Beside the Seaside, an exhibition of historic photographs of British coastal towns, opens at the  museum this week. The exhibition will also showcase five Punch and Judy puppets from the museum's collections. Research carried out into manuscripts relating to the puppets in the Caird Library has helped me to discover the intriguing story behind the puppets and their owner, and to bring this story to life in the exhibition. F9191_sml.jpgPunch and Judy puppets in the NMM collection.Punch and Judy shows are of great importance to the social history of
the British seaside. The show has been a typical feature of seaside
entertainment since the mid-Victorian era, when the railways brought
increasing numbers of visitors to Britain's resorts. Charles Dickens,
who spent part of his life in the seaside town of Broadstairs, was a
fan of the show. Two Punch and Judy men, Short and Codlin, appear as
minor characters in The Old Curiosity Shop.  The five
puppets in the exhibition come from a large collection of puppets and
props which were acquired by the museum in 2001. We acquired a
selection of manuscripts from the same source, which are as yet
uncatalogued.  Among these manuscripts I found a vast array of
puppet-related ephemera: pamphlets advertising shows, photographs,
flyers, and newspaper articles.From this material I learnt that the puppets had belonged to Deptford resident and ex Punch and Judy man, Peter Butchard, who began performing in Broadstairs after his retirement from a variety of banking and Civil Service jobs. After many summer seasons at Viking Bay in the Kentish resort, Butchard took his show around the world, performing to children in Greece, New Zealand and Australia. Among the magazine and newspaper articles which Butchard had collected about his performances, I found a lovely 1965 article from the Australian Woman's Weekly which featured colour photographs of Peter along with the puppets from our collection. I learnt that our puppets had appeared in a 1975 film adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop staring David Hemmings, and that Butchard was on set at Pinewood Studios as a historical advisor. In numerous press interviews, Butchard claimed that his puppets were over 150 yeas old.  Nicky Yates, the museum's textile conservator thinks this is highly likely, judging by the type and condition of the fabrics which used in Mr Punch's costume. If this is the case, Butchard's puppets would have first been used only decades after the script was first published in England in 1826 by John Payne Collier, with illustrations by the famous cartoonist George Cruikshank. The show originated in Italy, and became part of a repertoire of British folk theatre after it was brought to England in 1662 by the Bolognese puppeteer, Pietro Gimonde. One of the most touching aspects of our Punch and Judy story is highlighted by the scores of letters I found, written by children to thank 'Uncle Peter' for his performances at their schools and birthday parties. He was evidently much loved by generations of children around the country. Peter Butchard gave his last performance in Greenwich at the age of 90 in 1999. Peter is now 99, and we are very much hoping that he'll be able to come and see his puppets in Beside the Seaside.Jude (Exhibitions)