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."

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

5 Great Circus Books for Christmas


Mabel Stark tussles with a tiger
- a picture of the real life Mabel Stark
from Robert Hough's novel





If you’re looking for holiday reading matter, may I suggest...















THE FINAL CONFESSION OF MABEL STARK by Robert Hough
(Atlantic)

From cooch dancer to tiger-wrestling star of the Greatest Show on Earth, with half a dozen husbands along the way, the real life of Ringling legend Mabel Stark provides plenty of material for Hough’s novel. But, written like a memoir, this work of imagination probably brings the golden age of the American circus more thrillingly to life than any factual account. The descriptions of life in the big cat cage, Stark’s many maulings and her relationship with her favourite kitty, Rajah, are especially vivid and convincing - informed, as they are, by some letters about her work that Stark wrote to Earl Chapin May (of whom more below) in preparation for a ghost-written autobiography that never materialised.

From the era to the circus trains and the animal training - and even the structure, which flashes back and forth between Stark's older and younger self - there are parallels with Water For Elephants. But this is a far, far better book, not least due to Hough’s glorious evocation of Stark’s spunky, spiky voice which snaps and snarls from every line.



CONFESSIONS OF A SHOWMAN - My Life in the Circus by Gerry Cottle
(Vision)

From running away with the circus at 15-years-old to running several of Britain’s biggest big top shows, few have lived the circus life as fully as Gerry Cottle and I have met no one with a greater passion for the sawdust and canvas theatre. This candid memoir provides a fascinating look at the inside workings of the circus industry while entertaining with all the pace, daring-do and belly laughs of any show ever presented by Britain’s Barnum.



THE CIRCUS FROM ROME TO RINGLING by Earl Chapin May
(Dover)

May writes of the “ever changing, never changing circus,” and it’s that never-changing quality that makes his rollicking survey of the Great American Circus as fascinating today as it was when it was written in 1932. Mixing historical accounts of circus’ rise through the previous century with a then contemporaneous look at the backstage workings of the Ringling show, May takes in every aspect of the three-ring world, from clowns to elephants. His showmanly prose mixes hard facts and diligent research with just the right amount of ringmaster’s hyperbole to evoke the sparkle of spangles and the scent of cotton candy. Probably long out of print, this is gem worth seeking out in the dusty corners of a second-hand book shop.



INSIDE THE CHANGING CIRCUS by David Lewis Hammarstrom
(Bear Manor Media)

Like a modern day Earl Chapin May, Hammarstrom guides us through the American circus as it exists now. Things have changed from the glory days when Mabel Stark ruled the centre ring, with the Ringling Brothers having become the “Ringless Brothers” since moving out of big tops “that you could almost feel breathing in and out,” and into indoor arenas “as exciting to behold as an abandoned airstrip in the Nevada desert.” Alternately bubbling with enthusiasm and seething with frustration, Hammarstrom is rare among circus writers in pointing out the rubbish and rip-offs alongside the wonderful in his quest to make you “a more discriminating circus fan.”


CIRCUS MANIA by Douglas McPherson
(Peter Owen)

Modesty forbids me saying too much about my own book, so let’s leave it to Britain’s biggest-selling Sunday newspaper, the Mail on Sunday: “Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form.” Click on the above tabs to read an extract or click on the book cover above right, go to the Amazon page and use the Look Inside function to try before you buy.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Phew - he made it! Nik Wallenda crosses the Grand Canyon on a wire


Man on a wire
Nik Wallenda




The world held its breath in the ringside seats earlier this morning (UK time; 8pm yesterday US time) as Nik Wallenda put circus skills back in the centre ring with a daredevil high-wire walk across the Grand Canyon.
The 22 minute, quarter mile stroll through mid-air saw the 34-year-old balancing on a 2-inch-thick steel cable 1500-feet above the Little Colorado River while cameras attached to the funambulist showed TV viewers the stomach-turning drop beneath his feet.
"It took every bit of me to focus the entire time," said Nik, who had to contend with 30mph winds, and twice kneel on the wire to "get the rhythm out of it."
Watch a clip here and, to paraphrase Nik's great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, marvel at what a man can do!
Karl would have been proud. But then, Nik was so high in the sky his ancestor was probably right there on the wire with him.


