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."

Monday, 30 September 2013

How to win an audition for the Circus of Horrors (and please don't try this at home)

The Circus of Horrors wow Britain's Got Talent
But according to ringmaster Dr Haze, "Our auditions put
Britain's Got Talent to shame."

"One of them got his b*ll*cks out. Then he took a 6-inch nail and nailed them to a chair. It was like, That can't be good for you..."
- Dr Haze on auditions for
the Circus of Horrors


Read the stranger-than-fiction truth about life in the circus from the stars and showmen who live their lives in the sawdust circle, in 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." - The Mail on Sunday.

Buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including postage.

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775



Or click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon as a paperback or ebook.

Circus of Horrors founder Dr Haze (right)
joins circus legend Gerry Cottle (left) and Circus Mania author
Douglas McPherson at the launch party for Circus Mania.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Eva Garcia's Life and death in the circus


"If I still had the wire-walking act nowadays, I would present more and wouldn't do as many hard tricks. You still have to have good tricks, but these days you don't have to kill yourself."
- Eva Garcia in her last interview, with Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson, just days before she
fell to her death during
a show at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.



Eva Garcia
Read her final interview
in Circus Mania
Learn the inside story of the circus, it's secrets, superstitions and slang, from the stars and showmen who live - and sometimes die - in the spotlit circle. It's all in 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." - The Mail on Sunday.

Buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including postage.

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Children of the Circus


"Normally when they're fourteen or fifteen they'll get their own caravan and live outside. My eldest doesn't want me to kick her out. I keep saying, 'I'll buy you a nice caravan.' 'No, no, I'm fine where I am.'"
- Gracie, Circus Mondao

What's it like to grow up in the big top? Or to run away with the circus? Find out from the stars and showmen who live their lives in the sawdust circle, in 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." - The Mail on Sunday.

Buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including postage.

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Circus Slang and how to use it

Bippo ran away with the circus
as a child. Today he speaks fluently
the secret circus language
of the big top's oldest families.
Read his story in Circus Mania.








"Vardi is look. Vardi the chat, as you point at something, means Look at that."
- Bippo the clown





Learn the slang of the circus, the superstitions of the big top and its many other secrets from the stars and showmen who live their lives in the sawdust circle. It's all in 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." - The Mail on Sunday.

Buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including postage.

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775

Or click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The circus girl with the strongest hair in the world!

Hair raising
Anastasia IV
takes to the hair
in the Circus of Horrors
Following on from my previous post about the fastest dog on a tightrope, here's another record breaker. Joanna Sawicka - better known as Circus of Horrors star Anastasia IV has entered the new 2014 edition of the Guinness Book of Records for lifting the greatest weight with her hair - 53.4 kg or 117lbs 11 oz, which is the weight of another person who was suspended from her hair while she was hanging upside down.

Originally from Poland, Anastasia IV was studying to be a bio chemist at London's City of Westminster University when she saw the Circus of Horrors and gave up her scientific ambitions to join them as the girl with the superhuman hair.

Be sure to catch her hair-raising antics in the Circus of Horrors, which will have a Monday night residency at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftsbury Avenue, in the heart of the West End from October 28 to December 16. The show will also be on tour around the country on the other days of the week. Click here for Circus of Horrors tour dates. and click here to see Anastasia in another hair-raising stunt: pulling a hearse with her hair.

Circus of Horrors star Dr Haze (R)
helps launch Circus Mania with
author Douglas McPherson (C)
and showman Gerry Cottle
For more on the Circus of Horrors, read a full chapter on the stomach-churning tricks of its macabre cast, including undead ringmaster Dr Haze, sword-swallower Hannibal Helmurto and Captain Dan the Demon Dwarf in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania.

Fastest dog on a tightrope!

Ozzy the tightrope-walking hound




Does a circus career await Ozzy, the border collie from Norwich, who has just won a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the Fastest Crossing of a Tightrope by a Dog?

Move over Nick Wallenda and forget the Grand Canyon, here's a pooch who can hot foot it across a 3.5 metre rope in just 18.22 seconds.




Friday, 20 September 2013

The Cruel Circus?



