LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Monday, 20 May 2019

Farewell to the circus elephants

The elephants parade through streets lined with onlookers, when the circus came to town in Lincoln in the 1950s. It's a sight unlikely to be seen again in the UK, especially now that the government has announced its intention to ban wild animals from the big top from the start of 2020. The ban has been hanging over the circus industry since 2012 when licensing regulations were introduced as an interim measure.

Only two British circuses, Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly's Circus still use wild animals, in the form of lamas, camels, zebras and snakes, so the chance to see the elephants and lions of old seems to have already passed.

I was lucky to see the last elephants and big cats to appear on British sawdust, and you can read about my experiences watching the animals and interviewing their trainers - alongside a host of clowns, acrobats, escapologists and circus owners - in Circus Mania, a book the Mail on Sunday called "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."

Click here to read the 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

20 Juggling Facts for World Circus Day

The Chipolatas
Read about them in Circus Mania

Saturday 20 April 2019 is the 10th World Circus Day. Here are 20 juggling facts to celebrate.

1 - The earliest depiction of juggling is painted on an Egyptian tomb dating from almost 2000 years BC.

Comedian W.C. Fields began his career as The Eccentric Juggler.

3 - Ancient Chinese warriors would show off to their enemies by juggling before battle.

4 - George Washington watched John Bill Ricketts juggle on horseback in America’s first circus.

Sand-filled juggling balls
won't bounce away when you drop them
- Juggler Paul Cinquevalli was nicknamed the Human Billiard Table

6 - Bounce juggling became possible with the introduction of rubber balls in the late 19th century.

7 - Clubs are easier than balls to juggle on a unicycle because they require less accuracy to catch.

8Charles Hoey was the first man to juggle with four clubs - but he couldn’t stop without dropping them, so the curtain had to come down while he was still juggling.

9 - Juggling burns 280 calories an hour.
The Melvilles show how to juggle with
the dinner plates in a great DVD called
Variety Turns of the Post War Years
Read my review here.

10 - Germans such as Salerno (Adolf Behrend) introduced the ‘gentleman juggler’ style that became popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, wearing formal evening clothes and juggling with dinner party items such as plates, bottles, loaves of bread, hats, canes and chairs.

11 - Enrico Rastelli (1896 - 1931) is considered greatest juggler of all time, being able to juggle ten balls at once.

12 - Jenny Jaeger is the only person ever to juggle with ten balls in daily performance.

13 - Antipodism is another name for foot-juggling in which the juggler lies on his or her back to spin and flip objects (or another person) with their feet.

Hoop juggling
at Britain's oldest circus building
the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.
Read about the 100-year-old
venue in Circus Mania
14 - Foot-juggling with a person is known as a Risley act after the 19th century American pioneer of the style Richard Risley Carlisle.

15 - Britain’s first juggling superstar, Paul Cinquevalli made his debut at Covent Garden in 1859.

16 - Rings are the easiest prop to juggle in large numbers because they’re light and it’s easier to hold several.

17 - Scarves are the easiest item to begin juggling with.

18 - The International Juggling Association was formed in 1947.

19 - The word juggling comes from the Middle English word jogelen, meaning to entertain by performing tricks.

20 Juggling is celebrated on World Juggling DayJune 15 this year.

For more about jugglers, trapeze artists, sword swallowers, tiger trainer, clowns, ringmasters and showmen, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus (Peter Owen Publishers). Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
- Mail on Sunday.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Circus Krone's new show for 2019, Mandana

An enchanting video trailer for Circus Krone's 2019 show, Mandana, featuring British lion king and this year's Monte Carlo Gold Clown winner Martin Lacey Jr.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

15 Facts about Philip Astley, the man Who Invented the Circus, for World Circus Day

Philip Astley's open air amphitheatre

Saturday 20 April 2019 is the 10th World Circus DayThe circus was in 1768 founded by Philip Astley, the trick horse-rider regarded as the father of the circus. Here, for World Circus Day are 15 facts about the man who first brought together equestrian displays, acrobats, strongmen and clowns in the circus ring.