Coming soon on the Circus Mania blog: More about the famous Wallendas in my round-up of great circus books. As for what it takes to walk on a wire, read my interview with Spain's Alexa Leconte in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Circus Mania review - "Circus Mania opens a much needed tent-flap into today's circus world."





My thanks to Katherine Kavanagh for posting a great review of Circus Mania on her website The Circus Diaries.


Having begun by calling Circus Mania

“an engaging and enjoyable read, offering an evocative flavour of circus life,”

she goes on to state,

“I have no doubt that this will be a fascinating resource to scholars of the future looking back on our particular period of history.”

The review concludes:

“Above all it is an entertaining and accessible read, and certainly opens a much needed tent-flap into today’s circus world.”

The Circus Diaries, incidentally, exists to promote a greater critical discourse about circus, which is something the industry sorely needs. I recommend you take a look.

And if Kathryn's review makes you want to read Circus Mania, you can buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers by sending a cheque for £10 (including postage in UK; add £2.75 for overseas orders) to:


Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Or click here to buy from Amazon.

Coming soon on the Circus Mania blog:
5 Great Circus Books for Summer Reading

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Great British Circus - Views of Martin Lacey book review


The purr-fect leopard-skin
accessory
- a picture from
The Great British Circus
- Views of Martin Lacey






On the walls are paintings of animals. Draped over the furniture are the skins of lions, tigers and zebra. On the mantle-piece are the skulls of two tigers who nearly ate their owner for breakfast. Welcome to the living room of Britain’s last big cat trainer, Martin Lacey.


I wasn’t there, so I’m grateful to biographer David Barnaby for describing Lacey’s home in such detail in his new book The Great British Circus - Views of Martin Lacey (Book Guild).

I have to admit I felt a little let down by the subtitle. I thought it was going to be a book of Lacey’s opinions, which Barnaby had ghost-written. Instead, it’s a straight-forward biography - Barnaby’s views of Lacey, rather than Lacey’s views.

Sadly, too, the book was completed before Lacey’s retirement from the big cat cage at the end of last year.* The closure of his Great British Circus would have nicely rounded off the story of a man who was once one of Britain’s most celebrated animal trainers, having trained the tigers for the Esso adverts and the lions for the London Zoo scene in An American Werewolf in London, and also made regular guest appearances as the animal expert on popular TV show Magpie, but who had become in more recent times one of the most controversial figures of the British circus scene, defiantly presenting the UK’s last big top show with tigers and elephants in an era of continual picketing from animal rights groups.

Personally I found Lacey’s own book, My Life With Lions, a more entertaining read, even though its text is concise and it’s more of a photo collection.

But The Great British Circus nevertheless gives us many anecdotes not in Lacey’s book (including some amusing examples of Lacey’s famously explosive temper) and some nice pictures, including the one above of one of Lacey’s exes taking the circus takings to the bank. I can’t imagine her getting robbed with that cheetah on a lead!


See also:
Read my review of My Life With Lions by Martin Lacey and read my interview with Martin Lacey.





You can also read about my visit to Britain’s last circus with tigers and elephants in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to Buy Circus Mania from Amazon or direct from Peter Owen Publishers for £10 including postage and packing in the UK (add £2.75 for overseas orders). Send cheques to:

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Another of Lacey's ladies... and leopards
A 1975 publicity shot
featured in The Great British Circus
-Views of Martin Lacey


Click here for: 5 Great Circus Books for holiday reading this summer.



