Sally Kindberg and Meeting Mr Punch (again)

In 2012 I held an exhibition of drawings and photos after meeting Punch and Judy Professor Leslie Press. He is sadly no longer with us, but the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild has just published the feature I wrote in 2012, in Issue 624 of their newsletter. Mr Punch lives on …



In May 2002 I took a shortcut through St Paul’s Churchyard in Covent Garden, and stumbled on a scene of mayhem. Crocodiles’ jaws snapped, sausages defied gravity, and unearthly shrieks filled the air. I’d walked into a Punch and Judy festival. It’s held every year on or around Mr Punch’s birthday, May 9th, which is when diarist Samuel Pepys first recorded his Covent Garden appearance in 1662, three hundred and fifty years ago. Amongst all the Professorial activity – Punch and Judy operators are known as Professors – one cheeky-faced, elderly man with a marked resemblance to Mr Punch caught my attention. He unfolded what looked like an old fashioned wooden clothes-horse, slowly adjusted it, draped it with red and white striped cloth, and hey presto – it was transformed into a Punch and Judy booth, or fit-up as it’s known. On seaside holidays during my childhood I’d always found the booth and its puppet world scary but fascinating, and I was curious about this man and his small companions.

The man’s name was Leslie Press. As we got talking, Leslie told me that as a child he’d lived on my street, at 148 Gloucester Avenue, above what was then a dairy and grocer’s, before being evacuated to St Albans during WW2. 148 is now Lisa Hauck’s hairdressing salon. He and his sister were pupils at Primrose Hill School round the corner, where my daughter went many years later. We chatted for a while, and I didn’t see Leslie again for eight years.

In 2010 I rang Leslie and asked him if I could take some photographs of him and his puppets, and find out more about his life as a Punch and Judy man. Leslie invited me to his house in Cheshunt, where he offered me tea and biscuits. Later, he carefully arranged his puppet family on the sofa next to him.

Leslie looked pale at the start of my visit, before he took out assorted characters – Mr and Mrs Punch, the Baby, Devil, Ghost, Crocodile, Clown and Executioner – from travel-worn suitcases inherited from his father Percy. As he affectionately brought his puppets to life, his face began to glow. Wondering how much a puppet operator’s character is reflected in his or her puppets, I commented on the battered and patched appearance of Mr Punch and his associates. “Yes,” said Leslie shyly, “I’m a very violent Punch and Judy man – they certainly got a bashing!”



The wooden figures were strangely compelling. I felt they were just as curious about me as I was about them, and seemed to return my gaze with unnerving confidence. Every Professor has a slightly different version of events in the show, perhaps reflecting his or her personality. I wondered if the puppets sometimes demand to act and speak in the same way that my own drawn characters, especially in my comic strips and children’s books, often insist on doing or saying something surprising.

Leslie’s puppets were carved by Fred Tickner, whose most famous creation was Muffin the Mule in the 1950s, wooden star of one of the first television programmes I’d ever watched. The Punch puppets are usually carved from lime or beech wood, though traditionally Mr. Punch’s nose is made of oak. “I paid £6 for these,” said Leslie, gently lifting up Mrs Punch, whose face was painted with a look of outrage. “They’re a nice working weight.”

Leslie, like his father before him, started out as a magician. He’d once performed for Tommy Cooper’s children, who’d wandered off leaving their father intently watching the show. “I always wanted to go on stage,” Leslie said a bit wistfully. He doesn’t perform much nowadays as he can’t move the puppets very easily. “It’s due to the weight of the crocodile,” he explained, “Don’t have the strength in my wrist any more.” Perhaps Professors eventually get a form of crocodile induced RSI?

Leslie’s father Percy was involved in music hall, before working as a magician on the London streets and then becoming a famous Punch and Judy man. He performed at Madame Tussauds, appeared in Carol Reed’s film “Oliver”, and was a guest on Desert Island Discs in 1974. His commemorative plaque is in St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Percy’s son Percy II, born at 148 Gloucester Avenue, and his brother Leslie followed in their father’s footsteps. I asked Leslie if his family – he has four daughters – would do the same? His daughters aren’t interested, but his niece Adrienne now performs in schools with her own Punch and Judy show, so the Press tradition carries on.

I was wary of asking Leslie to do the distinctive voice of Mr Punch that day. Punch’s voice is made by inserting a reed-like item called a swazzle into your mouth, and apparently it’s tricky to use, or ‘troublesome’ as Leslie put it. I wasn’t sure about the Health and Safety implications of using one and eating biscuits at the same time. Another Professor told me you can’t call yourself a Professor until you’ve swallowed your first swazzle. ”You can ask me anything you like about being a Punch and Judy man,” said Leslie with a smile, “But I won’t tell you the secret of the swazzle!”


