In May, 1662, Pietro Gimonde and his puppet put on a show at London's Covent Garden. Five months later and they would be performing in front of King Charles II, himself.
Although 'Gimonde' may no longer be a household name, his puppet has gone on to achieve unprecedented fame. That puppet's name? Pulcinella, more commonly known as Punch.
The Birth of Punch
After his early breakthrough, Pulcinella went from strength to strength. He left Gimonde in the rear-view mirror, changed his name, married and turned into a superstar.
Soon, however, the fame went to his head. He became notorious for disrupting other puppets' shows and frequently got into fights with the devil.
And the crowds loved it.
So much so, in fact, that when, in 1773, Samuel Foot tried to stage a puppet show without him in, the audience revolted, tearing up benches on opening night.
His infamy grew so great that he was soon performing all over Europe, as Polichinelle in France, Kasperle in Southern Germany and Austria, Karakoz in Turkey and Petrushka in Russia.
Sometimes, his wife, Joan, would travel with him; sometimes she wouldn't. She was a performer, too, but their career as a double-act wasn't to kick-off until she, too, changed her name.
Judy Joins the Show
Around 1825, Joan became Judy, and Punch and Judy was born. Along with their flesh and blood dog, Toby, they became stars of print and stage. Even Charles Dickens was a fan, describing their show as, 'one of those extravagant reliefs from the realities of life'.
In the late 19th Century, the duo finally conquered America, arriving in San Francisco in 1867, and going on to tour much of this previously uncharted territory.
Where they found their greatest success, however, was not in the States, but on the beaches of England. They became a staple of Victorian seaside entertainment, lighting up the pier for thousands of revellers during the August Bank Holiday (newly introduced in 1871).
Things were not all plain-sailing for our superstars, however. They soon found that fame came with strings attached.
Bright Lights, Dark Times (For Puppets)
The tabloids began to argue that their show trivialised violence and domestic abuse. Punch and Judy said it was just a silly show, but their was no denying that public opinion was changing. And, not only this, but a new beast was on the rise. Film. Cinema. TV.
The duo tried to keep up with the times. They appeared on television, once or twice; they stopped fighting with the devil and took to beating up a crocodile, instead; but, there was no denying that their popularity was fading fast.
The subsequent decades were mostly years of decline. Punch and Judy remained stalwarts at beach towns and village fairs, but they were no longer the stars they had once been.
A Fitting Swan Song
This is not to say that they were forgotten, however. In 2006, they received one final honour to cap over three centuries of performances. A poll, voted on by the British public, crowned them a national icon.
They could hold their heads high... with the help of someone else's fingers, of course.
Punch and Judy's Covent Garden origins are today commemorated in the form of a stone plaque, found on the outside of St Paul's Church, and in a Covent Garden pub- aptly named 'Punch and Judy Covent Garden'- which can be found in the market in the centre of the square.
One more thing...
Punch and Judy puppeteers are known as Professors, and were apparently given permission to use this prestiguous title by the King.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our Treasure Hunts in London - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of London.