On the 9 May 1662, Samuel Pepys mentions in his diary "an Italian puppet play - the best I ever saw", probably the first reference to Punch and Judy's arrival in England.
Three-hundred-and-fifty years on a new play, The Devil and Mr Punch by the Improbable theatre company, is to open at the Barbican. Director Julian Crouch came on to the Today programme to talk about the show...
… and was joined by John Styles, who has an MBE for services to the arts - especially Punch and Judy – who brought his suitcase of puppets with him.
The story of Mr Punch, as told by Mr Styles, runs something like this. Arriving in this country from Italy, he eventually acquired a wife and it was only a matter of time before there was a baby on the scene.
The baby is the cause of a great deal of domestic disagreement, which Mr Punch solves in the only way he seems to know – by hitting Judy with a slapstick.
For his transgressions, he is then chased around by the policeman, before he is dispatched with the very same stick.
Mr Punch's weapon of choice, the slapstick which gives a noisy thwack when it strikes its victims, is the origin of the term "slapstick comedy" says Mr Styles.
In fact the only character who does not feel the wrath of Mr Punch is his friend Joey the Clown, modelled on Victorian clown Joseph Grimaldi.
However, Joey is the source of much pain for Mr Punch, as he gives him the sausages which the crocodile takes a fancy to. In some versions of the story the crocodile kills Mr Punch, in others, the slapstick triumphs again.
The casting of the performance has changed over time, with some of the more risque characters, like Mr Punch's mistress Pretty Polly, going out of favour.
For Julian Crouch, the bad behaviour of Mr Punch is almost magically unstoppable. "As soon as you put him on your hand… he just seems to behave in a certain way," he said.
Although not to some people's taste, for John Styles, the violence of Punch and Judy is nothing parents should be concerned about. Children "can differentiate between fantasy and reality" he says.
What are these?