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Mr. Punch's 150 Year Long Career


We love the season in Llandudno. There’s sea, sun, sand, and the sound of delighted children. Whether it’s gorgeous hotels, the fantastic half-mile long pier, pristine beaches, fantastic dining, donkey rides, Venue Cymru, or the longest running Punch and Judy show in the UK, Llandudno has got so much for everyone this holiday season – and we are so lucky that our seafront Bed and Breakfast in Llandudno is perfectly situated to be central to it all.

Punch and Judy in Llandudno is the phenomenal effort of the Codman family who have ran the performance for 150 years. The show was the brainchild of one Richard Codman, who came to Llandudno in 1860. Of Romany descent, Richard was a travelling entertainer that played a banjo and fiddle at fairs, sometimes taking part in bare-knuckle fights; all in the name of entertainment.

He met his wife Charlotte Asker of a circus family based in Birmingham and indeed wed the lady– the happy couple inheriting the perfect gift; a showman’s caravan driven by two horses. And indeed, they went to work. Charlotte and Richard Codman travelled around fairs using this gift, but experienced a setback when just outside Llandudno, one of the horses died. The resort was still being built at the time, and Richard impressively used his initiative to find something to do and some way to make money – given the fact that he could not afford to just buy more horses.

As he was walking the beach, he picked up some driftwood, carving and whittling it until it became his Punch and Judy puppets. Amazingly, these well-cared for, well-maintained 150-year old puppets are still used today. Yet, that’s not the end of the story. Originally, Richard’s show experienced some problems. The mastermind behind Llandudno’s transformation into a seaside resort- the then Lord Mostyn- would not allow the performance to take place on the Promenade, (Reasons vary, but more than a few sources state that the estate had little care for the volume of the performance.) Unperturbed, Richard set up his show at the site of the Empire Hotel. At the time, the area hosted shops – and it was Richard’s aim to catch the local miners who would be rowing visitors ashore.

Richard’s efforts and perseverance paid off, and he won the right to perform on the prom after giving Lord Mostyn’s Improvement Committee their very own Punch and Judy show. From his hard-fought for position on Llandudno’s gorgeous seafront, Richard entertained visitors including Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, and the Duke of Westminster. Interestingly, when the Queen of Romania stayed in Llandudno, she had his pitch moved so she could watch the performance through her bedroom window!

As Richard retired, he passed on his puppets to his son Herbert who took over the Llandudno pitch in 1910. Bert expanded the business – placing pitches by the pier at Colwyn Bay and the promenade of Rhos on Sea, and was well known for using his beloved dog Toby as part of the performance.

Toby was purchased from St John’s market in Liverpool in 1949, for 7/6d. (Just over a pound in today’s money!) Toby often played the part of Mr. Punch’s dog, and is noted to happily pose for photographers and children while wearing sunglasses and “smoking” cigarettes. The bond between the pair was that strong that Bert died only two days after Toby, in 1969.
Bert was succeeded by his son Jack, whom took over the Llandudno pitch in 1961. He entertained children for a little under 20 years with his performances, and the shows were then kept alive by varying friends of the family. Morris Millband provided entertainment for children until 1982, and then visiting professors such as the 16year old Mark Poulton in 1988 provided their own takes on the Punch and Judy Show. During this time, Jack’s 73 year-old widow Anne organized the shows.

From the early 1990s Jack’s daughter, Jacqueline Millband-Codman fronted the show for her husband Morris, with their son recently taking up the reigns from 2006. As of 2015, Jason Millband-Codman is the last remaining Codman professor, performing regularly in Llandudno at the same site as his great, great grandfather Richard.

What’s changed since Richard’s days? Not much. It’s as popular now as it was years ago; with the reason that the show being reduced to 35 minutes in length (from well over an hour) is parent’s attention spans. The Llandudno show still features the traditional hanging scene – though with a small adjustment. Today the term “Pulling the string” rather than “hanging” is used – but the rest of the show retains it’s original script, without adjustment or amendment.

The fact the show is so popular even today, officially the world’s longest-running Punch and Judy Show — indicates that traditional seaside shows indeed still have a place in the hearts of domestic and foreign holidaymakers. The Codman’s show is as synonymous with Llandudno as a bucket and spade or fish and chips, and we’re certain that it’s going to last another 150 years.

[Image Credit: Deadmanjones | CC BY-NC 2.0 ]