Punch’s sausages went first to the Web Theatre, Newtownards, Northern Ireland where they stretched right up the staircase and decorated several rooms. He was given more birthday cake, took part in the workshops and other activities and was a star guest in his own exhibition. He also performed for the day’s audiences courtesy of N. Ireland Professors Bill Haslett and Colin Parkhill and visiting guest Robert Styles.
In Covent Garden - right where Samuel Pepys first saw ‘Punch’ - a Big Booth was filled with the largest gathering of ‘Professors’ in history. Pulcinella from Naples presented Punch with a giant birthday card and a timeline string of 350 sausages was pulled out of his special cake. The sausages were sent off on tour round the UK along with the birthday card for as many people as possible to sign.
And so to Brighton where the sausage timeline was threaded through the audience. They then decorated the iconic Skylark pleasure boat beached outside the Fishing Museum to celebrate the opening of a new permanent Punch & Judy display and study room. Six ‘Professors’ performed over one weekend on a site associated with Mr. Punch since the early 1800s. The heritage information stall was kept very busy, puppet making workshops were held every hour, and there was plenty of opportunity to sign Mr. Punch’s birthday card or be photographed with it.
Meanwhile there were real sausages for the audience at Norwich Puppet Theatre’s ‘Picnic with Mr. Punch’ alongside other puppet shows, craft workshops, information and a special Punch & Judy masterclass by Martin Bridle of Hand To Mouth puppet company.
During the rest of the school summer term Mr. Punch amused and informed a great many children around the country. Sometimes he visited them in their classrooms and at other times they were brought on school trips to meet him and his exhibition. The sausages are in Brighton (R) and Morecambe (below)
Meanwhile down in Weymouth work was underway to create a Big Grin Punch & Judy sand sculpture at Sandworld with some help from a guest sculptor from Aardman Animations. Whilst back in Brighton there were also plenty of opportunities for enthusiastic adults to try and get to grips at first hand with our national puppet and give him new life.
And while most of the UK was suffering downpours and floods the Big Grin event with Morecambe Town Council enjoyed a localised heatwave. The sausages were taken to pose with the seafront statue in tribute to comic genius Eric Morecambe.
Morecambe Road School won the Punch and Judy art competition and there was much jollity in an iconic British seaside town.
And so to Wales once more dodging the downpours. The sausages draped the seafront bandstand where Prof. Bill Dane had organised the Welsh 325th birthday celebration. Bill bequeathed his puppets and booth to the local Ceridigion Museum where they are part of the 350th birthday exhibition running all summer. Robert Styles and Fagner Gastaldon animated Old Red Nose and Benjamin Hasker manned the information stall and made sure no crocodiles got the sausages.
In London the V&A Museum of Childhood opened the first public display of items from the George Speaight Archive to go alongside their permanent Punch and puppets displays for the summer and autumn. This was accompanied by the photographic exhibition ‘Punch Professors in England’ by artist Tom Hunter. A programme of puppet shows and drop-in activities ran all summer, followed by ‘Exploring Punch & Judy‘ education sessions which began in the autumn.
Some enterprising Profs added Big Grin pop-up events to their own schedules. Prof. Theo C. Cupier celebrated Punch’s Birthday giving shows and information leaflets at WOMAD - the World Music Festival celebrating its own 30th birthday - and Pete Milsom did likewise for the National Trust at their historic Lacock Abbey property.
Funny Wonders Community Group brought The Big Grin to the Buxton Puppet Festival where Prof Geoff Felix lectured on local Victorian virtuoso Prof. Henry Bailey and gave performances outside Buxton Opera House. The information stall Roadshow was there, with the sausages lining a pitch where Bailey himself had performed. A town heritage trail followed Bailey’s footsteps, Buxton Museum hosted a display and local children enjoyed puppet making workshops.
More events were happening over in Lincoln where the 6th Annual Punch & Judy Fair was a special three day 350 edition with top Profs and overseas performers courtesy of The Punch & Judy Fellowship as well as a Big Grin roadshow with all the trimmings.
And a week later in Weymouth the Big Grin was linked to the activities surrounding the Olympic Sailing events. So while Team GB’s Ben Ainslie won his fourth Gold and earned his place as Olympic flag carrier, Old Red Nose could remember the day and add it to the other memorable events recorded on his timeline of sausages. Joining Weymouth’s Prof Mark Poulton were Brian & Alison Davey, Reg (Prof. Goodvibes) Payn, Martin Bridle and Su Eaton, Joe Burns and Geoff Felix.
That same Bank Holiday weekend saw the 24th Annual Southend Puppet Festival join in the Big Grin fun. The visitor centre on the world’s longest pier gave Punch and Judy a prominent showcase.
The pier’s new cultural centre was home to a Punch & Judy display, drop-in activities and performances.
And there were Punch & Judy shows galore to entertain the pier promenaders.
During the school summer holidays fun and information went hand in hand at shows, talks, exhibitions, backstage tours and ‘meet the puppets’ sessions at Worthing Museum, Hove Museum & Art Gallery and on Brighton beach.
And if the beach was too far away, Daventry town centre played host to a pop-up event with Benjamin Hasker and the Big Grin Roadshow complete with deckchairs, information stall and the sausage timeline.
As the tour continued into September the weather still stayed sunny for Punch’s birthday. Midlands Punchman Derek Peasley took Old Red Nose to the Heritage Open Day event at the Museum of Cannock Chase. The sausages were produced from Derek’s booth before decorating part of the old pit-head wheel of this former colliery site. The craft activities workshop produced a steady stream of crocodiles, Punch & Judy decorations and Mr. Punch headbands. Inside the museum there was plenty of information about Punch and Judy to accompany the museum’s own toys collection.
And to complete the UK tour the sausages went to The Scottish Mark and Puppet Centre in Glasgow. Malcolm Knight and his team had already hosted a launch for Martin MacGilp’s groundbreaking book on Mr. Punch in Scotland and had also been visited by Irene Vecchia with Pulcinella from Naples.
Now it was two days of the birthday boy himself in the care of Prof. Robert Styles. All of this - accompanied by drop-in art activities and information display - brought the Big Grin 2012 Tour to an end. As the song says “It’s a long, long time from May to September”.
General celebrations continued until May 2014 when Punch turned 351. The next 350 years was about to begin....