—Punch and Judy showman Glyn Edwards.
British comedy history is measured in centuries. Shakespeare incorporated many chase scenes and beatings into his comedies, such as in his play The Comedy of Errors. The quarrelsome couple Punch and Judy made their first recorded appearance in Britain in 1662, when Samuel Pepys noted a “pretty” puppet play being performed in Covent Garden, London. The various episodes of Punch and Judy are performed in the spirit of outrageous comedy — often provoking shocked laughter — and are dominated by the anarchic clowning of Mr. Punch.
Satire has been a major feature of comedy in the British isles for centuries. The pictorial satire of William Hogarth was a precursor to the development of political cartoons in 18th century England. The medium developed under the direction of its greatest exponent, James Gillray from London, who has been referred to as the father of the political cartoon. With his satirical works calling the king (George III), prime ministers and generals (especially Napoleon) to account, Gillray's wit and keen sense of the ridiculous made him the pre-eminent cartoonist of the era.
In early 19th century England, pantomime acquired its present form which includes slapstick comedy and featured the first mainstream clown Joseph Grimaldi, while comedy routines also featured heavily in British music hall theatre which became popular in the 1850s. British comedians who honed their skills at pantomime and music hall sketches include Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, George Formby and Dan Leno. The influential English music hall comedian and theatre impresario Fred Karno developed a form of sketch comedy without dialogue in the 1890s, and Chaplin and Laurel were among the young comedians who worked for him as part of "Fred Karno's Army".