Wooden puppets, scores of them, multi-hued and dressed up to the nines, recline in the window of an elegant old shop in Bridport and silently watch the world go by.
Mr Punch, Judy and the baby have pride of place – after all, they entertained generations of children, thanks to the late Joy and John Rodber, who took their traditional show to West Bay year after year in the 1950’s and 60’s.
Prof Tom Katski, the piano-playing cat, sits aloof alongside a whiskery Neptune and a pneumatic mermaid. Ghastly figures, dismembered heads and Jack Ketch the notorious executioner, with his gibbet, reflect the darker side of traditional puppetry.
Joy Rodber died aged 92 in December 2013. She had been widowed in 1977, when John died at the age of 66.
Very well-known in the town, she ran an antiques business and was a stalwart member of the Bridport Pantomime Players.
Julia Price and her three sisters Anna Horsey, Frances Murless and Jocelyn Pardoe agreed that the wonderful collection of puppets, lovingly made and dressed by their parents, needed some air.
So, for the first time in 35 years or more, suitcases languishing in the attic were opened and the puppets went on show in the family shop in West Allington, latterly a beauticians.
It was there John Rodber dealt in art supplies, picture framing, ran a dolls’ hospital and carved his puppets, next to the family home.
“I just thought the shop looked so forlorn,” said Julia.
“We thought we would use the puppets for a spoof Punch and Judy Nativity. Then we thought we would get them all out, the poor creatures!”
Anna recalls that the four little Rodber girls were recruited as cheerleaders and stagehands for the Punch and Judy shows.
“We had to put out the benches and we can still remember the scripts.
“My parents had four little girls and a just a little hobby shop, so they had to do what they could. They took the puppet shows to West Bay and county shows.
“They appeared on Westward Television once too – that caused huge excitement!”
John began carving puppets when he was away with the RAF during the war.
And it was the puppets that brought John and Joy together, when her mother invited the young puppeteer to put on a show for the evacuees staying with them.
Says Julia: “I think the puppets are really enjoying themselves now, after not having seen daylight for more than 30 years.
“I often wonder what they get up to at night. I always say to them: ‘Make sure you’re all back in your places by tomorrow morning.”