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Punch and Judy Man, The (1962)


Main image of Punch and Judy Man, The (1962)
DirectorJeremy Summers
Production CompaniesMacConkey, Associated British Picture Corporation
ProducerGordon L.T. Scott
ScreenplayPhilip Oakes
 Tony Hancock
Original ideaTony Hancock
Director of PhotographyGilbert Taylor
MusicDerek Scott
 Don Banks

Cast: Tony Hancock (Wally); Sylvia Syms (Delia); Ronald Fraser (Mayor); Barbara Murray (Lady Jane); John Le Mesurier (Sandman); Hugh Lloyd (Edward)

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A Punch and Judy man in a small seaside town, is invited to take part in the municipal gala celebrations. Although he despises the mayor, his social-climbing wife accepts on his behalf - and he goes along with this in order to save his marriage.

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Several themes permeate this Tony Hancock vehicle, made at a time when the comedian was moving from the BBC to ITV, trying to broaden his range and use new writers.

The opening scene shows a decaying marriage, a childless couple kept together by force of habit, which we now know reflected Hancock's real life. Also decaying is the seaside town, evoked by changeable weather, plastic macs, ice-cream parlours and 'folk' entertainers. Wally (Hancock) and his comrades represent those entertainers, the traditional set against slightly corrupt petty bureaucracy. The name Piltdown, with its association with all that is false (after the notorious hoax fossil discovery, the 'Piltdown man'), is surely deliberate.

Class, snobbery and social climbing are all present: Wally uses the 'snobscreens' of the pub to taunt the 'elite' councillors and Delia's obsession with 'society' and wanting to move in the 'right' circles are also ridiculed.

Wally slides between adult and childlike personae, challenging authority with anarchy, whether in the pretend violence of the Punch & Judy world or in the real - but mild - violence of the gala bunfight. Indeed Wally almost becomes a child when he and the boy take on the authority (adult) figure in the ice cream parlour.

Satire was at its peak when the film was released, and the film's targets seem rather obvious, the barbs mild, so the film could be considered something of a failure. Apparently it was a troubled production, but it remains a testimony to Tony Hancock's aspirations and one of only a handful of big-screen appearances and it does give a good sense of his style. His use of the Sandman character (John Le Mesurier as a kind of droll existentialist, whom Hancock knows little about, but who in the 'cup of tea' scene shakes Hancock into reconsidering his relationship with Delia) provides a counterpoint to his own performance and signals his intellectual approach to comedy.

David Sharp

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Video Clips
1. Breakfast (2:23)
2. Getting service (1:24)
3. Ice-cream race (3:46)
4. The illuminations (1:17)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Hancock, Tony (1924-1968)
Jacques, Hattie (1922-1980)
Le Mesurier, John (1912-1983)
Syms, Sylvia (1934-)
Taylor, Gilbert (1914-)
Vaughan, Peter (1923-)