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."

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Great British Circus - Views of Martin Lacey book review

The purr-fect leopard-skin
- 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.

Updated for 2018!
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 

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.


  1. Thanks for the review :) I've also been reviewing some circus books on my blog if anyone's interested...

    1. Thanks for visiting the Circus Mania big top, and for reviewing Circus Mania (the book) on, a site I recommend to anyone looking for intelligent discussion of the circus scene.

  2. After having met Martin & Katie on the weekend I have nothing but respect for you both.

    Steve & Julie