Mel's Punch & Judy passion

By Laura Kearns Friday 02 August 2013 Updated: 02/08 14:39

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“THAT'S the way to do it!” A familiar cry on British sea fronts for many years.

Punch & Judy may seem somewhat dated in the computer age, but not to Wellesbourne entertainer and comedy magician Mel Harvey, who is spearheading a revival of the 350 year old art.

His passion for Punch and Judy, established when he first saw the show aged 6 in Weston-super-Mare, has led to a household full of puppets of Mr Punch, wife Judy, the Policeman and the Crocodile.

But he regularly packs them up and takes them for a trip to the seaside and elsewhere to perform.

Mr Punch is known to millions for knocking things on the head – literally - hitting whoever crosses his path with his stick while uttering the famous refrain "that's the way to do it".

But while there is no definitive Punch & Judy story, the show has changed in recent years to conform with more politically correct modern tastes.

The typically violent play has been performed in England since 1662 - having originated in Italy - when it was mentioned in Samuel Pepy's diary.

'Thence to see an Italian puppet play that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw', wrote Mr Pepys.

And Mel agreed wholeheartedly, and begged the late Guy Higgins, who had a permanent Punch and Judy show on Weymouth beach, to show him the strings, as it were..

He said: “A lot of people think Punch and Judy are dying out. I'm teaching the next generation of Punch Professors the trade to keep it going.”

One of his students now performs in a Dubai shopping centre after travelling from Damascus to study with Mel.

But Mel's first performance was a bit less exotic, in1970 at Pontin's, Southport.

The most difficult part of the training is learning how to 'swazzle'. Never heard of it? Neither had I. According to Mel it is the harsh, rasping voice, notorious to the character of Punch.

"To be classed as a Professor you must have mastered the swazzle. And you can't just learn to swazzle overnight."

After performing and teaching the show he moved on to collecting and restoring Punch & Judy puppets.

He now has more than 50 figures carved of wood and paper mache, along with some very rare models.

Mel understands some children may be a little scared after seeing Punch and his wife Judy going at each other like cat and dog, so after each performance he explains to them it was just a show and the characters are still alive and kicking.

He believes Punch and Judy is no longer a show just for children.

“Although the children are very responsive, I have found adults always laugh the loudest at my shows," added Mel.

Mel takes Punch & Judy all round the country, performing not just at the seaside, but everywhere from weddings to retirement homes.

He will be setting up stall at the Recreation Ground in Stratford on Wednesday August 7 during Stratford District Council’s Playday, which will also feature a climbing wall for the more adventurous, circus skills for those with a hidden talent, and half pipe for the skaters, and more unusual games such as welly wanging.

The free event - part of a national celebration of children's right to play and aims to highlight the importance of play in children's lives - runs from 10am to 4pm at the Bandstand.

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