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The Codmans - Liverpool's Punch & Judy family

In 1860 Richard Codman, woodcarver, puppet showman and musician, arrived in Liverpool and was awarded a prime site on an open cobbled square known as the “Quadrant” between the market and Lime Street Station.  Professor Codman, as he was known, began entertaining the people of Liverpool on a regular basis with his ‘Punch and Judy’ puppet shows.

History tells us that Mr. Punch arrived in England in the reign of Charles II, after Cromwell’s austere rule. His name is derived from the Italian "pulcinella" .. soon shortened for English audiences to "Mr. Punch". Unlike today’s performances, the original was a marionette, dancing and cavorting on strings. When Punch’s popularity began to wane, he became a glove puppet, with a host of other characters, and what had begun as a fairly unwieldy marionette theatre, with a crew of assistants became a one man travelling show. In those early days there were a variety of different plots, depending on who put on a show, but soon one version became the standard. Punch and Judy became a tale of marital disharmony and challenges to authority - hence the policeman! And just as now, performances over the years have been both topical and satirical, with guest appearances by the stars of the day.

Bert Codman
Crowd watching the show in St Georges Square

The Punch and Judy show stood in  the square at St Georges Place from the 19th century up until 1957 when they decided to make a huge traffic roundabout which went around St George’s Hall, the show was literally in the way. "There was a big hoohaa about retaining it, but of course the authorities won in the end and suggested an alternative site, which was St George’s Plateau.

A crowd gathers to watch the Punch and Judy Show in the square in St Georges Place.
Punch & Judy with guest star Bessie Braddock MP on St Georges Pateau.
Professor Codman Quotes !

"In my early days, I pestered my father to such an extent that he gave in and I used to sit inside on a box watching him.
"It was incredible the things I watched, arms and legs flying up in the air and goodness knows what.
"Punch always has his stick.
"Slapstick is a pantomime thing. Two pieces of wood with a little bit in the middle that made a slapping sound. Or that’s the way to do it, I should say.

"It’s not an actual voice, but a swazzle was used in the original shows and it’s still used in our shows.

The St Georges Square site and the Plateau (left across the road) where the show
was to moved to

A photograph of Toby the dog, a major star of the Punch and Judy show

"The show was eventually moved to Williamson Square until they received a request to go to the Museum of Liverpool Life, which is where it is today."

Punch and Judy in Williamson Square in front of the playhouse

The characters in a Punch and Judy show are not fixed as in a Shakespeare play, for instance. They are similar to the cast of a soap opera or a folk tale like Robin Hood. While the principal characters must appear, the lesser characters are included at the discretion of the performer. New characters may be added as the tradition evolves, and older characters dropped.

Along with Punch and Judy, the cast of characters usually includes their baby, a hungry crocodile, a clown, an officious policeman, and a prop string of sausages. The devil and the generic hangman Jack Ketch may still make their appearances but, if so, Punch will always get the better of them. The cast of a typical Punch and Judy show today will include:

Mr. Punch
The Baby
The Constable
Joey the Clown
The Crocodile
The Skeleton
The Doctor

Characters once regular but now occasional include:
Toby the Dog
Pretty Polly
The Hangman (a.k.a. Jack Ketch)

Mr. Scaramouche
Characters only seen in a historical re-enactment performance include:
The Servant (or "The Minstrel")

The Blind Man
Other characters included Boxers, Chinese Plate Spinners, topical figures, a trick puppet with an extending neck (the "Courtier") and a monkey. A live Dog Toby which sat on the playboard and performed 'with' the puppets was once a regular featured novelty routine

Bob Edwards
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