Swanage’s Punch and Judy man thanks locals for support after making national news

Punch and Judy man, Joe Burns, has extended his heartfelt thanks to the people of Swanage who rallied round after he made the national headlines because of mean beachgoers who refused to pay.

Joe Burns said:


“It was a mad couple of days but I’m glad that it’s calmed down now. Lots of local people came down to show their support. It’s made me feel really good – I feel part of the summer down here – and I want to thank them for doing that.”

National newspapers including the Mirror, Guardian and Daily Mail all reported that Joe had been disappointed by the actions of some of the people watching his traditional seaside show.

Punch and Judy

Part of the summer – Punch and Judy man Joe Burns

“Rude and swearing”

The Punch and Judy man has been coming to the town for six years and while there are always a few people who don’t want to pay, he says this year has been much worse.

Joe explained:

“People were being rude and swearing at the people who were collecting the money. It’s part and parcel of doing the show to a certain extent but it felt much more abusive this year than previously.”

Punch and Judy

Swanage is one of the few remaining places to have a Punch and Judy show

Throwing pebbles

He’s also had to deal with some unruly children throwing pebbles at the tent.

He said:

“It happens a couple of times a year but we live with it as long as it doesn’t damage anything.”

Punch and Judy

Joe chats with a young fan – generally audiences have been really appreciative

Only three remaining

Joe is one of just three remaining traditional Punch and Judy showmen in the country. There’s one in Weymouth and another in Llandudno in North Wales.

He said perhaps ‘staycationers’ – annoyed they couldn’t holiday abroad – are to blame:

“Maybe they didn’t want to be in the country and had to holiday over here this year and haven’t seen a Punch and Judy show for a long time and have forgotten how to engage with the show.”

Punch and Judy

Donations are the only source of income

Traditional show with modern twists

The performance only costs two pounds to watch and, weather permitting, is staged three times a day at 12pm, 1.30pm and 3pm. There is also a special evening show on Friday 20th August 2021 at 7.30pm.

For theatre producer Joe, the money collected this way, is his only source of income during the summer season.

He prides himself on having a truly traditional show, with just one or two modern twists. All the familiar characters are there, including the baby, the policeman, and of course the crocodile. As well as lots of sausages…

Punch and Judy

Even the policeman finds it hard to bring the irrepressible Punch to hand

“I like seeing things that are not alive, come alive!”

Joe explained how he got into it:

“I’ve been working since I was 12 and I’m 30 next year. I first saw Punch and Judy at Weymouth when I was probably four and just thought that’s what I want to do. I like seeing things that are not alive, come alive!

“I would rather be on the beach than doing theatre work actually. I’m the director and the voices, so I have complete creative control.”

Punch and Judy

Children interact with the performance

“Judy is a 21st Century woman”

When we first see the characters, it’s Judy and not Punch who is wielding the stick. Though, it’s fair to say very few of the puppets escape for long.

Joe said:

“It’s important that Punch gets his comeuppance. Judy is a 21st Century woman so she’s not going to take the rubbish Punch gives out.

“The Victorians went on this crusade of morality but were obsessed with violence. We don’t have the same sensibilities as the Victorians, but the children understand it’s just make-believe.

“I like to include a few jokes as well, so that it’s entertainment for the adults as well.”

Punch and Judy

Non-paying beachgoers weren’t playing ball – but they dug a hole for themselves

“Retains its charms”

The children seem enraptured by the performance and genuinely delighted by the antics. There’s also plenty of audience participation.

Joe says he loves coming to the town:

“Swanage is really important because it’s a traditional seaside resort and there are not many left. It retains its charms without being dated.”

Punch and Judy

Lucy and her two children loved the show

“Good old fashioned fun”

Lucy, from Epsom, was one of the spectators with children Thomas and Grace.

She said: “It’s great fun – good old fashioned silly fun. It’s nice to see the children laugh along at it.”

Another holidaymaker, Ben, aged 4, from Hertfordshire, said:

“It was really funny. I liked the policeman.”

Punch and Judy

Angela Wenham and grandchildren meet Joe and Punch

“Just what you want”

It’s not just holidaymakers who join in the fun. Angela Wenham, from Worth Matravers, said:

“I just think it’s lovely to have some old fashioned seaside entertainment. It’s just what you want on a summer’s day.”


Mr Punch takes a well-earned rest

“We’re here all day”

Kate Collen, a mother of three from Wareham, is undeterred.

She said:

“We met Joe because we have a beach hut every year. We’re here all day, every day, in the summer. So, I offered to be the collector. If he doesn’t have a collector, he can’t do it. And it’s usually a nice job to do.”

In the true tradition of the theatre – the show must go on. That’s the way to do it!

Punch and Judy

Share this story

Contact us

Do you have anything to add to this story?

We like to keep everything up-to-date, so if you know more, please help us by getting in touch.


Top stories

Locals aim for global success in Swanage pub takeover A group of Swanage friends who liked their local pub so much that they bought the tenancy are ready to return the Globe to its former glory. 2 weeks ago New funfair ride divides Swanage community 3 weeks ago Swanage fun park ride removed after controversy 2 weeks ago Man in Swanage has jaw broken in violent assault 1 month ago Miracle as school pupil survives 60 foot fall from Old Harry 4 weeks ago

Most recent

Swanage to give Blues music legend fitting send off The extraordinary life of the founder of the Swanage Blues Festival will be celebrated with a funeral service at the town’s Royal British Legion. 18 seconds ago Secrets of Purbeck’s smuggling past revealed in new book 1 day ago Flying the flag in Swanage for Coastwatch life savers 2 days ago Purbeck bans sale of new build properties as second homes 3 days ago Solar panels to boost Swanage Town Council’s energy 4 days ago