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."

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Pinders Circus - Two hundred years on the road with Britain's oldest circus family

One of the most interesting people I met while writing Circus Mania was retired ringmaster George Pinder. He gave me this picture of his uncle Tommy, on the road with Pinders Circus in the 1930s, and told me how his family was one of the first to introduce motorised transport to the big top.

“Between the two world wars, we had motor lorries, but we still used horses as well. I remember saying to my dad, ‘Them first lorries you had, how fast did they go?’ Oh, about 12mph or 15mph. ‘So how far behind were the horses when they came in behind the lorries?’ Oh, 15 or 20 minutes. ‘So what did you bother with the lorries for?’ ‘Because you didn’t have to get up at five o’clock in the morning and catch them!’

Pinder comes from one of the oldest families in the circus. Its youngest members, sisters Carol Macmanus and Gracie Timmis run one of the last traditional big top shows still travelling with animals, Circus Mondao.

The following pictures from George’s personal archive provide a trip back in time to when his great-great-grandfather Thomas Ord, a Scottish minister’s son, ran away with a travelling show and went onto to become an equestrian star 200 years ago.

Royal Continental Circus poster, 1926.

Inside the Pinders big top in the 1930s.

The circus in the 1890s.

A poster advertising the horsemanship of Thomas Ord (George’s great-great-grandfather) dated October 25, 1817.

Updated for Circus250!
To read the full story of Britain’s oldest circus family, plus behind-the-scenes visits to all Britain's top circuses, buy Circus Mania from Amazon 

Grand Continental Circus with Pinder and Sons, Dundee, 1926

Friday, 24 May 2013

Circus acts of the 30s and 40s - Variety Acts and Turns of Pre War and Post War Years DVD review

Meet Joy, taking to the air as one of those ‘Aristocrats of Adagio,’ the Marquis Trio.

Say “Hi” to Elizabeth Collins, looking nervous as she faces the
knife-throwing of husband Martin.

These fabulous images are from Variety Acts and Turns of the Post War Years, which with its companion DVD Variety Acts and Turns of the Pre War Years together bring us six hours of entertainment from the days when Britain really had talent.

Pathé is famous for bringing the nation the news in pictures before television was born. But the company also introduced cinema-goers to the best in light entertainment: serious and comic singers, popular vocal groups, jazz bands, big bands, comedians, magicians and, of most interest to this blog, circus acts.

Staged and filmed with the highest production values and presented in gleaming, needle-sharp black and white, these dips into the archives provide a hugely entertaining glimpse of a golden age when circus and music hall acts co-existed on the same stage.

Highlights include a strongman hammering a six-inch nail into a block of wood with his bare palm... then puling it out with his teeth. Smartly dressed husband and wife team the Melvilles juggle with their dinner plates. Another juggler, the talkative Gaston Palmer, is particularly engaging. Highlight of his act sees him throwing a full bottle into the air. As it spins, he opens his umbrella and catches the bottle upside-down on the point so the water runs off the brolly like rain.
Rehearsing the horses of the Continental Circus
in the 1930s

In addition to performance clips, there are fascinating mini-documentaries including a day in the life of a West End showgirl, a clip of a chorus girl's efforts to set a record for 8000 continuous high kicks, and a look at the horses of the Continental Circus being rehearsed.

The Post War Years includes news footage of many still-potent names, including Laurel and Hardy, Max Miller and Gracie Fields. None light up the screen so brightly as Danny Kaye. Seen clowning around in rehearsals for a Royal Command Performance, his charisma is electrifying.

Ultimately, though, it’s the circus acts who’s appeal remains most timeless, from a performing cockatoo to breath-taking roller-skating - enhanced by slow motion. Martin Collins balancing on a slack-wire and throwing knives at Elizabeth while she’s strapped to a revolving target, would have Cirque du Soleil writing blank cheques.

Variety Acts and Turns of the Pre War Years 1938 - 1939 and Variety Acts and Turns of the Post War Years 1946 - 1949 are released by Strike Force Entertainment, price £14.99

See also my reviews of classic circus movie Trapeze and Mexican circus documentary Circo.

For more on the history of circus and the amazing lives of today's circus performers, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon. 

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

Joy breathes a sigh of relief now the knives are safely home!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Roll up, roll up...!

Circus Mania author
Douglas McPherson
Welcome to the new look Circus Mania blog - more colourful, more pictures, more searchable.

As well as refreshing the layout, I’ve gone back through the archive adding updates and pictures. So I hope you’ll scroll down to the topics and labels on the right and have a good root around in the world of circus.

Read my reviews of Trapeze, the classic big top movie starring Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobrigida, and the atmospheric documentary Circo.

Learn about circus training in the UK. Read about the making of Amanda Holden's circus sitcom Big Top.

Explore the thorny issue of animals in the circus and read my interview with Britain’s last tiger trainer.

For something lighter, try my comedy crime serial Murder at the Circus, starring regular My Weekly characters the Blue Rinse Brigade.

You can also click on the tabs above and read extracts from Circus Mania.

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Eva Garcia - Her life and Death in the Sawdust Circle

Eva Garcia
Her life and death in the circus
inspired Circus Mania

Hard to believe it’s ten years since I interviewed Eva Garcia for The Stage. She told me about her life of hard knocks in the sawdust circle - the dislocations, operations and lonely travel, but also the fierce dedication that bound her to a life her family had lived for the past hundred years. She’d just ended a long-term relationship to a man who finally asked her to choose between him and the circus. She chose the circus, feeling she still had ten years of performing ahead of her.

The biggest change Eva had seen in the circus during her lifetime was in the area of presentation. “You still need good tricks,” she smiled, “But these days you don’t have to kill yourself.”

The day after the article appeared, Eva fell 40 feet to her death during a performance at Britain’s oldest circus building still used for its original purpose, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.

Eva Garcia
Eva’s story inspired my journey into the world of circus. I met Britain’s oldest circus family and saw the UK’s last circus with elephants and tigers. I talked to sword-swallowers, clowns, animal trainers and showmen about their unique lives, history, culture, superstitions and secrets.

The result was Circus Mania (Peter Owen Publishing) which the Mail on Sunday called “A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”

Click here to download Circus Mania on Kindle or buy the paperback from Amazon. Then go and see a circus for yourself.

Marvel at the daredevilry.

And think of Eva.