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, 31 March 2014

Turquoise Radio celebrates World Circus Day

Laid back radio presenter Michael Sargent
will be talking circus with Douglas McPherson
on Turquoise Radio
to celebrate World Circus Day

My thanks to Michael Sargent for inviting me onto his Write To Be Heard book programme on Turquoise Radio to talk about World Circus Day, Circus Mania and all things circus.

The hour-long show will be broadcast over the internet on Tuesday April 15 at 8pm US ET (that's 1am Wednesday morning in the UK) and repeated at 10am on Sunday April 20 (a far easier to catch 3pm in the UK).

Tune in at

Circus Starr tour dates

Balancing act
Miss Lara star of Circus Starr
the circus that helps kids

Have you heard about the circus that sells out its big top every night, yet no one who buys a ticket ever sees the show?

The Circus Starr big top
Circus Starr, now celebrating 26 years on the road, is a unique not-for-profit organisation that sells tickets to businesses in the towns it visits, then donates the tickets to disabled and disadvantaged children and their families with profits going to local charities such as hospices and the air ambulance service.

Just because it's for charity doesn't mean it's not a great show, though. Starr is part of Gandey World Class Productions which produces shows such as the Chinese State Circus, Spirit of the Horse and the Krystal Dinner Show (the latter a fine dining experience with circus acts in a Speigeltent in Dubai). According to Circus Starr director Neville Wilson, the big top show "could be sold commercially, no problem" - as this picture of one of its stars, Miss Lara, surely proves.

The Circus Starr autumn tour kicks off in Macclesfield on September 8. More details at

Click here to read an interview with Circus Starr director Neville Wilson.

If you've ever dreamed of running away with the circus, meanwhile, read Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson to find out what life behind the greasepaint is really like. Click here to read seven rave customer reviews on Amazon.

Matisse was a circus fan

The Horse, the Rider and the Clown
Henri Matisse

According to the poet Charles Baudelaire, "Genius is just childhood one can return to at will." If that's the case, the artist Henri Matisse was perhaps blurring genius with second childhood when in the final decade of his life he swapped paint and brushes for cutting shapes out of coloured paper and sticking them together.

He also returned to some childhood memories, including a fondness for the circus, as expressed in the above work, The Horse, the Rider and the Clown, which is part of a forthcoming exhibition at the Tate.

Other pictures include dancers and knife-throwers. Matisse, in fact, compared his work with that of a juggler or acrobat - mind, hand and eye working in perfect harmony.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

15 Circus Facts for World Circus Day, April 18, 2015

Roll up, roll up!
Who could have resisted this poster
for Rosaire's Big Circus in 1946?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, with World Circus Day, April 18, almost upon us, Roll up, Roll up for the Circus Mania bluffer's guide to circus history and culture with these 15 fabulous facts about the sawdust circle.

1 - The word Circus dates from Roman times when arenas such as the Circus Maximus staged chariot races, gladiatorial contests and mock battles.

2 - The modern circus was founded in London by trick horse-rider Philip Astley, who opened his Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts in London, in 1768.

A classic circus poster for
Manchester's Belle Vue winter circus
from 1960
3 - Astley’s rival Charles Hughes was the first to use the word circus in the modern sense when he founded the Royal Circus.

4 - A standard circus ring is 42-feet in diameter.

5 - Clowns are nicknamed Joeys after 19th century pantomime star Joseph Grimaldi.

6 - Leotards are named after the first star of the flying trapeze, Jules Leotard.

7 - The word jumbo, meaning large, entered the English language because of Jumbo, an 11-foot-tall elephant that the American showman PT Barnum bought from London Zoo.

Perhaps the most famous name
in British circus was Billy Smart,
nicknamed the Guv'nor.
8 - The traditional circus theme music is called Entrance of the Gladiators.

Charlie Cairoli was the first clown to appear on This Is Your Life.

10 - Chinese acrobats first appeared in European circuses in 1866.

11 - Cirque du Soleil was created as part of 1984’s celebrations to mark the 450th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s discovery of Canada.

12 - Circus Space, in London, is the UK’s only training facility to offer a BA (hons) degree in circus arts.

13 - The first American circus was founded by John Bill Ricketts in Philadelphia.

14 - A ‘Josser’ is an outsider who joins the circus.

15 - According to circus superstition, it’s bad luck to wear green in the ring.

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

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

“The Greatest Show on Earth... in a Book!”
- World’s Fair.

Click here to buy the paperback or ebook from Amazon.

And may all your days be circus days!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Win Two Nights in Monte Carlo for the Circus Photo of the Year

With World Circus Day almost upon us, here are a couple of my favourite pictures from last year's photo contest run by the World Circus Federation.

The theme of the contest was Strength, Courage, Balance and Grace,
and this picture by finalist Nicole Bokhaus doesn't really tick any of those boxes
but it's one of my favourites for capturing the magic of the circus.
The little girl is Chanel Knie from the Knie circus family, but she could
easily be seen as a member of the audience experiencing the
wonder of the circus for the first time.

