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The Punch and Judy Fellowship

For some, the May Fayre is a day of affirmation, a day to show that Punch is alive and well. For others it is an occasion to greet friends and remember, or perhaps garner a few ideas and maybe buy something. For the children, who can happily accept something extraordinary as normal, its a day of enjoyment. Indeed, the May Fayre is extraordinary. Its a vibrant pot of eccentricity splashed across a grey city wall. As adults we have grown to accept this as a marker in our lives, and here we all were again, on a rather cold Sunday.

The Rev. Simon Buckley was invited to preach his puppet based sermon during the morning service this year as there was no special service. Simon started his performing career with Punch so this was an excellent choice. His theme was 'The Prodigal Son' and, in a very nice touch, the Rev. Simon Grigg of St. Paul's had a special programme printed to mark the occasion. The outside procession was led by the Superior Brass Band whose rumbustious, jazz sound was perfect for Punch. The Lost Marbles string Band performed throughout the day.

This year I counted twenty Punch booths. Bryan Clarke, who with his wife Dorothy performed for many years on Lowestoft beach, now holds the record of making more Punch figures than Wal Kent. Next to him was Justin Tai from Leamington who is looking forward to his fourth season at Broadstairs. Paul Wheeler from the Isle of Wight, along with his family, had to make a very early start to catch the ferry and had to leave early having done one show. Paul was using the proscenium from Michael Byrom's show, a nice historical touch. Mark Poulton from Paignton is now about to start his sixth season at Weymouth and his twenty-first as a full time showman. Together with David Wilde of York, Mark was one of the two Punchman there that has been presented to the Queen.

Next came myself having had at last got my boxing routine together as a prelude to the show. Next  were David Wilde and James Arnott who as well as doing shows, ran their successful second hand puppet stall. David performed his unique rabbit routine and James revived Hector the Horse. James now owns a fine Tickner Punch. Chris Gasper appeared along with young Joseph Peek and his family. It really is encouraging to see young people taking up the show as the future lies in their hands and Chris has been very supportive. Gary Wilson and Joe Burns had splendid new prosceniums as did Glyn Edwards (now at Brighton and Worthing) with his new 'photographic' proscenium. Glyn is, I believe, the last remaining veteran of the Tercentenary and along with Clive Chandler (also performing) has been busy preparing for 2012. Another welcome newcomer making his debut, was Jonathan Young who was there with his father.

Alix Booth had a show with Punch that also incorporated Three Billy Goats Gruff together with an appearance from Gordon Brown! Pete Maggs as usual kicked off the proceedings. Pete comes from one of the oldest Punch families in the business and uses some antique figures in a blissfully irreverent show. Miraiker Battey, who along with her husband Peter, does shows in Suffolk, has worked hard to encourage others. Their son Martin performed at the October festival and would have done again here had he not swallowed his swazzle! Miraiker allowed seven year old Tommy Bradshaw to do an impromptu boxing match in her booth at the end of her show.

Martin Bridle returned to the May Fayre again after a ten years. He has been doing puppetry in schools and expressed some trepidation at doing Punch again after such a long break. He needn't have worried. His show with its laid back, fag smoking, wisecracking dog and unique round proscenium was very well received. Brian and Alison Davey completed the circle of performers on the green and Paul Tuck with Punch and Leslie King with marionettes at the side of the Church completed the number of theatres. Young Dan Slater did a show in Justin Tai's booth. There were two Pulcinella shows: Philippe Saumont from France and Marco Salza from Italy. Philippe's show incorporated a chicken which got plucked and shot through the air, something I have never seen before. It was very amusing and I just hope he got his chicken back! Both had just come from a puppet festival organized by Philippe in France.

It is incredible really and a great credit to Alternative Arts, that they have created a festival where people come from all over the world to give their services essentially for free, or for the bottle. It was tricky really getting twenty half hour shows into five hours. But this was managed with more than one show going at the same time so that everyone had a chance.

However this festival isn't just about Punch, although it was his birthday which by tradition is marked by the first reference to him by Samuel Pepys in 1662. Root and Branch theatre were performing at the side of the Church, Chris Somerville did impromptu marionetting with Poppet and a clown from the Harlequin Theatre, Randolph the Remarkable did an act involving a washing-up bowel, some water, and a lot of panache and Len Belmont did alfresco ventriloquism. Bubbles the Monkey and Ozzy McClean entertained with balloons and Terry Herbert did a monkey puppet routine as a warm up for Bryan Clarke's show. Also seen were Mitch Mitchelson with his Commedia puppet and a man with a live parrot on his shoulder!

Outside the Church, Donna Maria launched her International Spectacular onto the crowd corralling her girls around the Maypole. If foreign jaws drop at this particularly English activity so much the better. Donna Maria may you never change!

Clowns - Gingernut, Magic Mark, Professor Crump and Salvo were on hand to provide humour, photo opportunities and magic during the day. The Pearly Kings and Queens were also in attendance.

Media coverage was provided by 'Hot under the collar T.V.' a production company that provided a short film for Reuters. They interviewed Bryan Clarke and Clive Chandler. Bryan had earlier done an interview on Saturday morning for B.B.C. Radio 6. Peter Stedman was busy filming a video for 'YouTube'.   Also this year Laurent Maillet was commissioned by the PJF to take photos for their forthcoming book.

Punch men attending without shows were: Konrad Fredericks, Robert Styles, Mark Andrews (Secretary of the PJF), Barrie Hartley, Katey Edwards, Lee Redwood, Denise Pettit, David Wilde (from York), Teddy Corden, Paul Jackson, Gary Trimby, Carl Durbin, Pat Plant, Ian Bradshaw and Peter and Martin Battey. Jose Navarro came over from Spain and Chris van der Craats came again from Australia. Two Equity representatives were there together with Peter Baldwin the actor and President of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild and Barry Hartley the editor of the Guild newsletter.

There were also a large number of puppeteers. These included: Richard Robinson who, with his poster for the May Fayre, successfully predicted a hung parliament and added a duck house to boot, Mary Turner and Wolfgang Manthey, veterans of many Gerry Anderson productions, David Ross, Peter and Sylvia Peasgood, Neenagh Watson, Marcus Clarke and Helena Smee (Marcus won the 2009 kids BAFTA award for Bookaboo), Ian Allen from Playboard Puppets, Ray and Joan Da Silva, Olly Taylor, Matt Hutchinson, Lynn Robertson-Bruce, Warwick Brownlow, Phil Fletcher, Dave Showler and Ronnie le Drew who is now currently writing his autobiography.

On the north green Keith Barnes ran puppet making workshops all day. There were a number of stalls, some producing excellent food, others for the Church and some puppet related. These included The Guild manned by Peter Charlton, The PJF manned by Wilma Tucker and Sharon Trimby, Everetts Toy Theatres, Pollocks and the Little Angel Theatre.

The weather was cold and this dampened spirits initially but the standard of performance was good. One well known puppeteer remarked that there wasn't a bad show there and that the children continued to be delighted even after numerous performances. There were large audiences of adults too, appreciating the finer points.

Thanks are due to all at St. Paul's Church for providing the venue. The late Rev. Arrowsmith with great foresight helped create this event with Maggie Pinhorn and Alternative Arts to whom thanks are also due. These things don't happen overnight and Maggie has always been there for us. So thank you everyone who continues to make this day special.

Geoff Felix

Report on the 2010 Covent Garden May Fayre by Geoff Felix

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