Gone to the Dogs! A Fur-ther Look At Toby Tradition
Posted on January 22, 2008 by profreshwater
It has been said that a savvy performer should "never follow kids or live animals.” Mr. Punch, being quite sure of his audience appeal, has no qualms about sharing his show with a live Toby Dog. Just how prevalent has this partnership been through Punch’s long and colorful history, and how did it begin?

THE HISTORIC TOBY

Henry Mayhew’s 1851 interview with an itinerant Punchman gives Professor Pike credit for introducing the live Toby:

A few years ago Toby was all the go. Formerly the dog was only a stuffed figure, and it was Mr. Pike what first hit upon introducing a live animal; and a great hit it war. It made a surprising alteration in the exhibition, for till lately the preformance was called Punch and Toby as well.

But performing animals had been associated with puppetry long before the Victorian era. Live monkeys, pigs, and cats sometimes accompanied or participated in 17th century European puppet shows. Still, in the mid-19th century live Tobies seemed to be particularly popular. They are mentioned frequently in letters and literature of the time. Punch magazine, the famous satirical publication, regularly included Toby dog graphics in its pages and on its cover. (Some of them accompany this blog article.)

Charles Dickens penned my favorite Toby-related passage, in The Uncommercial Traveller (1860):

In a shy street behind Longacre, two honest dogs live, who perform in Punch's shows. I may venture to say that I am on terms of intimacy with them both, and that I never saw either guilty of the falsehood of failing to look down at the man inside the show, during the whole performance. The difficulty other dogs have in satisfying their minds about these dogs, appears to be never overcome by time. The same dogs must encounter them over and over again, as they trudge along in their off-minutes behind the legs of the show and beside the drum; but all dogs seem to suspect their frills and jackets, and to sniff at them as if they thought those articles of personal adornment, an eruption — a something in the nature of mange, perhaps. From this Covent-garden window of mine I noticed a country dog, only the other day, who had come up to Covent-garden market under a cart, and had broken his cord, the end of which he still trailed along with him ... The ways of the town confused him, and he crept inside and lay down in a doorway. He had scarcely got a wink of sleep, when up comes Punch with Toby. He was darting to Toby for consolation and advice, when he saw the frill and stopped, in the middle of the street, appalled. The show was pitched, Toby retired behind the drapery, the audience formed, the drum and pipes struck up. My country dog remained immovable, intently staring at these strange appearances, until Toby opened the drama by appearing on his ledge, and to him entered Punch, who put a tobacco pipe into Toby's mouth. At this spectacle, the country dog threw up his head, gave one terrible howl, and fled due west.

In the 20th century, Bert Codman was one of the best known Punchmen to feature a live Toby. Codman purchased his (female) terrier in 1949 at St. John’s Market in Liverpool for 7/6d. The dog performed with him for 20 years and died in 1969. Codman died two days later. Some wonderful photos of Prof. Codman and Toby can be found online at punchandjudy.com and London’s Museum of Childhood.

BUT WHAT DID THEY DO?

Though historic reference to live Toby dogs can be easily found, it’s often harder to determine the exact role played by these special animals. Was there one traditional bit of business that all Tobies performed? Most often mentioned is the scenario of “dog bites Punch’s nose.” Many Tobies apparently “smoked” a pipe. They usually wore a ruffed collar and sat on the playboard. But was that all?

I have a suspicion that historic Toby routines may have varied more than written records reveal. That’s to be expected from a live animal performance. After all, each dog had its own personality, abilities, and likes/dislikes. Any Punch Prof would be foolish to not exploit his dog’s particular talents, whether they exceeded traditional bounds or not. Perhaps variation was the tradition with live Toby bits.

Prof. Pike’s Tobies, as described by Mayhew’s informant, seem quite exotic:

We used to go about the streets with three dogs, and that was admirable, and it did uncommon well as a new novelty at first, but we can't get three dogs to do it now. The mother of them dogs, ye see, was a singer, and had two pups what was singers too.

Bert Codman’s Toby, in addition to playboard-sitting and nose-biting, posed for photos wearing sunglasses and with a cigarette dangling from her lips. In later years Codman’s (by then rather famous) Toby played an increasingly larger role in the show. But what did she do?

PRESERVE TOBY HISTORY

Thanks to books, active Professors, and the Internet, the tradition of Punch and Judy is in no danger of dying out. But, without help, we may lose sight of live Tobies and their unique role in Mr. Punch’s colorful history. Already the living, acting, canine foil of Mr. Punch has fallen out of favor in Great Britain. May their history not be lost, as well. Those who have knowledge of these remarkable animals must help keep the live Toby tradition going.

Let’s keep those those tales happily wagging!

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