The man was the longtime puppeteer of Punch and Judy of Clacton


YOU probably won’t know the name or recognize his face.

However, anyone who grew up in or visited Clacton in the 1990s and 2000s may be familiar with the work of Peter Battey.

The 84-year-old was the town’s longtime Punch and Judy man and the last person to perform the traditional West Beach puppet show.

Now Peter returns to the scene of his former glories to officially open a new exhibit marking Clacton’s 150th anniversary.

His shows are a wealth of the region’s seaside heritage and he is proud to have marked so many people, young and old.

“I have such fond memories of playing in Clacton,” he said.

” We had a lot of fun.

“This job is never going to make me rich, especially when you’re doing what’s called ‘bottling’ (relying on the day’s collections, rather than being paid a fee).

“Nevertheless, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing and still do today.

“Even if I won the lottery, I would still play.

“What could be better than having fun and making people laugh on a beautiful sunny day by the sea?

“It’s a wonderful feeling and one of the things I love is getting a positive reaction.

“It’s the audience that makes the show and sometimes people hang around after wanting to chat, because they enjoyed it so much.

“Children want to know where the ‘little people’ have gone, while adults like to talk and ask questions about the puppets.

“I also do conferences for people with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s incredible. Some of them have trouble remembering their names, but I can see that flicker of recognition when I tell them about Punch and Judy.

“Some of them remember seeing my shows, just like old people when I talk to them.

“It’s the biggest compliment and it proves that I have to do something right.”

Peter is passionate about his craft and began performing in Clacton in the early 1990s.

A member of both the Punch and Judy Fellowship and the British Puppet and Model Theater Guild, his connection to the city dates back to when he ran the dodgems at Butlin’s.

“I was always interested in magic and the circus when I was younger,” he said.

“I loved the showmanship and used to see the Punch and Judy man when I walked along the waterfront in Clacton.

“I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time but it was later that I developed a real interest, after meeting the King of Punch and Judy’s son, Percy Press, in Covent Garden .

“I then bought my first Punch and Judy from the late performer Lenny Blease, who many readers will remember in Clacton, Frinton and Walton.

“My first show was for a birthday party and it went from there.

“Myself and a friend, David Wilde, worked together and put on a show called the Wilde and Battey show.

“We did a few seasons together before David started working more in London.

“I went solo and the rest is history.”

While Punch and Judy is etched in the history of beach culture, it has its detractors.

Far from being a harmless joke, some accuse him of trivializing and glorifying domestic violence because Mr Punch acts in an unruly manner towards his wife Judy.

Other characters on the receiving side include their baby, a crocodile, and a policeman.

Peter, unsurprisingly, takes issue with these suggestions.

“Children know they’re just puppets,” said the father-of-three, whose partner Miraiker is one of the UK’s leading puppeteers, children’s entertainers and puppet sculptors, performing and directing also his own company, World of Puppets.

“When I think of some of the video games on the docks and in the arcades where I perform.

“They were all about blowing people up and chopping off their arms.

“It’s violence – not what I do – and to say Punch and Judy encourage violence is like saying Goldilocks and the Three Bears encourage squatting.”

As well as Clacton, Peter, who lives in Claydon, near Ipswich, has also performed in Castle Park, Colchester and Walton, and spoken about Punch and Judy to groups at the Women’s Institute in North Essex.

“I still love it, although I’ve slowed down a bit in terms of bookings,” he said.

“Obviously the work has dried up during the pandemic, but I’m still getting requests and I’m still trying to keep the law up to date by including new characters like a health and safety inspector, who appears with his clipboard to tell people what they can and can’t do.

The exhibit is managed by the Clacton and District Local History Society. He is mounting a special exhibition at the city library which will run from July 19.


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