‘That’s the way to do it’ – Punch and Judy returns to Swanage!

Refusing to be beaten by a global pandemic, Professor Joe Burns is as pleased as Punch to be back in Swanage with a socially distanced Punch and Judy show this weekend.

Plans have been put in place to cheer everyone up and save the traditional seaside show from extinction, while complying with government coronavirus guidance.


Before COVID-19, the Swanage Punch and Judy show was one of the last in the country to continue, with only Broadstairs, Llandudno and Weymouth still putting on performances, despite it being part of a traditional bucket and spade holiday for the last 140 years.

“Our audience’s safety is paramount to us”

Professor Joe Burns, proprietor of the Swanage Punch and Judy show said:

“The show is moving just for this year to a more contained area, so we can restrict the numbers of people gathering to watch the show at a two metre social distance.

“I think we’ll probably be able to perform to around 30 people each show. Our audience’s safety is paramount to us”

On Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th August 2020, the show will be on the grassed area on Shore Road, next to the Swanage Information Centre, so the area can be marked out to accommodate around 10 family bubbles, each with a maximum of four people.

In order to compensate for the lower capacity at each show, Prof Joe is adding an additional show. Performances will be at 12 noon, 1.30 pm, 2.30 pm and 4.00pm and will run on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. It’ll cost £2 per person for the 20 minute show.

Postcard of Swanage Bay
Professor Joe Burns collection

Postcard of Swanage Bay circa 1908. Punch and Judy has been a popular Swanage attraction since Victorian times

First mentioned by Samuel Pepys in 1662

The Punch and Judy show has come a long way from when it was first mentioned by Samuel Pepys in 1662. All traditions change but it’s probably fair to say that no one predicted that the person collecting the money, called the ‘bottler’ would be wearing a PPE visor this year.

Prof Joe said that the modern Punch and Judy show isn’t a museum piece either:

“I prefer to call it a living heritage, it’s constantly evolving. There are always topical jokes in the show and there’s so many I could make now. I’m not sure how I could get Mr Punch to have an eye test by driving to Barnard Castle, though!”

This weekend is running as a trial to see how it goes but if it all goes to plan, it’s hoped the show will continue for the rest of the summer.

A precarious living at the best of times

Prof Joe says it’s a precarious living at the best of times but this year has been extremely hard, although he has been fortunate enough to get financial support from the Dorset Artists Emergency Fund and the Equity Charitable Trust. He said:

“I’ve lost all my work this year but the financial help I have got, means I can just about get by to ensure the future safety of the show at Swanage. Without their support, I don’t know if I could continue to be a Punch and Judy performer.

“It also means that I can subsidise trialling doing the show this weekend. I still have rent to pay and cats to feed, so getting out and working is going to bring in some much needed income. I also hope to bring smiles to the faces of Swanage, right when we need it most!”

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