Thomas Chipperfield and Tsavo the lion
take to the ring
* At the time of his retirement from the big cat cage, Martin Lacey was the only tiger trainer in a British big top, and with a government ban on wild animals in the circus due to come into force in December 2015, he looked like being the very last. Late in 2013, though, 24-year-old Thomas Chipperfield joined Peter Jolly's Circus with his mixed lion and tiger act, with which he'd previously been working with Tom Duffy's Circus in Ireland, and brought big cats back to Britain. Click here to see my pictures of Chipperfield and his animals in the ring and backstage.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Russells International Circus putting up the big top



A massive poster campaign announced the first visit of Russells International Circus to Wymondham in Norfolk at the beginning of June. They had a glorious sunny, windless day to put up the big top in a corner of Kett’s Park, beside the leisure centre, as I found when I dropped by to take these pictures.

With the four king poles standing, the fixed-shape uppermost part of the tent, the cupola, waits on the back of a truck while the tent men hammer in the surrounding stakes.




With the tent attached to the cupola, the big top is slowly winched aloft, by hand.



           
 
  In the sunshine of a warm Monday evening, the circus stands built... and waiting. The show doesn’t open until Wednesday. The queues, music and hoopla are two days away and an almost eerie stillness hangs over the lorries, caravans and tent. The circus - indeed the whole park - appears deserted and silent. But not quite silent. From behind the big top a generator rumbles quietly, like a sleeping heartbeat. Beside one of the caravans, a man sits tending a barbeque, the tang of charcoal scenting the air with the promise of the hotdog stand aroma to come. And in the dry and dusty empty car park a young man in a red t-shirt circles restlessly in the sunshine... atop a unicycle.
     
Russells International Circus - For latest dates and showtimes visit www.russellscircus.co.uk





Read about my backstage visits to, and interviews with the showmen and stars of top British circuses including the Circus of Horrors, Chinese State Circus, Great British Circus and Great Yarmouth Hippodrome in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.
Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

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



"Gypsies know better than to mix it with the circus..."

- For more on circus transport, read Ingo Dock's account of moving the Chinese State Circus.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Chipperfields - Europe's largest animal circus









Circus animals are thin on the sawdust these days - you may find a few horses or dogs in a British big top if you’re lucky.


How different it was in the past as this Chipperfields poster from 1959 proves. Under the monocled eye of then TV favourite Fred Emney we find:

- Polar bears and brown bears.

- 4 Shire carthorses.

- a Poodle and Pony revue.

- Europe’s Greatest Elephant Herd (presented by the “15-year-old wonder boy of the circus,” Dickie Chipperfield).

- Nubian Lions.

- Cheeky chimps.

- 16 thoroughbred horses.

- Chako the “almost human” ape.

As if that were not enough, a “Fabulous Exotic Act” featured:

- 2 Giraffes.

- 8 Camels.

- 8 Lamas.

- Harry the Hippo

- and (scribbled in as if almost an afterthought) Crocodiles!


In this later poster from 1963, Chipperfields put the giraffes, camels, lamas and hippo on display but presumably didn’t have enough paper to list the rest of the acts individually, boasting only, “Europe’s largest animal show - over 200 animals.”

“The only circus in the world where this spectacle can be seen,” shouts the advertising copy. To which, half a century on, we can probably add with some certainty, “And which will never be seen again.”


Read about the colourful history of the circus, the amazing stories of today's circus people and the ongoing debate about animals in the circus in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With the Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Or order from Peter Owen Publishers by sending a cheque for £10 to:
Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

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



But animals haven't fully left the big top. Click here to see my pictures of the latest Chipperfield, 24-year-old Thomas Chipperfield, and his big cats at Peter Jolly's Circus. and click here to read my review of Peter Jolly's Circus.



Find fabulous examples of circus posters
and programmes through the Circus Mania blog.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Coulrophobia - the fear of clowns!








Hope no-one minds the new picture behind the title of this blog. Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns and according to Jasper King of the Chipolatas, it's rife in Britain, which is why he and his troupe of musical jesters have dispensed with their white faces. Other funny-men have reduced their motley and slap to a minimum so as not to scare the kids.

