THE PEEP SHOW by WALTER
(Geoffrey Bles. 10s.
Puppet Showmen tend to philosophy.
There was, for instance, till yesterday, Old Clunn Lewis,
with his harp and his quality as a Franciscan tertiary.
Much lore about life he, the last of the wandering
Friars in English lanes, had gained from Mother Shipton,
Maria Martin, the dancing hostlers and other figures of
Then there was Mr Codlin, who lurked
within Mr Punch's show, Diogenes-wise and exuded
Then there was the showman in Hans
Andersen's tale who would have his puppets endowed with
life by the student of magic and already Mr Walter
Wilkinson, we fear, is in a rage with us, just as he was
in a rage with the two pedants who watched him doing his
show under the larch-trees at Paradise, which is just
above the Adam and Eve Inn, on the slopes of Painswick
Beacon, in the Cotswolds and "talked pompously about
some delightful scene in some book or other of which it
reminded them" - with their backs to the puppets, too.
Mr Wilkinson abhors comparisons; he begs you to take him
just for what he is.
In that desire to get out of the rank
and rediscover his individuality, as man and artist, we
find the motive-force of this amateur-professional (why
put asunder characters that God evidently meant should
be joined?) who fared on foot, rejoicing, round Devon
and Somerset and home again with his tent and his "Peep
Show" and made a diary as he went that at once claims
the next place to Sanger's memoirs in the classics of
showmanship. If Mr Wilkinson handles his puppets
as deftly as he handles his pen, we would tramp a good
many miles to see them.
The "Peep Show," we must
explain, was a Punch and Judy show, but without Punch,
Judy, or Toby. Mr Wilkinson - argumentative like
all showmen - explains why he sacked these venerable
tragedians. They have a knack of frightening the
children, which is true, but we feel, not his real
reason for discarding them. "Surely," he cries,
"the whole British nation, of how many millions I do not
know, need not be slaves to this one idea."
you have it. Mr Wilkinson saw no fun in
submissively carrying on a tradition, however sacred.
He seized "a stout piece of walnut-wood" and a chisel
and presently sat surrounded by a gay and grinning
family all agog for adventure - John Barleycorn, Uncle
Joe, Old Martha, Pretty Sally, Cheeky Pipi, the Rev Mr
Black and the Monkey. With these and few simple
scenes running in his head, he pushed out into the
sunshine and the rain of the English road.
I was undoubtedly the last of the
pedestrians. I found myself more Quixotic than the
Don himself, for I was wandering on foot in a world of
cars, cycles and flying machines - a handicraftsman lost
in an unapproachable, mechanical world. If I did
pick up with a chance acquaintance, it was to expose
myself to searching questions as to who I was, where did
I come from and how much money did I make ... I was
wandering romantically where there was no romance.
I could come across no one but deadly serious business
people who all knew how I ought to conduct my business
and make it pay.
This was the worst of it. But
then, the best of it - how heavily that best weighted
down the scale! Collections seem only to have
averaged about four shillings a day and not every day
brought its collection, but it mattered little to a man
who ate no flesh, carried his lodgings with him and
accepted rain with an indomitable cheerfulness.
And there was clambering to the summit of the lonely
world on the edge of Exmoor, "alone with the fields, with
the wild birds, with a great stormy sky and the wind,"
pulling up by cross-road ponds, "blue with reflected sky
on which the whitest of ducks were sailing," sleeping in
orchards and waking early to strip the meadows of
mushrooms and invite Aurora to breakfast.
was the thrill of discovering on which side the farmer
has a blind eye for trespassers, beneath which button of
his tunic the village constable keeps a human heart, how
to turn rivals on the fairground into pals and when the
last of the old Punch and Judy men still flit about shy
tap rooms and distant strips of beach - if it was not Mr Codlin, who was it, who complained to Mr Wilkinson that
his wife had "run away with his illusions" (by which it
turned out that he referred to a conjuring outfit) and
who pronounced puppetry "Too 'ard work! When you
get the bloomin' Punch up 'e seems to weigh pounds".
Above all, there was the joyful disclosure that all the
world agrees with Hazlitt in "liking a puppet-show the
best of all," from the insatiable children to the
forefather of the hamlet, who, meeting the showman as he
pulled out from Parracombe, roared frenziedly, "What,
just finished! Noa, dang it arl! I wish I'd
'ad knowed. Dang it! Nobuddy towld I aboot
it! Dang it! If I'd 'ad knowed I'd ud been there."
Who can blame the puppeteer if, after
these experiences, he propounds (lying on Saunton Sands)
a philosophy of his own:-
If I were a philosopher expounding a
new theory of living, inventing a new "ism," I should
call myself a holidayist, for it seems to me that the
one thing the world needs to put it right is a holiday.
There is no doubt whatever about the sort of life nice
people want to lead. Whenever they get the chance,
what do they do, but go away into the country or to the
seaside, take off their collars and ties and have a good
time playing at childish games and contriving to eat
some simple food very happily without all the
encumbrances of chairs and tables.
- And enjoying a show so simple that
its potentialities are limited by the two hands of the
showman and the four feet of his miniature stage.
But that it could enchant even the high-brows, Mr
Wilkinson proved when he showed, like a medieval jongleur at a great house in Glastonbury. And
there in the Isle of Avalon by the Chalice Well, linking
the romance of the tiny companions of his journey to
that of the august wanderer who founded the shrine, we
may take cordial leave of this Chaucerian Merryman.