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, 26 May 2014

Circus war in Norfolk

Are the more than 50 circuses in the UK this year (click here for the full list) too many for our small island?

Earlier this month, Circus Wonderland was forced to cancel its engagement in King's Lynn when director Paul Carpenter discovered Uncle Sam's Great American Circus was appearing in the Norfolk market town the week before. It would have been "financial suicide" to have two circuses appearing in consecutive weeks, said Carpenter.

Uncle Sam's Circus was itself the third circus to visit King's Lynn this year, following Circus Mondao and Russell's International Circus.

Wind forward a couple of weeks, and just a few miles west to Norwich, and on the day Uncle Sam's American Circus trucks roll out of Taverham in the north of the city (click here to see my pictures of their spectacular American lorries), I saw a poster for Billy Smart's Circus, which is coming to the Norwich Showground in just a couple of weeks on June 10.

Is the whole country suffering from such an abundance of circuses? And is there a big enough audience to sustain them all, or will the public be, as Paul Carpenter described King's Lynn "circused out"?


  1. I suspect the answer is in better communication regarding tour plans. I understand that, historically, circuses stayed schtum to prevent deliberate gazumping, but the humanist in me can't help feel a central hub - where stands are claimed on an honour-based first-come-first-served system - would be a useful resource. Surely there are enough towns in the UK to get around! (The 50+ circuses noted on The Circus Diaries aren't all tenting companies, some play in festival or theatre venues only).
    This would take a huge change in attitude though I guess!

    1. The lack of advance tour dates is a real nuisance to circus fans, too. If you want to see, say, Circus Mondao, you can only find out where they are this week. So do you travel half way across the country to catch them and risk the fact that if you'd waited a couple of months they'd be in your home town?
      Zippos advertise their dates a fair way in advance, but is it really secrecy on the part of the others? Uncle Sam's Facebook page has lots of requests from fans asking if they're going to different parts of the country and their standard reply is that they only book their route a few weeks in advance. That may sound unlikely, but a performer on Peter Jolly's Circus also told me they were only booked a couple of weeks ahead and that the boss was out scouting for grounds that very afternoon. So maybe circuses really don't know where they're going from week to week!
      I suspect that for most circus goers the lack of dates isn't a problem. Rather than travel to see specific shows they probably just go to whichever big top shows up locally. But if there's a perception that all circuses are much the same, that must make the overcrowding worse. You might go and see two or three plays or films in a row because you expect them all to be different, but do you need to see more than one circus if you expect them to be much the same?
      The answer, in my opinion, is for circuses to become more individual and boast some 'must-see' element that makes them different from the rest. (I made a 300-plus mile round trip to see Peter Jollys Circus, for example, because it's the only one left in Britain where I could see a big cat act.) Unfortunately, I fear the opposite is happening. With most of the animals now gone, even the tenting shows are becoming more similar to the indoor shows.