For more on the changing face of clowning, from 19th century pantomime star Joseph Grimaldi, after whom clowns are still nicknamed Joeys, to today’s kings of big top comedy, Clive Webb, Danny Adams and Bippo, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

The Mail on Sunday said, “Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form,” and “an excellent book.” Who am I to disagree?

Buy Circus Mania direct from Peter Owen Publishers at the special offer price of £10 including postage and packing in the UK (add £2.75 postage rest of world).

Send cheques to:

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Or click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Did you know...
That August 1 - 7 is International Clown Week - a celebration that was written into American law by President Richard Nixon on August 2, 1971?


Click here to read 10 Facts About Clowns.

And if you suffer from coulrophobia DON'T click here to read about Britain's crazy clown crime-wave!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

How to Juggle in Five Easy Steps for International Juggler's Day, April 18, 2016

Grab your balls!
And learn to juggle!

If you’ve ever wanted to juggle then International Juggler's Day (April 18) or World Juggling Day (June 20, 2016), is the day to start.

Juggling is great for improving hand and eye coordination and is said to improve creative thinking by uniting the left and right halves of the brain. Here are five tips to get you started.




Sand-filled Juggling Balls
won't roll bounce away when
you drop them
1 - Invest in a set of soft leather, sand-filled juggling balls. They’re easy to catch and won’t bounce away when you drop them.



2 - Go outside where you won’t hit anything with a flying ball.



3 - Practise throwing one ball in an arc from hand to hand, with your hands a couple of feet apart, just above waist height, and the ball reaching head height. As you get used to it, begin moving your hands in a circular juggling motion with each catch and throw.



Juggling
It takes balls!
4 - With a ball in each hand, throw the right ball in an arc towards your left hand. Just before it reaches your hand, throw the left ball to your right hand. Don’t place the ball in your left hand as that will make it harder to progress to three balls. Catch both balls and repeat until confident.



5 - Once you’ve mastered two balls, begin with two balls in your right hand and one in your left. Throw one ball from right to left. Before it reaches your left hand, throw the left ball to your right hand. Before it reaches your right hand throw the second ball to your left hand. Before it reaches your left hand, throw the ball in your left hand to your right hand.

Keep doing this and... hey, you’re juggling!


Jasper King
tries not to become a burnt
Chipolata
- a picture from
Circus Mania
It takes a lifetime of practise to juggle like Jasper King of the Chipolatas (left). Read his story and the stories of trapeze artists, sword swallowers, tiger trainers, clowns and showmen in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

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

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

15 JUGGLING FACTS for the 20th World Juggling Day, June 20, 2015!

Celebrate International Juggler's Day - April 18, and the 20th World Juggling Day - Saturday June 20, 2015.




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



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



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



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



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



6- Charles 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.



7 - 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.



8 - 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.



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



10 - 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.



Starr Juggler
One of the stars of
Circus Starr, the circus that
helps kids.
Click here to read the story.
11 - Foot-juggling with a person is known as a Risley act after the 19th century American pioneer of the style Richard Risley Carlisle.



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



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



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



15 - The International Juggling Association was formed in 1947.



Buy sand-filled balls
so they won't roll away
when you drop them
Celebrate International Juggler's Day on April 18 and 20th World Juggling Day on Saturday June 20, 2015!







The headline says it all!
- Circus Mania reviewed in World's Fair
Find the link in the column on the right
to read the review
For interviews with jugglers, clowns, tiger trainers and all things circus, click here to buy Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus - described by the Mail on Sunday as "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."














Monday, 10 June 2013

Zippos rides into Scotland - Roman style!


Nicky de Neumann
riding Roman style







The word circus dates from ancient Rome when arenas such as the Circus Maximus were host to hair-raising chariot races.

