The puppeteer has been known since its heyday in the Victorian era as ‘Professor’ or ‘Punchman,’ he would be assisted by a ‘Bottler’ this person was outside the booth or stall and would introduce the characters to the audience, provide any musical accompaniments and collect the money from the audience. The money became known as ‘the bottle’ hence the name given to the person in this role.
The puppet shows that remain in use today have evolved greatly and many do not use a ‘Bottler,’ audience participation is expected and knowledgeable audiences have effectively caused the demise of the assistant role.
The characters in any show can vary greatly apart from the two main roles, the lesser roles are usually added at the discretion of the puppeteer and they can vary due to evolving attitudes or even political correctness. Most shows will include Punch and Judy’s baby, a crocodile, an overly officious policeman, a string of sausages as a major prop and a clown. Characters that used to be seen regularly but in the modern world will feature rarely if at all are the devil and a hangman known as Jack Ketch. Whoever the show features, Punch will always win using his unorthodox methods, until he comes up against his wife.
There is no defining story to the show and it could be looked on as being an impromptu performance with a variable script. The rough pattern of the story is such that Punch is a character of outrageous behaviour particularly towards his wife and baby. He will then have encounters with as many of the other characters as the puppeteer introduces all with the same outcome, feeling the force of Punch’s ire, or his stick which he freely wields. All this is conducted with humour and jokes throughout the performance.
The mayhem usually begins with Punch having to babysit, a chore he is unable to complete to his wife’s satisfaction and the mayhem albeit in a slapstick way begins. Towards the end of the 20th century the increased pressure from groups wishing to pursue issues of political correctness threatened the future of the shows from being performed, the comedy aspect of this entertainment industry was sometimes lost on those feeling the comedy was conducted in poor taste.
The shows are regularly seen across the English speaking world, as well as the UK, it can be seen as far away as Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Canada and the USA. The puppet show was honoured in the year 2001 featuring on postage stamps in the UK.