving, became an industrial civil servant which he was still doing in 1968.
Although Guy was performing Punch and Judy and magic on a part-time basis he longed to become a full-time entertainer. He looked at different pitches including Aberystwyth. On visiting Weymouth (which was then vacant following the retirement a few years earlier of Frank Edmonds) he decided this was the pitch for him. He started at Weymouth in 1975 where, over the years, he performed thousands of shows, entertaining generations of children and their parents until 2004 when he retired due to health worries.
I was lucky enough to visit in September 2004 and watched what would turn out to be Guy’s last show on the beach. In May 2005 we arranged a splendid ‘send off’ for Guy at the hand-over on the beach in front of the local mayor, officials and the press. The real surprise for Guy was when he looked up at the booth to see a specially made puppet of himself looking down at him!
Guy could draw a really huge crowd on the beach and hold them with a slick polished performance and exceptionally clear swazzling. He was an inspiration to many. And who could forget Guy’s JR puppet? Many locals and holiday makers will recall his voice as his announcements could be heard at each end of the beach and through the town! The beach and sea front workers recount funny stories about him and talk with genuine affection of ‘The Professor’ as he came to be known.
Guy was a proud member of The Inner Magic Circle and felt honored when he was invited to join The Grand Order Of Water Rats. His show was presented on T.V. countless times, Jim’ll Fix It and The Generation Game to name a few. He was the performer and advisor for Hi-de-Hi and presented Punch at The Royal Variety Performance in 1988. He was again in the company of Royalty when, only last year, (2006) he was invited to attend a Royal Garden Party although Mr. Punch was not permitted on this occasion!
I first saw Guy perform Punch and Judy on the sands at Weymouth when I was about four years old and I was ‘hooked!’ I must have seen every performance every day for our week’s holiday year after year. The evening performance was always the special one for me. In 1981 as soon as the afternoon performance was over I knocked on the door of the booth and announced I too was going to be a Punch and Judy man when I grew up. Guy said if I was serious he would give me all the help I needed. He then winked at my mum! Over the years Guy kept his word and was a constant source of help and advice and became a good friend. I had no idea that many years later I would take over from Guy on historic Weymouth’s seaside pitch. I not only inherited Guy’s booth but also his bottler Renee who has fond memories of Guy’s antics on and off the beach! Looking back I realise that had I not seen Guy Higgins’ ‘famous Punch and Judy Show’ my life would have turned our very differently – and probably not as exciting.
Guy Higgins was born 5 November 1932 and died in the early hours of Tuesday 19 June 2007 at Worcester Hospital after a short illness. He leaves wife Maggie and her daughters. Guy, you are now with that army of Punch and Judy showmen who, over the centuries has made countless numbers of children and adults laugh. So thank you Guy and in your own words spoken from your booth: “From here I can generate happiness and that’s what being an entertainer is all about, making people happy”.
Professor Mark Poulton 2007
Professor Guy Higgins Gallery