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."

Friday, 25 April 2014

Circus Mondao - inside the real big top with Britain's oldest circus family

Circus Mondao in the Weekly News

Going through the archives, I found the above full-page article that I wrote for the Weekly News shortly before Circus Mania came out. The BBC's new circus comedy series Big Top, starring Ruth Madoc and Amanda Holden, had just debuted on television, so it seemed a good time to take a look inside the real big top of Circus Mondao. Run by sisters Carol MacManus and Gracie Timmis, who's family have been in the circus since the early 1800s, the traditional show was spending Christmas at the Elvenden Estate on the edge of Norfolk's Thetford Forest.

I was pleased with the photo selection, including the shot of Carol, ringmistress Petra Jackson and Gracie's daughters riding horses in a My Fair Lady routine. Sitting at ring side as the spotted horses came into the spotlights was one of the magical memories of the night I saw them there. It's also good to see the picture of the circus' camels being exercised on Whitby beach - proof that a circus animal's life isn't purely one of confinement. On the day I visited Circus Mondao in Elvenden, Petra had just returned from taking the camels for a long run through the Forest. Not a walk - "proper camel running," she proudly reported.

Another striking memory from Elvenden was of young clown Bippo sliding almost the whole width of the ring on his belly during a gloriously wet and messy slosh routine. He must have froze in the weeks to come, because soon after my visit the snow fell, heavily, and stayed throughout the Christmas period. It must have been tough on the performers, because the tent was none too warm when I was there. But as Carol said, when I asked her about working over the holiday season, their only day off Christmas Day itself, "This is our life. If we weren't working, what else would we do?"

Little did I know that during that chilly yuletide, love was blossoming beneath the snow-capped canopy of the light-bedecked big top. Bippo had met German Wheel star Lucy Ladbrooke in a previous engagement at the Yarmouth Hippodrome. They'd kept up a romance by phone as work took Lucy to a holiday resort in Turkey. Back from Europe, she got a job at Elvendon, dressed as an elf and selling Christmas trees so the couple could be together.

The following season, she joined Circus Mondao and, later that year I was able to write a follow-up piece in the Weekly News about Bippo's proposal in the circus ring.

From circus ring to wedding ring
Bippo pops the question

Read the full story of Britain's oldest circus family and Bippo, the boy who ran away with the circus, in Circus Mania, described by the Mail on Sunday as "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Click here to read my review of the Circus Mondao pantomime!

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