1 Philip Astley was a cabinetmaker’s son from Newcastle-under-Lyme.

An illustration from
Circus Mania
2 He was born on 8 January, 1742.

3 He was a sergeant major in the Fifthteenth Light Dragoons.

4 Astley’s first displays of trick horse-riding were in the open air at Half Penny Hatch just south of Westminster Bridge in London.

5 His wife Patty provided musical accompaniment on a drum and also performed on horseback.

6 Their first performance was on Easter Monday, 4 April, 1768.

7 Astley’s circus performers included a strongman called Signor Colpi and a clown called Mr Merryman.

8 Astley established the still-standard diameter of the circus ring as 42-ft.

Astley's later,
grander amphitheatre
9 Astley never called his entertainment a circus. The word was coined by Charles Dibdin and Charles Hughes who established the rival Royal Circus.

10 Astley was invited to perform before King Louis XV of France in 1772.

11 He built France’s first purpose-built circus building, the Amphitheatre Anglais, in Paris.

12 He established circuses in 20 European cities.

13 Astley’s Amphitheatre is mentioned in books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

14 His name is commemorated in the dance tunes Astley’s RideAstley’s Flag and Astley’s Hornpipe.

15 Astley died on 27 January 1814 and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

New Edition
Out now!
For more on the history of the circus and the lives of today’s circus performers click here to buy Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus by Douglas McPherson

“A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”
- Mail on Sunday.

20 Circus Facts for World Circus Day, 20 April, 2019

Roll up, roll up... for World Circus Day!

Saturday 20 April 2019 will be the 10th World Circus Day. To celebrate, here are 20 fabulous facts about the sawdust circle.

1 - The word circus dates from Roman times when arenas such as the Circus Maximus staged chariot races, gladiatorial contests and mock battles.

2 - The modern circus was founded in London by trick horse-rider Philip Astley, who opened his Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts in London, in 1768.

3 - Astley’s rival Charles Hughes was the first to use the word circus in the modern sense when he founded the Royal Circus.

4 - A standard circus ring is 42-feet in diameter.

5 - Clowns are nicknamed Joeys after 19th century pantomime star Joseph Grimaldi.

6 - Leotards are named after the first star of the flying trapeze, Jules Leotard.

7 - The word jumbo, meaning large, entered the English language because of Jumbo, an 11-foot-tall elephant that the American showman PT Barnum bought from London Zoo.

8 - The traditional circus theme music is called Entrance of the Gladiators.

9 - Charlie Cairoli was the first clown to appear on This Is Your Life.

10 - Chinese acrobats first appeared in European circuses in 1866.

11 - Cirque du Soleil was created as part of the 1984 celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada.

12 - Enrico Rastelli (1896 - 1931) is widely considered greatest juggler of all time, being able to juggle ten balls at once.

13 - The first American circus was founded by John Bill Ricketts in Philadelphia on April 3, 1793.

14 - A ‘josser’ is an outsider who joins the circus.

15 - According to circus superstition, it’s unlucky to wear green in the ring.

16 - Foot-juggling with a person is known as a Risley act after the 19th century American pioneer of the style Richard Risley Carlisle.

17 - The mischievous clown in a double act is called the ‘auguste’ and the straight man is the ‘whiteface.’

18 - The word clown is believed to come from the Icelandic word klunni, meaning a clumsy person.

19 - The first elephant to appear in a British circus performed at Covent Garden in 1810.

20Joshua Purdy Brown staged the first circus in a tent or big top in America in 1825. Before that, circuses were performed in buildings or the open air.

2nd Edition out now!
For more on the history of circus, and the lives of today’s performers, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus by Douglas McPherson.

“Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”
- Mail on Sunday.

“The Greatest Show on Earth... in a Book!”
- World’s Fair.

Click here to buy the paperback or ebook from Amazon.

And may all your days be circus days!

Friday, 29 March 2019

SEX IN THE CIRCUS - Cirque du Vulgar comes to Warrington on World Circus day

Circus Funtasia, as the name suggests, is known for its family fun, but on selected evening dates, the cast are getting in touch with their burlesque side to present the adults only Cirque du Vulgar, which they describe as a feast of filth and flesh.

