It’s no joke – Mr Punch signs three year deal with Swanage Town Council

The traditional Punch and Judy puppet show is back on Swanage Beach and the mayor dropped by to deliver some good news.

Professor Joe Burns has secured a contract with Swanage Town Council to perform the show for the next three summers to 2024. This means the future of the last surviving Punch and Judy seaside show in England is safe for a few more years yet.

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Pupils from Swanage Primary School enjoy the show on the beach

The Covid pandemic knocked things off the rails for a while

There’s another Punch and Judy show still going strong on Llandudno beach in Wales but the other English show in Weymouth, isn’t going ahead this year due to illness of the puppeteer or professor, as they are traditionally called.

In Swanage, Professor Joe Burns, who’s been performing in Swanage since 2016, applied to the council for a new licence back at the beginning of 2020 but the Covid pandemic knocked things off the rails for a while. Now the concession has been formally awarded.

Professor Joe Burns and Punch and Judy show on Swanage Beach

Professor Joe Burns keeping the tradition alive on Swanage Beach

“Really good news after a few tricky years”

The show will be performed, next to the Banjo Pier, three times a day throughout the summer holidays, unless the weather causes it to be cancelled.

Professor Joe Burns said:

“This is really good news after a few tricky years – it gives a bit of security. There’s so few of us working on the beaches but Punch and Judy, while it has its origins in Europe, is such a British icon. And it really needs to be watched with sand between your toes!”

Enjoying the slapsick comedy, (left to right) Swanage Town Mayor Tina Foster, the mayor’s consort Leslie Parkinson and Swanage Town Council visitor services manager Culvin Milmer

Strong language, political satire and unethical behaviour

The show traditionally has had a reputation for strong language, political satire and unethical behaviour so Swanage Town Council has included a few clauses in the contract to ensure Mr Punch cleans up his act.

This was much to the relief of the teachers of Swanage Primary, whose pupils were lucky enough to get to watch the show.

However Mr Punch, not one to always do as he’s told, slipped in a few cheeky references to the current political drama going on at Westminster. Pointing to Joey the Clown, he suggested that if he wasn’t careful he could end up as our next Prime Minister…

The mayor admires the puppets and their costumes, which are hand made by Professor Joe

“Helps retain the traditional values of a family holiday for our visitors”

Watching the show, along with the school children, was Swanage Town Mayor Tina Foster and the mayor’s consort Leslie Parkinson.

Councillor Tina Foster said:

“I’m very pleased to have Punch and Judy, and of course Professor Joe, back in their traditional place on our beach for the summer.

“Swanage is a perfect place to come for a holiday and the show helps retain the traditional values of a family holiday for our visitors.

“I really urge our community and visitors to continue to support Punch and Judy and show their appreciation, so it can remain a feature of our summer for years to come.”

Professor Joe receives no financial subsidy from Swanage Town Council and so is completely reliant on the money collected from the audience for his income. A £2 donation is suggested per person.

Punch and Judy show on Swanage Beach

The continuation of the show is entirely dependent on donations from the audience

A tradition in Swanage dating back to 1904

A Punch and Judy show has performed on Swanage Beach since 1904. Peter Jaggard and Wendy Warham ran the show from the 1980s up until 2014. There was a year gap, and then Professor Joe picked up the reins in 2016.

He was first inspired to become a Punch and Judy puppeteer as a teenager watching the show on the beach in Weymouth. Joe added:

“It was a really good show today – the children from Swanage Primary were a great audience – laughing in all the right places! Hopefully I’m inspiring the next generation to keep the tradition alive.

“Who knows, there may be a child who watched the show today who will remember the moment and become a Punch and Judy professor themselves one day!”

Punch and Judy show on Swanage Beach

In the Swanage version of the show, Mr Punch tries to have an illegal barbecue on the beach with the sausages but The Crocodile isn’t having any of it!

Further information

  • More about Professor Joe Burns and the history of Punch and Judy is on his website
Punch and Judy show on Swanage Beach

Mr Punch and his wife Judy in their striking beachwear

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