Legacies: stereotypes, racism and the civil rights movement

Punch and Judy puppet

Made in England, about 1950
Wood and fabric

Object number 2000.58
Given by Clive Middlebrook, 2000

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Punch and Judy puppet

The bawdy violence of the Punch and Judy puppet show became a popular entertainment in the 1700s and continued well into the 1900s. This puppet was one of a set used from the 1940s to the 1960s by Edward Platt, an Oldham Punch and Judy man. He added black figures to the traditional cast of characters with a minstrel section near the end of each show.

The minstrel or ‘blackface’ show, in which mainly white performers used make-up to create caricatured black faces with exaggerated eyes and lips, emerged in America in the 1830s as a form of variety performance, including comedy sketches, song and dance. It is considered to be one of the first distinctly American theatrical forms and, although based on racist stereotyping of African Americans, became one of the few ways through which white Americans acknowledged black culture. After the American Civil War, the minstrel show began to include more black performers, and in the 1900s provided an opening for such later musical heroes as jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Jelly Roll Morton. In Britain, minstrel performances are still remembered through the popular television programme, The Black and White Minstrel Show, which ran from 1958 until 1978.

This information was provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.