A College? Well, what better name for a group of ‘Professors’, even though it claims to be “as academic as a school of whales and as organized as a string of sausages?”
Founded at a meeting of leading performers in the Punch Tavern in Fleet St in 1985 – and launched with an announcement in The Times - its aim has remained to promote and encourage the highest standards in performance and presentation of the show.
As well as expecting individual members to live up to its aims the College has itself been at the heart of many significant projects on behalf of Mr. Punch.
It published a tribute to the star of the show on his 325th birthday, launched a series of searches to discover ‘The Most Promising Young Prof’, and mounted a number of international festivals of traditional puppetry.
College members devised and performed ‘An Audience with Punch & Judy’ and ‘Lunch with Mr. Punch’ for the London International Mime Festival at BAC and the Royal Festival Hall.
The College presented a ‘Slapstick Symposium’ as part of the Millennium Punch & Judy Jamboree, and later hosted a ‘Parliament of Fools’ as part of the dynamics07 puppet festival. The Slapstick Symposium papers can be downloaded here.
The College partnered Royal Holloway, University of London, in overseeing a landmark doctoral PhD thesis by Martin Reeve on ‘Contemporary Punch & Judy in performance’.
Mr. Punch also brought several individual College members into contact with royalty. Most notably when one of them was awarded an MBE ‘for services to the arts: especially Punch & Judy’
The College was instrumental in Mr. Punch himself being awarded a Guinness World Record on the occasion of his 350th birthday. The award was accepted on behalf of all Punch performers everywhere both past and present.
As part of the 350th birthday celebrations the College produced ‘Punch - A Living Tradition’ a film documentation of their approach to life with Mr. Punch. This is included in the triple DVD ‘The Big Grin Collection’ which accompanied the year-long national celebration.
The V&A recently commissioned a short film for their website featuring the College on the theme of future developments in Punch and Judy. It was shot ‘backstage’ at the College’s own filming and can be seen here.
The College also lobbies tirelessly against misrepresentation of the tradition in the media and vigorously rebutts any ill-informed journalistic stories. It also defends the intellectual copyright of its members where this is infringed to the detriment of Mr. Punch.
The College crest, adapted from the design for the Joker found in an old pack of playing cards, either represents Mr. Punch with the world at his feet, or Mr. Punch giving the world a kick in the seat of its pants.
The meaning is not always apparent at first sight – just as with the show itself.