130 years ago, the father of Spejbl and Hurvínek was born

Spejbl and Hurvínek

Humorous puppet shows with a confused “daddy” and a clever street man Hurvajz still entertain new generations. Puppet actor, artist Josef Skupa was at the birth.

Josef Skupa, a native of Strakonice and the son of a gendarme, grew up in Pilsen from the age of five. He had been drawing well since childhood and showed a talent for puppet theatre.

Josef Skupa | Photo: archive of Czech Radio

After the First World War, which he spent at the front, he had an eared doll made by the puppeteer Karel Nosk, which became a caricature of the townspeople of the time. That’s how Spejbl was born.

However, this character did not enjoy great popularity among viewers. The turning point came with a new puppet made by the carver Gustav Nosek a few years later, in 1926.

Although the original Hurvínek was a bit different, as it had a long nose and looked thinner, from the beginning it could roll its eyes.

Hurvínek’s audience success was almost instantaneous, and the new comic duo well received. They soon appeared on radio, on gramophone records and in film. In 1930, the “family” grew to include Mánička and the dog Žeryk.

At that time, Skupa was already the owner of a professional theatre. It worked even during the Protectorate, before the troupe ended up in prison in January 1944 for listening to foreign radio.

Some puppets were hidden, but others fell into the hands of the Gestapo. The group maintained their sense of humour and heroism in prison, when they often played various games from the Spejbl repertoire to fellow prisoners from their cell.

Spejbl and Hurvínek theatre | Photo: Radio Prague International

In 1945, during the February raids on Dresden, the prison was heavily damaged, and Josef Skupa managed to escape and return to his hometown of Pilsen. After the Second World War, the Pilsen Theatre moved to Prague.

The group led their favourite Spejbl to the end of his life. Already very ill, he played with Spejbl and Hurvínek on New Year’s Eve 1956 in the performance Spejbl on Venus.

He died on 8 January 1957. With his departure, the theatre did not disappear – it is still going strong today and gives thousands of performances not only in the Czech Republic, but in a number of countries around the world.