Zippos will be bringing a touch of the Roman hippodrome to the modern circus when it arrives in Glasgow this week, in the form of Nicky de Neumann’s daredevil horse-riding.
Nicky, seen here riding Roman style, with a foot on each horse, grew up in Croydon where her parents apparently couldn’t afford to buy her a pony, so she learned to ride with the local Gypsies. She’s been putting on a wild show ever since, having even appeared as the gun-toting cowgirl Annie Oakley in a wild west display at Euro Disney.
Joining Nicky in the sawdust circle at Glasgow’s Queen’s Park from June 11 - 16, before the Zippos tent moves on to the city’s Victoria Park (18 -23) and then Edinburgh (26 - 30) are Cuban acrobats and a strongman called Hercules who likes having a car driven over his chest.
There will be more stunt riding - on roaring motorbikes - in the Globe of Death, while Britain’s most distinguished ringmaster, Norman Barrett MBE, presents his famous budgies.
To book your seat, call 0871 210 2100.

The Zippos showgirls waiting to go on.

(Both photos: Piet-Hein Out, courtesy of Zippos)
Backstage at Zippos
But what’s life like behind the red velvet curtain of the Zippos big top?
Read an in-depth interview with showman Martin Burton in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.
In a chapter on Zippos, Burton talks about:
- His journey from Covent Garden street clown to owner of Britain’s most popular traditional circus.

- The on-going battle with animal rights protestors.

- Behind-the-scenes secrets of BBC1’s Amanda Holden sitcom Big Top.

- His Academy of Circus Arts in which YOU can learn how to be a circus star while travelling around the country putting on shows in a real big top.

Circus Mania is available in paperback or as an ebook from Amazon, or direct from Peter Owen Publishers for £10 including post and packing in the UK (Add £2.75 for overseas orders). Send cheques to:
Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP
And may all your days be circus days!

Coming soon on Circus Mania:
June 15 is World Juggling Day - Read 15 Facts about Juggling on Thursday June 13.
On Monday June 17, roll up, roll up for The Glory Days of Chipperfields - Europe's largest animal circus!


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Inside the BBC's Big Top with Amanda Holden






Lights!









Camera!









Action!


Digging through the archives, I found these behind-the-camera pictures from the making of the 2009 BBC 1 circus sitcom Big Top.
Set in the fictional Circus Maestro, the series starred Amanda Holden as ringmistress Lizzie, alongside Ruth Madoc and Tony Robinson. As these pictures show, the location shots were filmed in the big top normally occupied by Zippos' travelling circus school, the Academy of Circus Arts.

Click here to read more on the making and reception of Big Top.


"Brilliant"
- Mail on Sunday
And for the full backstage story of what life's like in the circus, including a chapter on Zippos and the making of the BBC's sitcom Big Top read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

(Big Top photos courtesy of Zippos Circus)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

If you hate visiting the dentist, don't read this interview with Australian circus girl Chelsea McGuffin


Chelsea McGuffin
Photo by Raphale Helle
Courtesy of Norfolk and Norwich Festival






The great thing about circus is that no matter how many shows you see you always get at least one thing that’s jaw-dropping amazing. Australian acrobat Chelsea McGuffin provided one of many such moments when I visited a performance by leading Aussie company Circa during the writing of Circus Mania. Midway through the show, Darcy Grant hooked his fingers in her mouth and, to the audible disbelief of the packed audience, dangled her from the trapeze by her teeth, like a fish on a line.


Last year I ran into Chelsea again when she was appearing in Cantina, a show she’d devised herself as the centerpiece of the five-month London Wonderground festival at the Southbank Centre. I reminded her of the tooth hang and had to ask... doesn’t that hurt?

“It doesn’t hurt too much. It’s more about having the will to do it. Circus is something you have to be very passionate about to commit to and want to wake up everyday for. But it’s definitely what I’m passionate about.”

How did you get into circus?

“I sort of fell into it. I thought ballet was my calling but in my early 20s I stumbled across a circus class in Sydney that I really enjoyed. From there I joined a nomadic circus called Circus Monoxide. It was a contemporary circus but very much based on the traditional model of travelling to town and setting up our rig and our tent. That’s where I learned most of my skills as well as things like how to negotiate living on a bus with 12 other people. It was a great life experience.”

An OMG moment
as Darcy Grant
prepares to suspend
Chelsea McGuffin
....by her teeth!
How big is circus down under?

