“Use your own name and make it famous!” was advice I read once when I was agonising over what to call myself/and or the puppet company that seemed to be evolving, many years ago. The problem there was two-fold. First, Bridle is a name that a lot of people seem to have trouble reading, despite it being a common enough word (the horse’s bridle). Second, Su is an intrinsic part of the work we offer, and she’d already changed her name back to her maiden name Eaton, for the reason stated- after we married she became quickly fed up with being called Mrs Biddle, or Brindle. So…what to do? Music groups spend as much time deciding on their names as they do rehearsing, and even then come up with some useless ones. Whatever became of “Elbow”? Silly name, they’ll never get anywhere!
In the early days of finding our feet, we had a brief mad episode of forming “Hand to Mouth Puppets” with the talented Rod Burnett. A clever name, as apart from the experimental stuff we were doing, we were also busking, and generally living hand to mouth. But on arriving in London to begin a bursary from the Gulbenkian Foundation, based at the Puppet Centre, we discovered puppeteer Jim Still was also using that name. So we dropped it at that point, and later decided to adopt “Allsorts Puppets”. Whilst working with Rod on our combined Punch and Judy ideas I had called myself “Professor Allsorts” on account of acquiring some promotional fabric from the sweet manufacturers Bassets from which to make a costume.
A reasonable choice, as”Allsorts” is sufficiently nondescript to encompass any type of style of show, but also a familiar word. However, on moving to Southampton, we discovered that there was a children’s entertainer close by using the name “Ticklish Allsorts”. This was, and still is, Gary Nunn, a fine fellow who provides a complete package of festival fun for children including his individual version of Punch and Judy. As Gary was already established, it seemed crazy to pursue this name, and so we thought again.
Our first child was on the scene by now, and I launched myself as a solo performer out of necessity, and decided to use the description that most of the schools were using informally for me anyway, which is “Martin-the Puppet Man”. Using the same out-of-date analogy that David Cameron has used recently to describe the coalition , it did what it said on the tin. Years of solo touring with this name was fine, if somewhat limiting, in the sense that I always had to have puppets at the centre of the show, and it always had to be me holding them! Later, this was truncated to become simply “The Puppet Man”.
Surprise surprise, the name had already been used to considerable effect by one of the luminaries of the post-war puppet revival, namely “Panto” Philpott aka the Puppet Man. I swear I didn’t know at the time! Also, that’s the name by which the incomparable Steve Hansen from the USA goes by. Plus dozens of others it seems. Now that we have search engines, it’s so much easier to find out who else has thought of the same thing. The name was also somewhat twee, and limited me to shows for children. I come from the generation of performers who came into the art form with ambitious ideas of what mightbe possible for sophisticated use of puppets, and talked of doing serious work for adults. That mindset deserves a book of its own, never mind a blog! But when Su came back on board with ideas and energy to add to the potential, we created the show “Piggery Jokery” which has since gone around the world and played to audiences of all ages.
So how to promote it? We decided to reclaim “Hand to Mouth” and this time add “theatre” to it. This way we had the potential of doing non-puppet shows should the chance arise, and also not limit ourselves to children’s audiences. But now, should you decide to google “Hand to Mouth Puppets” you will find a company in Yorkshire who provide sub-muppet-style shows with a Christian theme. (I wonder if they are ever asked for the pagan “Piggery Jokery”?! ). There’s also a company with the same name in the USA, with whom we’ve actually worked alongside at a festival in California.
So “Hand to Mouth Theatre” it is, and probably will remain. Mind you, “Da Silva” has a classy ring to it. I wonder if anyone else has used it??