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A Timber Idol

It is a brave researcher who ventures into the discussion, or should that be furious argument, around the origins of Punch and Judy, but Martin MacGilp is to be commended for his bravery in attempting to survey the history of the old fellow in Scotland. A Timber Idol is a fascinating tale based on many years of very detailed research, and will also serve as an invaluable resource for others who get interested in the same topic. Where else could you learn that a museum in the Isle of Arran holds a Punch and Judy script, that the first performer to appear with Punch in Scotland was an Italian called Cardoni (there are still performers called Cardoni in Italy), or that the Morrison family of Inverness provided not just conjuring and Punch and Judy but also electrical treatments for rheumatism? And I wonder if the audiences gathered at the Mound in Edinburgh to watch the street performers every summer know that they are standing in the footsteps of those generations who watched Punch perform on the same spot? As in England, Punch eventually migrated to the beaches, and a windy and cold existence that must have been on some northerly coastlines, where he found himself to be competing not just with donkeys and swingboats, but with the itinerant preachers who sometimes drew a bigger crowd, at least in Carnoustie. Some indication of the weather can be seen in the 1955 photograph of a Punch on the beach in Rothesay, with his young audience not in swimsuits but hats, scarfs and warm coats. Martin MacGilp aims to continue to document the history of puppet theatre in Scotland, and his website already contains fascinating material about ventriloquists. All true puppet enthusiasts will want their own copy of this book, and will look forward eagerly to later volumes.

A Timber Idol: Mr Punch in Scotland
Martin MacGilp
Gilpress, 2012
206 pages, 119 colour and b/w illustrations
25 paperback
ISBN 978-0-9571881-0-5

Chris Abbott
June 2013




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