George Speaight Archive

Scope and Content

Contains material relating to puppets in the form of press cuttings; images; leaflets; programmes; catalogues; greeting cards; postcards; invitations; food packaging; book jackets; transcripts; badge; notebook; bookmarks; card game; handkerchief; napkins; stationary; stamps; research material on puppets; notes; articles; correspondence; prints; photographs; papers relating to the History of English Puppet Theatre in the form of proofs, illustrations, and reviews; society papers and newsletters; and information on anniversaries of Punch & Judy.

Administrative / Biographical History

This collection of Punch and Judy prints, drawing, books and associated ephemera and research notes, was made by George Victor Speaight (1914-2005), one of the most distinguished historians of popular entertainment in Great Britain, a scrupulous researcher, superb writer, and avid collector whose main areas of interest were juvenile drama, circus, and puppetry. Four of his books are major works in the subjects of Punch and Judy, a History (1970), The History of the English Puppet Theatre (1955), Juvenile Drama (1946, reprinted in 1969 as The History of the English Puppet Theatre), and A History of the Circus (1980). He was a founder of the Society for Theatre Research from 1948, its chairman from 1959-1963, and vice-president until his death. He was the general editor of its publication Theatre Notebook for many years, a member of the praesidium of the Union Internationale de la Marionette, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, George Speaight was also a toy theatre practitioner, and like his older brother, the actor Robert Speaight, a natural performer from an early age. His first role was that of the Page, in a family production of Romeo and Juliet, and he was introduced to juvenile drama as a child when his father returned with a toy theatre from Pollock's shop in Hoxton. He went on to give toy theatre performances to customers at Bumpus's bookshop in Oxford Street where he worked from 1932, when his father's bankruptcy denied him a university place. He gained practical experience with puppetry in 1939 when working with Olive Blackham's Roel Puppets in the Cotswolds, and in 1951 performed the Tiller Clowes Puppets at the Festival of Britain in 1951, having bought the troupe with Gerald Morice after the War. Later he did much to encourage the foundation of the Puppet Centre Trust in the Battersea Arts Centre in 1974, and on his retirement from Rainbird Books where he was an editor from 1960 to 1975, Speaight performed with the London Munich Puppet Players

In 1962 George Speaight initiated the celebrations to mark the tercentenary of the first known appearance of Punch in England, as recorded by Samuel Pepys. He organised the plaque on the wall of St. Paul's Church Covent Garden to mark the location of the performance, as well as a service in the church, a procession through Covent Garden and simultaneous performances by Punch and Judy professors. In the 1987 event, to mark the 325th anniversary of Punch, George Speaight took part in the procession as Samuel Pepys, complete with periwig, diary and quill pen. He once recalled his work on the Punch and Judy celebrations as one of the finest achievements of his life; his collection is another remarkable achievement in his celebration of Mr. Punch, like George Speaight himself, another quite unique British character.


Prior to the deposit of this archive at the V&A's Department of Theatre & Performance George Speaight had arranged part of his collection into labelled envelopes, where this was the case his arrangement has largely been retained. However, there was some loose material which needed to be sorted and in this case they were arranged by format. There was also some material stored by George Speaight in envelopes labelled miscellaneous, as this material was similar to the loose material it has also been arranged by format in order to make access to the collection easier. The archive has been arranged into the following series:

  • THM/375/1-Printed material relating to puppets, in particular Punch & Judy
  • THM/375/2- Memorabilia featuring puppets, in particular Punch & Judy
  • THM/375/3- Research material relating to puppets
  • THM/375/4- Papers relating to The History of English Puppet Theatre, also known as Punch & Judy: A History
  • THM/375/5- Societes and events relating to puppets and Punch & Judy
  • THM/375/6- Performance and educational material
  • THM/375/7- Papers relating to the provenance of the collection

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Gift in lieu from HM Treasury via Anthony and Margaret Speaight.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Custodial History

This archive was the personal collection of George Speaight, on his death it passed to his children Anthony and Margaret Speaight before being gifted to the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance.


There will be no further accruals to this archive.

Related Material

Objects from the George Speaight collection were catalogued as museum objects and can be found on search the collections via the V&A website

Books from the George Speaight collection can be found on the V&A Library catalogue.

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to George Speaight and puppets may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.