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, 7 October 2011

Circus Mania review in the Call Boy - official journal of the British Music Hall Society

My thanks to Eric Midwinter for a fantastic review of Circus Mania in the Autumn issue of The Call Boy - the official journal of the British
Circus Mania review in The Call Boy
- journal of the British Music Hall Society
Music Hall Society. Here’s the review:

Douglas McPherson’s approach is the ingenious one of visiting differing sorts of circus, interviewing the performers and, by way of context, drawing us into circus history. Thus a visit to the Circus of Horrors and a chat with Hannibal Helmurto, the Pain-Proof Man, leads to a scrutiny of Victorian freak shows and Tom Thumb. It is done enjoyably but not uncritically and comprises a powerful introduction to circus performance then and now. In the case of circus the backstage toughness is professional rather than social. There are few tricks. It is very dangerous. The sword swallower really swallows the sword. Tragically, the day after the author’s interview with Eva Garcia appeared in The Stage she fell to her death in the circus ring. Here the fight is between obsession with the circus dream and daily endurance against the perils.

Tom Major gets an honourable mention and it was said of his son, premier John, that he was the only person ever to run away from a circus to join a bank. But it is the flight to the circus, as this engaging book explains, that leads to the disciplined rather than the happy-go-lucky life. If bankers were half so dedicated to stringent regulation and devoted awareness of public requirement as circus performers then the world economy might be a little brighter.”

If you’d like a copy of the “Ingenious” and “engaging” Circus Mania, click here to buy the new, updated 2nd Edition direct from Amazon.

The Call Boy is a fantastic resource for fans of variety, music hall and light entertainment and is distributed free to members of the British Music Hall Society. The Society hosts bi-monthly shows, talks and other events and membership is warmly recommended. To join, write to Membership Secretary Howard Lee, Thurston Lodge, Thurston Park, Whitstable, Kent CTE 1RE.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Jumbo - The Greatest Elephant in the World! Book review

I’ve just had a fantastic time reading Jumbo - The Greatest Elephant in the World by Paul Chambers. Jumbo was a literally huge celebrity in the Victorian era, both in England, as the main attraction at London Zoo, and in America, where the 11-foot-tall African elephant became the star of PT Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth. In fact, so well known was the four-legged colossus that ‘jumbo’ entered the English language as a new word for anything big.

Chambers’ biography of Jumbo is deceptively compact, but it tells a big and compelling story in thrilling detail. The impeccably researched narrative traces Jumbo’s story back as far as Taher Sheriff, the African ‘Aggageer,’ or elephant hunter, who captured Jumbo as a young calf in the Sudan, and includes a bloody first hand description by explorer Samuel White Baker of how Sheriff and his fellow horsemen captured (and killed) their prey.

My drawing of
in Circus Mania
From there, Chambers offers fascinating insights into Jumbo’s relationship with his life-long keeper Matthew Scott and the many behind-the-scenes shenanigans involving Scott, London Zoo superintendent Abraham Bartlett and the great circus showman PT Barnum. The detailed descriptions of dramatic events, such as the protracted difficulties in removing Jumbo from the zoo, read like a novel and will have you on the edge of your seat as you read.

Sadly, Jumbo came to a tragic end, beneath the wheels of a steam train. But he surely left a bigger mark on the world than any other animal, as evidenced by the way his name lives on in our daily conversation more than a century later. As Chambers says, the next time you see a jumbo jet or eat a jumbo sausage, remember the original Jumbo - the greatest elephant in the world - after which it’s named.

Jumbo (published by Andre Deutsch) is a highly recommended read. But what of today’s circus elephants? Should the big top still have them, or are they cruelly treated? Before you make up your mind, read both sides of the argument in my book Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus. Oh, and there’s even an original ink drawing of Jumbo in Circus Mania by author Douglas McPherson (That's it, above on the right!).

Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson can be ordered direct from:
Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road

London N8 9NP
Credit card orders can be taken during office hours on 020 8350 1775.

Or click here to order from Amazon.