Acts include a French maid stripping down to her lingerie, dunking herself in a  bath and being hoisted into the air to perform an aerial routine.

A burlesque trio - the Vulgarettes - will work alongside traditional circus thrill acts such as a Wheel of Death.

The ring mistress is a dominatrix.

It’s a brave change of image for a big top show travelling through rural areas. Burlesque and cabaret-style circus shows are usually confined to hipper hotspots, such as a Speigeltent on London’s South Bank. Perhaps that’s why there’s only one Vulgar show per week, with the cast performing as Circus Funtasia for the rest of the time.

The venture is presumably pulling crowds, however, because having started last year, Cirque du Vulgar will be in action throughout the coming season.

It’s certainly given the circus an unprecedented amount of national press coverage, with reports in the Sun, the Daily Mirror and other newspapers that Funtasia would never have received.

As they say, sex sells.

Catch Cirque du Vulgar at the Livewire Jubilee Park, Warrington at 8.30pm on World Circus Day, April 20.

One of the reasons circus has been around for the past 250 years is its ability to forever change and adapt to new trends. For a backstage journey through its many varied forms, from the Circus of Horrors and Chinese State Circus to Britain’s last shows with elephants and tigers , read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Ever Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus. Click here to buy from Amazon.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Freddy Nock sets record for sitting on a chair on a tightrope

Freddy Nock sets a new Guinness World Records title for the Longest duration chair balancing on a tightrope -  8 hours 30 minutes and 55 seconds -  in the.Mall of Switzerland in Ebikon.

The high-wire artist also holds the record for the longest bicycle ride on a tightrope - 485 metres.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

A Message from Bobbo

Bobbo (left) tells Smartii
about this latest adventure

What does 2019 have in store for Bobbo, the Clown Prince of Mirth? Let's find out in his latest dispatch from the front line of clowning...

“Was going to send a smoke signal  as you might have known that the first one I sent said “HELP, MY BLANKET  IS ON FIRE!” ...and then I was going to send it by Morse code, but as I was  in need of a slash I didn’t bother ...and as I already sent you a postcard with last year's news, I thought of sending you a tin of meat, but as most folk don't read their SPAM  mail I didn’t  bother.

“I was going to send you a old style pen and paper letter as I once had dancing lessons through  the post but some went missing and I don't know where they went, so I asked my postman if he knew and he said he didn’t, as he fox trotted  down my lane. The butcher did tell me that this year the Post Office is bringing out a set of stamps with well known ladies of the night on them. The price is 45p, but if you lick them they go up in price  to £2 .

Bobbo packs his boots
- a pair handmade by his dad.
“I was then  thinking I could tell you my news on the phone but Trump and May are constantly calling me for advice. As Mr T said, “Since this clown is trying to run the USA I might as well get advice from a professional clown.” Mrs May, meanwhile, has told me she has more important things to worry about, like what will all the HGV drivers eat if they can't have a full English breakfast -  or was it brexit she said?

“So after all that thinking  I thought  I’ll send you a Facebook message, as most people now put everything on Facebook, like what they had for dinner and where they are. It's just a pity Facebook was not around before as we then might have found Lord Lucan and my marbles, as I lost them a while back.

"So here is my news. From March, I will be touring the UK with a circus again, not just a short time like I have done for the last two years but from March till November. I will still be playing homage  to the past masters of clowning but trying to bring it up to date a little. Not too much. I will still keep the red nose and the baggy trousers as lent to me from Boris Johnson. So looking forward to seeing old friends and hopefully  making new ones along the way, and maybe seeing you on the road somewhere.

"Take care, Bobbo the fool.

"PS, not the complete fool, as some parts missing.”

What big top will Bobbo be appearing in? Watch this space for further news.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Sarah Darling joins the circus!

Country star Sarah Darling (third from left, back) has teamed up with Cirque Musica and a full symphony orchestra for Wonderland - a Christmas tour of circus acts and holiday hits that will be travelling across the USA until December 23.

Wonderland will also be the name of Darling's new album, recorded in the UK with some of the writers and producers behind the recent hits of Kylie Minogue and Ellie Goulding, which will be released on March 1. More info: