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."

Friday, 16 August 2019

McDonald's serve up a beautiful clown ad




I've never put adverts on the Circus Mania blog, but take a look at this beautiful and touching depiction of clowns and circus in this advert for McDonald's.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

130-year-old circus poster found in Wisconsin bar



Circus posters are not designed to last long. Once the show has left town, the billboard promoting it is obsolete.

A couple of years ago, however, the renovations of a Wisconsin bar revealed a 9-foot-high, 55-foot-long, multi-sheet, full-colour circus poster for the Great Anglo-American Circus that had been hidden behind a wall for 130 years.

Apparently, it had been on an outside wall before the bar was built against it almost immediately after the show on 17 August, 1885.

Among the acts depicted is that of circus owner Miles Orton, who specialised in riding horses bareback, standing up, with his two children standing on his shoulders and head.

The poster was printed by Russell, Morgan & Co. from Cincinnati, which was the lithograph capital of the world.

Today, the carefully restored montage of bison, ostriches and aerialists is preserved behind glass and has pride of place in the dining room of the Corral Bar & Riverside Grill in Durand on the banks of the Chippewa River.


Monday, 29 July 2019

European Juggling Convention comes to Newark as part of Big Day Out



Roll up, roll up to Newark in Nottinghamshire this Sunday, 4 August, when the European Juggling Convention comes to Britain for the first time in 20 years, as part of the town’s Big Day Out.

The all-day event will include a parade of 2500 circus performers plus three acrobatic and fire shows, and street theatre.

Click here for 20 Juggling Facts to celebrate.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Wild animals banned from English circuses

News coverage of one of the last elephants
to appear in an English circus - in 1999


The House of Lords has today approved a ban on wild animals in English circuses that will come into effect in January 2020.

The ban defines 'wild' as animals not native to Britain so includes elephants, tigers, camels and reindeer, although horses and dogs will continue to feature in the big top.

The ban follows an existing ban in Scotland, while the Welsh government is planning to introduce similar measures in Wales.

For a history of the more than 100-year campaign to ban animals from the big top, click here.

Today's news comes ten years after I saw the last circus elephants and tigers to perform in England, at the Great British Circus. You can read about that experience in my book, Circus Mania, which the Mail on Sunday called "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."

Click here to buy from Amazon.


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.