February 24, 2017


The Punch and Judy Man – 1963 | 96mins | Comedy | Colour


Plot Synopsis

The Punch and Judy Man

It is the end of the summer season at Piltdown, a small southern coastal town. Tony Hancock plays Wally Pinner (the Punch and Judy Man), who lives over a souvenir shop run by his wife Delia (Sylvia Syms). Wally’s friends, the Sandman (who sculpts figures in the sand), and Nevil (the street photographer), are snubbed socially by the locally important figures. This is one of the reasons for the strained relationship between Wally and his wife Delia, who has social aspirations. The Council plans an official reception for Lady Jane Caterham (Barbara Murray), who is to switch on the illuminations, and at the Mayoress’s suggestion invite Wally to present his Punch and Judy Show at the gala dinner. He is reluctant to appear, but Delia is anxious to increase her social standing, and she and the Sandman pressurise Wally into giving a performance. At the reception the mayor makes a speech on the balcony outside the town hall, and Hancock’s friend from his pre-war days, George Fairweather, can be seen briefly as a heckler at the front of the crowd. At the gala dinner, the Punch and Judy show is at first ignored by the diners until a drunk starts to heckle Punch, A bun-fight develops. However, the dinner degenerates into a bun-fight, and when Lady Jane rounds on Wally, Delia knocks her out with a strong punch to the jaw. Her chance of being accepted socially has gone, but she and Wally come to a better understanding and acceptance of each other.

In the opening sequence, played with very little dialogue, Hancock and Syms give a penetrating demonstration of breakfast in the house of a couple whose marriage is breaking up. After some altercations, Wally makes his way out through the souvenir shop. In a moment of malice he picks up a spotted china pig and a bunch of flowers. Originally the flowers were meant to go into its snout, but ‘It’s not strong enough’ said Hancock, ‘they have to go up its arse’. So a china pig was constructed with a suitable orifice, and in the film Wally rams the flowers up it with every appearance of malicious satisfaction.

Despite the flaws in this underrated film, largely caused by difficulties on the set with Hancock, and the director’s imperfect grasp of comic tempo, the result is a pleasant, quiet, and sometimes sad comedy with several very effective sequences. The interesting thing about The Punch and Judy Man is that it works rather better on television than it does in the cinema, perhaps because Hancock’s performance is underplayed in cinema terms. There are flawed moments, but much of it is good, with an overall effect of fairly gentle and well-observed comedy. In one scene Wally finds himself trapped by a rainstorm in the company of a small boy (Nicholas Webb) who has been hanging round the Punch and Judy show. They go into an ice-cream parlour, and Wally treats the boy to an expensive ice cream concoction with a cherry on top. Not to be out-done, Wally has one too, and a long mime sequence follows with Wally, unsure of the etiquette of eating such exotic food, watching the boy carefully before imitating every move. In the end, with an expression of triumph, he throws the cherry in the air and neatly catches it in his mouth. Seen on television, it is an excellent and relaxed piece of ‘business’, and not a moment too long. Overall, however, the film is very enjoyable, and as Sylvia Syms recalled in a later radio interview, it is only a pity that Hancock could not have been persuaded to let well alone instead of running good ideas into the ground by trying too hard to perfect them.

Production Team

Jeremy Summers: Director
Gilbert Taylor: Cinematography
Gordon Pilkington: Editing
Derek Scott: Original Music
Don Banks: Original Music
Gordon LT Scott: Producer
Phillip Oakes: Script
Tony Hancock: Script


Tony Hancock: Wally Pinner
Sylvia Syms: Delia Pinner
Ronald Fraser: Mayor Palmer
Barbara Murray: Lady Jane Caterham
John Le Mesurier: The Sandman
Hattie Jacques: Dolly Zarathusa
Mario Fabrizi: Nevil Shanks
Hugh Lloyd: Edward Cox

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