"I've seen a lot of cruelty in my time, but it comes from the old families, not the new ones. The Germans were very hard on their animals. But you can have cruel farmers, cruel horse people, cruel dog-handlers. It doesn't mean you have to be cruel to do it, because you don't..."
- Brian Austen, circus owner and former animal trainer, 
interviewed exclusively in Circus Mania.


Learn the truth about how tigers are trained, the superstitions of the big top, the slang of the sawdust circle and its many other secrets from the stars and showmen who live their lives in the circus ring. It's all in 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." - The Mail on Sunday.

Buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including postage.

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775

Or click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

The headline says it all!
How World's Fair reviewed Circus Mania
Click on the links in the column on the right to
read full reviews of Circus Mania.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Circus superstitions

"Some people won't wear green costumes in the ring and others don't mind. Some say, 'Oh, I don't mind wearing green,' then something happens and they say, 'I'm not wearing green anymore!'"
This is said with a pointed look at Kristine, the dancer seating nearby, who immediately begins laughing.
"Kristine used to say, 'I'm not bothered about wearing green.' Then she wore a green costume and fell over and broke her arm. So she won't be wearing green anymore!
"My Aunty Jane wasn't bothered. Then the horse she was riding fell over and broke her leg. So she won't wear green any more!"
- Gracie Timmis, Circus Mondao

Learn the superstitions of the big top, the slang of the circus and its many other secrets from the stars and showmen who live their lives in the sawdust circle. It's all in 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." - The Mail on Sunday.

Buy direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including postage.

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

It's Circus Sunday in Exeter

Extraordinary Bodies, with Dave Toole foreground,
who will be presenting the finale to
Circus Sunday in Exeter





If you're in striking distance of the West Country this weekend, don't miss Circus Sunday (Sept 22) the closing day of Exeter's Unexpected Festival which brings six hours of circus entertainment to the city.

Kicking off at noon, Princeshay Square will be host to six hours of FREE circus, including a new show by Bicycle Ballet called Everyday Hero and a performance by Mattress Circus.

In Exeter Shopping Centre the afternoon's entertainment will include acrobatics by the Black Eagles.


Circus in the streets
as part of  Exeter's
Unexpected Festival
If you have young kids, head for the RAMM/Rougemont Gardens where there will be a pop-up Circus Museum for the under-5s.

If you're feeling acrobatic yourself, head for Southerhay Gardens where Circomedia circus school will be hosting have-a-go sessions on the flying trapeze!

Finally, conclude your day's activities at 5pm at Cathedral Green where new company Extraordinary Bodies will be presenting a FREE show, Weighting, that mixes aerial performances, dance and live music with a cast that includes Dave Toole, who famously flew on a line across the stadium in the opening ceremony of last year's Paralympics.

For details, go to www.unexpectedexeter.co.uk

And if the day makes you wonder what it might be like to run away and join the circus, read about many who did in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus by Douglas McPherson.


Order Circus Mania direct from Peter Owen Publishers for the special offer price of £10 including postage. Send cheques to:

Peter Owen Publishing
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775

And may all your days... be Circus Days!




Saturday, 14 September 2013

Putting the circus in the circus

Splendid Pavlik & Klava
Clowning in the Moscow State CircusBut it's the big tricks like Russian Swing
that give the show its wow factor





As Nick Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon proved earlier this year, circus needs its big trick to draw a crowd. You can’t put the Grand Canyon in a big top, but you still need to give the public something big, special and spectacular that they can’t see anywhere else, otherwise why should they come out to see a show in a tent when they could buy a ticket to a comfortable theatre or stay in with the TV, a DVD or computer game?

Luckily, Britain’s traditional tenting circuses have been pulling out the big tricks this year - and pulling crowds accordingly.





At Zippos, now in the final weeks of its touring season, they have equestrian Nicky de Neumann riding three horses Roman style. That’s something I’d pay to see because while her stunts may date back a couple of hundred years to the days of Phillip Astley and, indeed, a couple of thousand years back to the blood and thunder of ancient Rome, where else in Britain can you see such raw circus today?

Click here to read my interview with Nicky de Neumann.






Thomas Chipperfield's
Big cats back in Britain
Talking of raw - and roar - Thomas Chipperfield’s tigers and lions are a late addition to Peter Jolly’s Circus and again provide a spectacle currently unique in the UK. With a proposed government ban on wild animals hanging over the British circus scene, it’s a case of see ‘em while you can.

