Punch and Judy on Swanage beach

Are you sitting comfortably, children? Then Mr Punch will begin. And so the show starts, another of the thrice daily performances on Swanage beach this summer that have been keeping youngsters entertained, parents bemused and passers-by recalling the days when nearly all British seaside holiday spots boasted a Punch and Judy booth. The warm-up music’s tinny and brash, the ensuing plots corny and predictable, but the children’s laughter is timeless.

Behind the scenes at the Swanage Punch and Judy is 29-year-old ‘professor’ Joe Burns, who has helped keep the tradition alive. His is one of just three official Punch and Judy acts still operating in England, and the past 18 months have been a very tough time for them during the Covid crisis. And this summer he was in the news (Mail Online, That’s not the way to do it!) after a few visitors refused to pay to watch the show and swore at his assistant, or “bottler”.

But the show goes on. Punch and Judy operators rely solely on audience donations to cover their overheads, such as paying for a licence to perform on the beach, paying staff and trying to make a living themselves. “My ambition is to make people’s day at the beach,” says Joe.