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Sally Kindberg at Barnes Children’s Literature Festival 2019


Great fun to meet my pirate crew of thirty or so children with their families at Barnes Children’s Literature Festival last saturday, and see some brilliant treasure maps as well as super inventive piratical portraits.  With thanks to Arnhel de Serra for photographs.

Many thanks to Barnes Bookshop for being there and selling copies of my Draw It! series of seven activity books for children, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books, including Draw It! Pirates, and of course, many thanks to my lovely crew and to Barnes Children’s Literature Festival for asking me along.


After my event and book signing I met up with other authors in the Festival’s Green Room and persuaded them to join my pirate crew … Petr Horacek, Emma Carroll and Candy Gourlay.


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Sally Kindberg’s Space comic strip workshop at Belsize Park Community Library

Whooshy!  Some of the many wonderful comic strips and drawings of visitors from another planet by children at the Belsize Park Community Library last week.  Afterwards there was a lucky dip and the prize was The Comic Strip History of Space.

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Sally Kindberg’s visit to the House of Automata

Last month the House of Automata were kind enough to let me visit their extraordinary workshop in Scotland … more to follow soon

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Sally Kindberg’s workspace

When the robots cried “Dust us!” I knew it was time to stop work for a while and do a bit of spring cleaning on the shelf above my work desk.  The dusting must have activated some of their mechanisms because every so often afterwards my mechanical friends’ clockwork began to whirr and clank.  Then it was time to tidy my desk …

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Sally Kindberg’s The Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) publication date

The Hand Book (of hopes and dreams) now has a publication date.  A leporello or concertina book for all ages, published by Design For Today, it will launch at the East London Comic Art Festival on June 8/9th.

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Sally Kindberg at London Book Fair 2019 and an Indonesian event

Click image above to watch video of exciting live drawing!  

A most enjoyable visit to the London Book Fair 2019.  This year’s featured city was Indonesia, and I was lucky enough to meet Indonesian comic strip artist Mohammad Taufiq aka emte, and later listen to inspirational poet Joseph Coelho at the LBF Poetry Corner. Later that week I joined author/illustrator Bridget Marzo, emte and others at Bethnal Green Studio 249 for a painting jam.  With thanks to author Chitra Soundar and filmmaker Ella Finch for photos.


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Sally Kindberg’s visit to The Hague, including a cocktail at L’hotel des Indes and listening to a singing comet

Last month I visited friends in the Hague for a few days, flying to Rotterdam first from City Airport in London.  What courteous staff at Rotterdam, compared to those at City Airport!  Staying with my friends was a delight, and I managed to visit a new English children’s bookshop in nearby Wassenaar. Chatted with its enthusiastic owner, about workshops amongst other things.

Treated my friends to a cocktail at the opulent L’hotel des Indes, built in the nineteenth century. Previous guests included Josephine Baker, Mata Hari and Anna Pavlova.

My friends kindly drove me to the nearby Space Expo at ESTEC, part of the European Space Agency site, and I was in heaven.  There were not only inspirational comics about space, but a recording of a singing comet, a piece of moon rock and a facsimile of part of the Russian Zvezda ISS capsule, complete with religious icon – combining faith in the spiritual and scientific.

My visit to the Hague ended with a brisk walk through woodland to the beach at Scheveningen.  It was raining, but there was birdsong, and an elegant tree by the beach, all ready for Christmas …

Comets from one of the pages I drew for The Comic Strip History of Space.  None of them duck shaped.

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Clown encounters

Whilst visiting a friend in Clerkenwell, east London recently, I met Jolly Jack the clown who very kindly showed me his cuttings book and told me a bit about his career. He was resting up as he’d recently tripped over the edge of a non-slip mat at a circus and broken his leg.  This chance meeting reminded me of a visit I’d once made to an annual Grimaldi memorial service held at All Saints Church, Haggerston, also in east London, where I  photographed some of the clowns’ amazing footwear.

 Actually I find clowns in their make-up rather unnerving, but love the shoes, including some in one of my earliest children’s books, Robotina Finds Out published by Faber & Faber.Jolly Jack’s shoes weren’t enormous, but they did have extraordinary flashing lights.

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Draw It! Swedish and Norwegian co-editions arrive

Some new co-editions of the first Draw It! book arrived yesterday evening – a surprise delivery.  The last co-edition was for Taiwan.  Great to see my books in all sorts of different languages. As well as in English of course!  Donated some copies to the Swedish Church in London, and have been asked to give a talk and have an exhibition of my work there in autumn 2019.

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