The Moscow State Circus, meanwhile, has fielded a top drawer range of large-scale human skills acts in its current production, Park Gorgkogo (Gorky Park). Visit the show’s website for a mouth-watering video trailer that includes:

- The flying trapeze of Aliev’s White Birds.

- The equally gravity-defying juggling of the 4 Yakovleys, who perform while standing at right angles to vertical poles.

- And, best of all, a spectacular 10-strong Russian Swing act that sends its acrobats flying into the very top of the big top.

They’re all acts too big too stage in a theatre, and that’s what a circus needs: a unique reason to visit the big top.

Next week finds the Moscow State Circus crossing the sea to Ireland, where fans of the big trick can see them in:

Dublin, September 25 - 29 and Belfast October 2 - 13.








For more on the people and the acts that put the circus in the circus read what showman's newspaper World's Fair described as "The Greatest Show on Earth in a Book," Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson. Available from Amazon, all good book shops and direct from Peter Owen Publishers for the discount price of £10 including post and packing:

Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP


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


Friday, 13 September 2013

Bippo - Clown Prince of Gerry Cottle's big London shows






Gareth Ellis didn't just run away to join the circus - his parents did, too. Realising how much their son wanted to be a clown, his mum became the showman's secretary, his dad became a handyman and the trio moved into their holiday caravan to join Zippos circus.

Today better known to one and all as Bippo, Gareth is one of the stars of Gerry Cottle's new big top show, Wow!, which is celebrating Cottle's 50 years in the big top with a tour of London's parks from now until November 3. For details of venues click here.

Bippo is also one of the stars of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus by Douglas McPherson, which the Mail on Sunday described as "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form." Buy it and read:

Bippo, right, and juggler Ben Coles
are presenting 50 acts in 100 minutes
in Gerry Cottle's new show, Wow!
- The extraordinary details of Bippo's early life.

- His account of putting up the big top and his everyday life in the circus.

- Bippo's guide to the centuries-old secret language of the circus.

- The secrets of how clowns choose the volunteers for their acts even before the audience has taken its seats.

All this plus the history of clowning, insider accounts of animal training, the story of the circus in Britain, America, Russia and China, and in-depth interviews with a host of colourful circus characters including Gerry Cottle himself.

Circus Mania - Clowns love it!
Buy Circus Mania direct from Peter Owen Publishing for the special offer price of just £10 including postage. Send cheques to:

Peter Owen Publishing
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel: 020 8350 1775

Wow! Circus legend Gerry Cottle returns to London

Thrills and hopefully no spills
on the Wheel of Death
in Gerry Cottle's new show
Wow!









The big news for London’s circus fans is that the biggest name in the big top is back in town. Celebrating his 50 years in the circus with a fast-moving show that crams 50 acts into 100 minutes, Gerry Cottle is bringing his Wow! show to a series of London parks, following a successful run in the South West last year.

It was in London, a city that no circus had played for years, that Cottle made his name by drawing huge crowds in the 70s. He went on to national fame with Seaside Special, a prime time variety show broadcast each Saturday evening from his big top.

Later, Cottle was the guiding force behind the enormous UK success of the Chinese State Circus, Moscow State Circus and Circus of Horrors. A decade ago, he retired from the road to revive the Wookey Hole Caves as one of the south west’s most colourful tourist attractions.

Bippo and friends wow the crowd
But, to steal a line from Cecil B. DeMille’s film The Greatest Show on Earth, you can shake the sawdust off your shoes but you can’t shake it out of your heart. Before long, Gerry had established a thriving circus school at Wookey Hole.

Some of its graduates are among the cast of Wow!, performing on roller skates and unicycles, alongside colourful Kenyan acrobatics, high-altitude thrills on the Wheel of Death and the comedy and magic of Bippo the Clown.

Catch a video trailer for the show at www.wowshow.co.uk, and book your ticket to be wowed.

Currently at Hackney Downs, Sept 19 - 22
Gerry Cottle’s Wow! Show will be moving on to:
Alexandra Palace, Sept 26 - Oct 6
Harpenden Common, Oct 8 - 13
Clapham Common, Oct 23 - Nov 3

For times and bookings, go to www.wowshow.co.uk

!!!CIRCUS MANIA SPECIAL OFFER!!!

