Punch & Judy diplomas: puppeteers get serious

Britain's top Punch and Judy puppeteers have set up their own ``College of Professors'' to maintain the hallowed traditions of a show that has been delighting children for more than 300 years. Since placing an advertisement in The Times (London), eight leading exponents of the art have been flooded with inquiries from the country's 200 puppeteers.

There are, however, strict rules for any one seeking a diploma from this newly founded college.

``The puppets must be traditionally dressed and the show performed in the traditional booth,'' says organizer John Styles, a roving Punch and Judy ambassador who has performed his show from Dallas, TX to Amman, Jordan.

When starting up the college, Mr. Styles and his fellow puppeteers said they ``wished His Impudence, Mr. Punch, a continuation of the popularity he has hitherto enjoyed throughout the reign of 16 monarchs.''

The character is based on a 15th-century actor in Naples called Pulcinella, a cheerful, witty iconoclast who delighted in being rude and thumbing his nose at authority. Mr. Punch traditionally has a squeaky voice, obtained through the ``swazzle,'' a metal and reed squeaker that the showman holds in his mouth.

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