'The Big Grin' comes to Buxton
May 2012 marked the 350th birthday of Punch & Judy (P&J) in the UK: it was first mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys in 1662. To celebrate, events took place all over the country from May to October in a project called “The Big Grin”, co-ordinated by PuppetLink and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Funny Wonders presented the Buxton events which took place during the Buxton Puppet Festival 2012.
Buxton formed a special part of this national celebration as what is believed to be the first ever moving image film of a P&J show, recorded in 1901, was performed by a Buxton-based Professor, namely Henry Bailey, who lived on Bennett Street and 'The Big Grin' wanted to celebrate this. The delightful little film allows today’s performers and public to see the skills of a Victorian Punch Professor at the top of the game: it still entertains despite being silent. We continue to research Henry and his family – if you have any information please get in touch.
We presented a variety of activities during the week. This included showing the film with a small exhibition at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery detailing the history of P&J and Henry Bailey. Geoff Felix, a P&J Professor and Historian, also gave a lecture telling the fascinating story of Henry Bailey and his family; his father James was regarded as the best Punch-man of the Victorian Era.
Geoff also gave free P&J Show street performances in front of the Buxton Opera House. These attracted large audiences and he gave an extra show to appease the demand which he dedicated to Bailey. The screaming delight of the children and begrudged laughter of the adults shows Punch & Judy is still able to entertain all ages and is seemingly untouched by political correctness or censoring.
We organised a Heritage Town Trail around Buxton linking activities, locations to recreate photographs Henry taken in Buxton in the 19th Century and other places of interest for the Bailey family. We also ran a P&J puppet-making workshop as part of the Festival programme and made light box installations for shop windows around the town with different Punch characters and scenes. Trail-walkers were invited to find the boxes with their locations only indicated by a dot on the map. We thank the participating shops which can now be revealed: Scrivener's Books, Potters, Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, David Russell art shop, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, W Appleyard & Son toy shop, CR Clowes & Son chemists.
Light Installation Boxes
There were lots of participants for the workshop where we made glove puppets of some of the Punch characters – I recall some wonderful Mr Punchs, Judys, clowns, devils, ghosts and crocodiles. There was also the opportunity to perform in a show tent although this often declined into a boxing match in true Punch & Judy style.
'That's The Way To Do It' Workshop
“The Big Grin” Roadshow made it to Buxton for the Friday of the Puppet Festival and set up on the Pavilion Gardens promenade. Amongst other activities, the public were invited to take photos as the puppets, sign Mr Punch’s six-foot-tall 350th Birthday Card and see the longest string of sausages one might ever see.
Projects > The Big Grin