Who's Who?

Professor Rod Burnett

1954 - 2017


Rod began his life with Punch on the local beaches, fairs and fetes of Devon in the 1970s.

His initial influences were based mainly on the artist Vernon Rose’s show, together with Martin Bridle’s faded memories of Frank Edmond’s show at Weymouth, and with the spirit of Punch in mind rather than any specific traditional routines or methods. He was also aware of those performers who could be termed “the revival” - Major Mustard and Caz, The Greatest Show on Legs, Dan Bishop, and Cornwall’s Doc Shiels.

During that first year he performed on local beaches, often without permission. In those days he took care to try and preserve an air of mystery about who the performer was-a rather romantic idea, and one which changed completely in later years. Rod’s style evolved into one where he became the centre of attention, before and after the show. His big voice, charming manner and handsome presence ensured that everyone came away remembering who it was who had performed the show. This was his solution to one of the many paradoxes of professional Punch, which is that although a good show relies on a good performer, the audience rarely remembers the showman.

His international reputation was, by the time of his death, considerable. Twenty six years ago he performed in Segovia in Spain to perform at the Titerimundi festival. It was his first show abroad, and he performed there annually ever since. Indeed he was due to perform there again this year, a week after he died.

Along the way he picked up shows all over the world, including South America, but it was in Europe that he was particularly influential. He taught puppets and Punch to theatre students, and in this way his influence is sure to resonate into the future.

Rod had a first class degree in Fine Art and he chose to use his considerable talents to make a career in puppet theatre. He would have loved to perform his other more delicate and artistic shows abroad much more often than he did, but the attraction of Punch, and his presentation in particular, was overwhelming from the bookers point of view. He embraced this position, especially in later years, and proudly made his Punch show a celebration of a particular image of the eccentric Englishman abroad.

Tanya said at the funeral that Rod had joked that on his tombstone he’d like the words “That was the way to do it”. All who encountered Rod and his show would agree with that !