"For a small population like Australia, circus is quite big. Our two major companies are Circa and Circus Oz but there are many smaller groups and a lot of independent work. Every state has a circus school, but we lack the audience numbers so a lot of work gets created but it’s more likely to have its life overseas.”

Does circus have a retirement age?

“I think it’s up to how long you feel like being on stage and how long your body can hold out. I’m 36 and I don’t recover as fast as I did in my 20s. But it’s still something I’m really passionate about and I hope I can keep doing it for many years yet.”

For more examples of the pain circus performers put themselves through in the name of art, read Circus Mania. Be warned, though, that the chapter on the Circus of Horrors is not for the squeamish. One of America’s most eminent circus writers admitted there were some sentences he couldn’t bear to read!

See also: The circus girl with the strongest hair in the world.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Gerry Cottle then and now









John Masefield likened Circus to Paradise - “a world of strangeness and beauty in which all the inhabitants have a loveliness, a skill or swiftness not before seen, and where even the oldest jokes take on new life.”

Those words open the text of this delightful programme for Gerry Cottle’s 1984 season. The programme goes on to say:

“Gerry Cottle’s present purpose is not simply to restore Circus to how it used to be, but to make it as it never really was: to make our childhood dreams a reality - to create the circus we thought we saw as children, and, as grown-ups, had come to believe we would never see again.”

It was a ground-breaking show in two respects. Firstly, it had no animals at a time when the campaign against animals in the circus was starting to take hold among the local councils who licensed show grounds, but when the majority of circus-goers still expected to see them. Secondly, it included the students of Cottle’s first circus school who were recruited in open auditions around the country.
The circus had a vintage look

Like many things that are ahead of their time, the tour had a mixed reception, doing well in more arty, cosmopolitan areas, and less well in the more traditional provinces. But it left a lasting legacy. Among the alumni of Cottle’s school was aerialist Andrew Watson who went on to become a leading light in Cirque du Soleil.

Cottle himself remains committed to nurturing the circus talent of tomorrow. At Britain’s oldest tourist attraction, the prehistoric Wookey Hole caves in Somerset, he runs a new circus school for children who put on shows for the public every weekend and school holiday.

He has a recently-built hotel on site, making Wookey the ideal location for a West Country break. As well as the caves, a dinosaur park, fairy garden and, of course, a circus museum, you may even see his students create what in 1984 he promised would be “The circus that never was, but always should have been.”

For more information call Wookey Hole on 01749 672243.

Gerry Cottle in 1984
See also my earlier posts on the Gerry Cottle story and the witch of Wookey Hole.

For the full story of Gerry Cottle and his Wookey Hole Circus School and the stories of many more colourful characters from circus past and present, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus, available in paperback and ebook.

Click to buy from Amazon or order direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including post and packing in the UK (add £2.75 postage worldwide). Send cheques to:

Recreating the circus "as it never was
but as it always should have been."
Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775 in office hours.



Saturday, 1 June 2013

From Zippos to Maestro












My previous post with a picture of a Pinder’s Circus lorry in the 1930s, reminded me of these pictures of more recent circus transport.


When the BBC made the 2009 sitcom Big Top it borrowed Zippos smaller tent, which is normally used by the circus’ travelling Academy of Circus Arts, and some of its lorries, all of which were re-branded with the name of the fictional Circus Maestro.

Starring Amanda Holden, Ruth Madoc and Tony Robinson, Big Top got a reception from the critics as frosty as these wintry scenes.

But although it was a big flop, the show looked fantastic with every backstage scene and caravan interior filled with atmospheric detail.



Click here to read more on the making and critical reception of Big Top.

And buy Circus Mania for a full chapter on the show and an in-depth interview in which Zippos director Martin Burton tells the story of his journey from Covent Garden street clown to owner of Britain's most popular traditional circus.

Visit Zippos!
 www.zipposcircus.co.uk







Click here to read about life in the real big top with Britain's oldest circus family.