Brian Llewellyn's dad started his Punch and Judy show back in the 1950s, pedalling his props round on the back of a bike. Now Brian himself is an old hand at the same game and wouldn't give it up even if he won the Lottery

THAT'S the way to do it, and all that, "Professor" Brian Llewellyn is celebrating 30 years as a Punch and Judy man. Keeping his hand in, as it were.

Though the hangman has long been despatched and the black puppet changed from slave to singer, the once endangered crocodile still snaps at unreconstructed heels - and Mr Punch still beats his wife.

Not so much politically incorrect as in the remedial class, Brian points out that it's Judy who belts Punch first - "Mind, he was braying the baby" - while Marilyn, the professor's wife and assistant, denies that Mr Punch is prejudiced.

"He just hates everyone equally," she says.

The story's changed little, only the puppeteer's philosophy applied without the help of a two foot stick. "Someone once asked if I could tone it down a bit, but you can't have Punch and Judy without a bit of wife beating," says the 52-year-old father of four from Darlington.

"I think the political correctness thing is starting to turn on its head. People want to see the back of it.

"You can't have right without having wrong. You can't have the policeman locking him up at the end if he's done nowt wrong in the first place. That's the moral, justice wins in the end."

We all meet for breakfast, after which they're off to Green Lane primary school in Middlesbrough for a show, puppet making class and a Punch and Judy history lesson.

"It started as an adult thing, the Spitting Image of its day. It was the only way you could call the government without getting your head chopped off, still basically good against evil.

"The kids love it, we have some great laughs with them, then I come around the front of the box and they rush to tell me all about the show, like I've never been there in the first place."

A few months back, at an unconnected young people's group in Middlesbrough, they were asked not to bring balloons lest one burst and frighten the bairns.

Billy Llewellyn, his 82-year-old father, started his own Punch and Judy show at the time of the Coronation in 1953, pedalling his bike around Darlington with the props in a pram on the back.

By 1960 the railway worker and his family had moved to Newton Aycliffe, which is where the Queen called on them for tea. They'd been told to do nothing special, but the lemon for the royal cuppa cost 4d - "and I'd been up all night changing the toilet paper from BR to ER," Billy, still in Newton Aycliffe, once recalled.

It's also worth asking Billy why his dog's called Rolex. ("Because it's a watch dog," of course.)

As a boy, Brian would collect coppers from packed crowds - "bottling" they call it - on the region's beaches. Billy, having worked all night, would grab some sleep in the little booth between performances.

"It was threepence in the enclosure, about the price of an ice cream, but outside it you could really watch for free," says Brian.

"It was never a business for my dad, more like a charity, a hobby. He'd charge someone £6 and it would cost him £10 in petrol to get there."

He also recalls an early outbreak of political correctness on Redcar sands, when female protestors - "a group of lesbians," says Brian - incessantly banged drums during the performance.

So what did his dad do? "He just turned up the volume."

Brian began on his own - him and Mr Punch and a box full of others, anyway - in time for the Queen's silver jubilee. His first show, £6, was at Middridge village hall. At one stage, he and his father gave them double L from opposite ends of the same beach.

Now his work's mainly among schools, other children's organisations and parties. "I did ask Redcar council about getting a licence once, but they'd not had a Punch and Judy man for so long, there was nothing to cover it."

Finally, the council offered a market trader's licence for £1,000, about £990 more than he had in mind.

"Go on, then," said the council, "you can do it for a tenner."

"I made about £16 from three shows," says Brian.

Though the outfits - made meticulously by Marilyn - change regularly, it's the same old, sour old Mr Punch. He admits to an affection for the old rogue, though the affinity may only be on dominoes night.

"It's like a little family; they do what they do themselves, they get on with it. We show the children all the puppets afterwards but Mr Punch is mine, part of me. I wouldn't even let them put their hands inside him.

"He's just a block of wood, his mouth doesn't move and his eyes don't move but they shout and scream at him with a venom."

Hand in glove puppet, they'll probably muck along together - "his babies," says Marilyn - for some time yet.

"Even if I won the Lottery, I don't think I'd ever give this up," says Brian. "You have all the kids shouting and yelling and it's a real high, better than drugs could ever be. It's like fishing, I suppose, you just reel them in.

"I know he's got a bit of a bad name, might have upset a few people, but Mr Punch has been very good to me." columnists/feature/johnnorth