Friday, March 21, 2014

Mr. Punch in the Arts: G. Hadfield’s Sheffield Champion Punch & Judy

G, Hadfield's Sheffield Champion Punch & Judy
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This print is a mid-Nineteenth Century reproduction of a pen and ink sketch titled “G. Hadfield's Sheffield Champion, Punch and Judy.” Depicted is a Punch and Judy fit-up (booth), within which are suspended a row of gentleman hanged from their necks--evidently unconscious or , worse, dead. Well, that’s not very cheerful. Is it?

No, but it is somehow fitting. After all, Punch was able to beat Jack Ketch, the hangman, as well as the Devil, but these gents seem to have not been so cunning. Oh, speaking of the Devil…

To the left of the chandelier of corpses is the Devil himself with his lovely pitchfork. Before the Devil, downstage, we see another figure. This bloke wears our Mr. Punch's cap and has affected the famous “punchinello hump” which has been marked “TELEGRAPH.”

Ah, we’re making a statement, are we? It seems we are. You see, this is also fitting. Despite his slapstick antics and anarchic glee, Mr. Punch has always been a way of communicating social issues and a need for reform of one sort or another. In fact, the basis of the show has always been something of a satire on current conditions.

So, let’s look at our faux-Punch a little more closely. This ersatz Punchinello carries a club marked 'Truth and Honesty under his left arm. He is depicted smoking a cigar as he states "We have settled them all, Tear'em.”

How odd. What could it mean? This comment is addressed to a dog-like who is meant to be Punch’s canine chum, Toby. But, he’s no more Toby than this fellow is Punch. This grotesque figure is smoking a pipe and wears a collar marked “TEAR'EM.”

The two figures perform for I a group of living gentlemen in top hats and caps who have gathered to watch. Some of them comment, "Look at Bobby Stainton and Little Nadin" and "It's all o'er lads".

So, what’s it all about, Punchy? The Punch-like figure marked TELEGRAPH is meant to resemble the editor of the “Daily Telegraph” newspaper, Edward Levy-Lawson, 1st Baron Burnham (28 December 1833 - 9 January 1916). Levy-Lawson acted together with Thornton Leigh Hunt, as editor of the paper from 1855-1873.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure to precisely what this is referring because it’s undated and by an unknown artist. My guess, however, is that it is an editorial cartoon which makes light of the change of the “Daily Telegraph” from a Liberal point of view to a Conservative point of view in 1879 under the leadership of Levy-Lawson and Thornton Hunt. I could be wrong. Similarly, this seems to involve the alignment of the Telegraph with radical politician George Hadfield who had a reputation for being a troublemaker. I don’t quite know about the reference to Bobby Stainton.

This print, like most of the Punch & Judy ephemera at the V&A, is part of the George Speaight Punch & Judy Collection.

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