Gerry Cottle (L) joins
author Douglas McPherson
and Dr Haze
from the Circus of Horrors
at the launch of
Circus Mania
For the full story of Gerry Cottle’s life in the circus, not to mention the story of Bippo the clown, the Circus of Horrors, the Chinese State Circus and a whole host of circus performers from trapeze flyers to tiger trainers, read Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson, a book which Gerry Cottle himself called “A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people,” and which the Mail on Sunday described as “A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”
Circus Mania retails at £14.99, but you can save £5 by ordering direct from Peter Owen Publishers at the Special Offer price of just £10 postage-free in the UK.
Send cheques to:
Peter Owen Publishers
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP

Tel. 020 8350 1775

Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Greatest (Art) Show on Earth








The atmosphere of the circus has long inspired writers, filmmakers... and artists. It's now the inspiration for an exhibition of work by more than 20 illustrators from the Dawn Chorus Collective.

For one week only from Wednesday 18 Sept (private viewing for the industry) until Saturday 21 Sept, 9am - 7pm, the show is at The Gallery on the Corner, 115 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4BU.



One of the works by
Emma Block



Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Circus tigers back in Britain as Thomas Chipperfield joins Peter Jolly's Circus

Tiger, backstage at Jolly's Circus






When Martin Lacey retired from the big cat cage and closed his Great British Circus at the end of last year, I thought it was the last we'd see of lions and tigers under a British big top, especially with a government ban on wild animals in the circus proposed for 2015.

But, having mentioned Thomas Chipperfield's Circus Lion Training Video Diary in a recent post, I'm pleased to report that Chipperfield and his big cat act is currently appearing in the UK with Peter Jolly's Circus.

For this information, I'm grateful to Astley's Legacy, a blog dedicated to arguing the case for animals in circus and countering the claims of animal rights groups who oppose their use.

Philip Astley
The father of
modern circus
Astley's Legacy is an apt name, reminding us that the circus originated with animal acts - the horses of its founding father, the trick rider Philip Astley. The shape and still standard size of the circus ring was determined by Astley as the optimum space to bring his horses to a gallop and create the centrifrugal force that let him stand on their backs. If you're interested in the rights and wrongs of animals in the sawdust circle, I recommend you take a look at the blog, and also search for Chipperfield's lion training videos on YouTube.

Most of all, though, if Jolly's Circus is in your area, I urge you to go along, watch the performance, visit the animals back stage, perhaps grab the chance to ask Chipperfield any questions you have, and make up your mind for yourself.

It was doing just that, in the case of Lacey and his tigers, that helped me to question my previous instinctively held opposition to the use of performing animals and led me to write about the subject in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania - the book the Mail on Sunday called "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."





Click here to see my pictures of Thomas Chipperfield's big cats backstage at Peter Jolly's Circus. and click here to read my review of Peter Jolly's Circus.

See also my previous posts:
Training Circus Animals - Humane or pain?
Interview with Martin Lacey.
The Elephant in the Room.

Murder at the Circus!

The Blue Rinse Brigade
Four harmless old ladies.
Four thrilling adventures.





About the time I started writing Circus Mania, I also began writing a series of comic crime capers for women's magazine My Weekly.

The stories feature four harmless-looking old ladies who each have a colourful past. 81-year-old Evelyn is a former police chief inspector who led the murder squad at Scotland Yard; 80-year-old Pam is a retired pathologist and army medic; 75-year-old Jane was a spy in the Cold War; and 90-year-old Maude was a code-breaker in World War Two.

Undaunted by age, the fearless foursome use their years of experience and unique skills to take on an increasingly outlandish parade of villains from crazed circus stars to psychotic pirates, while Evelyn's long-suffering son-in-law, Inspector Mervyn Pickles, can only roll his eyes in horror.

Four of the ladies' adventures are now available to download in a single collection, The Blue Rinse Brigade, exclusively from the Kindle Store for just £1.98.

You can also read their big top mystery, Murder at the Circus, free of charge, right here on the blog, by clicking here.
Murder at the Circus
as it originally appeared in
My Weekly