A beautiful shot of Claude Bouillon and a white horse from
the Luna Caballera Circus in a snowy Canadian landscape
photographed by Christa Fairchild.

And here's the winner by Essi Makela from Finland.
There's something other-worldly and out of time about this picture
of Laury Tissuer and Picasso, a Lusitano stalion, that
captures the traditions and Gypsy-like spirit of the circus

But have you a circus photo of your own? Submit it to this year's photo contest to be in with a chance of winning the top prize of a two night stay in Monte Carlo and two tickets to the 2015 International Circus Festival. The twelve finalists will have their photos reproduced in the World Circus Federation calendar and receive a copy signed by the Federation's patron, Princess Stephanie of Monaco. This year's theme is World Circus Day. For details of entry, click here to go to the World Circus Federation website.

"A very
enjoyable book"
- Visit Amazon to
read seven
customer reviews

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

20 Juggling Facts for the 20th World Juggling Day, June 20, 2015

"I loved this book"
5-star customer review of Circus Mania
on Amazon

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

2 - Comedian W.C. Fields began his career as The Eccentric Juggler.

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

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

Sand-filled juggling balls
won't bounce away when you drop them
5 - Juggler Paul Cinquevalli was nicknamed the Human Billiard Table

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

7Clubs are easier than balls to juggle on a unicycle because they require less accuracy to catch.

8Charles 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.

9 - 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.

10 - 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.

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

12 - Jenny Jaeger is the only person ever to juggle with ten balls in daily performance.

13 - 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.

Hoop juggling
at Britain's oldest circus building
the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome.
Read about the 100-year-old
venue in Circus Mania
14 - Foot-juggling with a person is known as a Risley act after the 19th century American pioneer of the style Richard Risley Carlisle.

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

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

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

18 - The International Juggling Association was formed in 1947.

19 - The word juggling comes from the Middle English word jogelen, meaning to entertain by performing tricks.

20 - Juggling is celebrated twice a year - with International Juggler's Day on April 18, and World Juggling Day on June 20 this year.

For more about jugglers, trapeze artists, sword swallowers, tiger trainer, clowns, ringmasters and showmen, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus (Peter Owen Publishers). Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

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

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A letter from Princess Stephanie of Monaco, announcing the fifth World Circus Day, April 19, 2014

Opening Fifth World Circus Day Celebrations
20 March 2014

Today we begin a month long celebration of Circus, the Art of Happiness.  As Honorary
President of the Fédération Mondiale du Cirque, I invite you to commemorate the history
and promote the future of Circus arts and culture by hosting an event of your choosing anytime between now and the Fifth World Circus Day on 19 April 2014.  As part of this year's Fifth Anniversary festivities, each event organiser is asked join our virtual Pyramid of Happiness as a multicultural symbol of the strength, collaboration, trust and skill inherent in Circus.

H.S.H. Princess Stephanie·of Monaco
Honorary President
Fédération Mondiale du Cirque

Click here for 5 Ways to celebrate World Circus Day!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

National Centre For Circus Arts takes circus to new heights in the UK

Circus Space
Once a derelict power station, now the new
National Centre for Circus Arts

For years, circus has existed on the fringe of British entertainment, much less culture. The very word 'circus' is often used as a derogatory term: media circus, for example.

But this week the world of acrobats and funambulists will attain a new level of respectability as culture minister Ed Vaizey announces the government’s decision to elevate Circus Space, London’s leading circus school, to a new status - the National Centre for Circus Arts.

National Centre for Circus Arts represents a major step up for the profile of circus in the UK, and also recognises the increasing use of circus skills in mainstream theatre productions and other spheres of entertainment.
Flying high
the new National Centre for Circus Arts
More than just a change of name, having a

Theatre director Stephen ’Billy Elliot’ Daldry, who collaborated with Circus Space for his staging of the London 2012 Olympics ceremonies described the new national status as "a great validation," while Jane Rice-Bowen, joint chief executive of the National Centre said: "This word 'national' will help people to realise that circus is something special. Our vision is a culture of circus in the UK. So, when mum sees little Tommy climbing up the curtains or doing something terrifying on the climbing-frame, she doesn't go, 'Oh my God, you're going to kill yourself, get down'. She’ll say, 'that kid could be the next great circus artist'."

Founded 25 years ago by a group of performers looking for a space to train and teach, Circus Space grew from the ash and pigeon feathers of an abandoned Victorian power station to become Britain's only training facility to offer a BA Hons degree in Circus Arts.

Read the full story of Circus Space in Circus Mania - a backstage journey through the world of sword-swallowers, tiger trainers, trapeze artists, clowns and showmen. The Mail on Sunday described Circus Mania as “A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”

But, hey, perhaps the circus ain’t quite ready to vanish just yet.

Gerry Cottle (l) and Dr Haze
from the Circus of Horrors
help author Douglas McPherson
launch Circus Mania at
what was then Circus Space
and is now the
National Centre for Circus Arts
Click here to read about Britain's only degree course in circus arts and click here to see pictures of the new National Centre for Circus Arts when it was still a power station.