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, 27 June 2014

Union of UK Unicyclists

Here's one for the don't try this at home department! Just spotted this daredevil on the UUU - Union of UK Unicyclists - Facebook page. If you believe four wheels bad, two wheels so so and one wheel good, click here to check 'em out.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

15 Facts about Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus, for Circus250

Philip Astley's open air amphitheatre

2018 is the 250th anniversary of the very first circus. It was founded by Philip Astley, the trick horse-rider regarded as the father of the circus. Here, for Circus250 are 15 facts about the man who first brought together equestrian displays, acrobats, strongmen and clowns in the circus ring.

1 Philip Astley was a cabinetmaker’s son from Newcastle-under-Lyme.

An illustration from
Circus Mania
2 He was born on 8 January, 1742.

3 He was a sergeant major in the Fifthteenth Light Dragoons.

4 Astley’s first displays of trick horse-riding were in the open air at Half Penny Hatch just south of Westminster Bridge in London.

5 His wife Patty provided musical accompaniment on a drum and also performed on horseback.

6 Astley’s Amphitheatre of Equestrian Arts - the world’s first circus - opened 9 January, 1768.

7 Astley’s circus performers included a strongman called Signor Colpi and a clown called Mr Merryman.

8 Astley established the still-standard diameter of the circus ring as 42-ft.

Astley's later,
grander amphitheatre
9 Astley never called his entertainment a circus. The word was coined by Charles Dibdin and Charles Hughes who established the rival Royal Circus.

10 Astley was invited to perform before King Louis XV of France in 1772.

11 He built France’s first purpose-built circus building, the Amphitheatre Anglais, in Paris.

12 He established circuses in 20 European cities.

13 Astley’s Amphitheatre is mentioned in books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

14 His name is commemorated in the dance tunes Astley’s Ride, Astley’s Flag and Astley’s Hornpipe.

15 Astley died on 27 January 1814 and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

New Edition
Out now!
For more on the history of the circus and the lives of today’s circus performers click here to buy 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.”
- Mail on Sunday.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Cirque Bijou brings exciting new show Source to London this summer. Artristic director Billy Alwen talks about it.

They say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover, and perhaps you shouldn't judge a circus by its elevator speech. But some shows simply have a concept that instantly makes you think, hey, that sounds good, I'd like to see that; while the blurb for others can be an instant turn off.

Last year's Timber! by Cirque Alfonse was the perfect example of a show with a winning premise. Its two-word description, "lumberjack circus," tells you everything you need to know, and there's an obvious link between the theme and circus' repertoire of tricks: Russian bar performed on planks, juggling with axes, jumping through barrel hoops, whip cracking... Throw in a photo of bearded performers in long johns and braces and you can tell the show will be a hoot - which it was. (Click here for more)

This year's production of Rime by Square Peg has a similarly strong concept. I haven't seen the show, so can't say how well it realises Coolridge's epic poem, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but it's easy to imagine how naturally a story set on a sailing ship might translate to an open-air circus show with performers swinging about on ropes and masts.

The latest show with a theme that's really caught my eye is Source, a new street circus show by Cirque Bijou. The concept?

When London’s sewers and underground system were first created, six tunnellers were sent underground in a secret mission to find and save the sources of London’s rivers before they became buried forever. Now, 158 years later, during building works for London’s new super-sewer, these curious long-forgotten tunnellers emerge, travelling with their giant mobile water-spurting laboratory in a burst of song, dance and acrobatic displays. 

According to artistic director Billy Alwen: "I’d had the idea for a while about doing a show about hidden underground rivers in London. I think people often forget that these rivers exist. Some of them have been concreted over and some have been diverted underground. I thought it was a very rich theme, particularly as there are plans at this point in time to completely renew the sewer system under London at huge expense, and there’s a whole discussion about why that needs to happen. I wanted to bring the under world back above the ground.

"We made seven human powered machines for the Olympics and because they cost a fair amount to make, we always said we wanted to use them again. So one of them is going to be re-used as our tunnelling machine. So this machine will effectively be the stage, the set and the PA system for the show. All the circus will happen around that machine, and then that machine will travel around from one venue to the other. 

"Circus is very difficult to put on outdoors with all the rigging you need for trapeze, so I wanted to make a show that was self-contained and didn’t need lots of rigs and equipment. We wanted to be able to put one plug into the wall and be ready to go."

If the above whets your appetite, you can catch Source free of charge in the following London locations:

Millfield Arts Centre 26th July

Tara Arts 16th August

Harrow Arts Centre 23rd August

Arts Depot 30th August

Watermans 13th September

The Albany 4th October

Cirque Bijou light up the sky
suspended from a crane.
Cirque Bijou, incidentally, is a company with a small name and a penchant for BIG stunts, such as flying UFOs above the audience and marching giant robots across the stage at Muse concerts. Their outdoor crane shows, featuring trapeze artists tumbling within giant hoops of fire while fireworks whiz all around them are truly spectacular.

Definitely a circus company to look out for.

"I loved this book."
- 5-star Amazon customer
For more on narrative circus and the ways circus and theatre can be merged to great effect - or not, as is the case with some shows - read my journey through Britain's ever changing, never changing circus scene, from traditional big top and sawdust shows to the Circus of Horrors, musical clowns The Chipolatas, Spain's Circ Panic, Australia's Circa and all stops in between, in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Click here to read the customer reviews on Amazon.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The 100-year battle to ban animals in entertainment

How the Daily Mail reported the
return of elephants to the Great British Circus
in 2009

The first calls to ban performing animals were made 100 years ago. In this article that originally appeared in The Stage, I untangle the history of opposition to animals in entertainment.

Animals have been entertaining us for as long as we’ve had professional entertainment. The word ‘circus’ dates from Roman arenas such as the Circus Maximus, where the spectacle ranged from chariot races to exhibitions of exotic breeds from across the empire. The circus as we know it was founded in London in 1768 by trick horse-rider Philip Astley, who augmented equestrian displays with clowns, acrobats and strongmen.

Animals were also part of music hall tradition. Jospeph Grimaldi, the early 19th century pantomime star regarded as the father of clowning, used a trained donkey called Neddy in his act.

The PG Tips chimps were among the most
popular TV stars of the 70s, but times change and the
long-running advertising campaign was eventually dropped.
Retired to a zoo, the chimps, including 42-year-old Choppers,
pictured here, were said to miss human interaction and
found it hard to integrate with other apes. Is that why
she looks so sad? Or does she just want a cuppa?
During the 20th century, animals were used in the film and television industries from the beginning, making stars of Lassie, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and Flipper the dolphin.

Part of that tradition seemed destined to disappear when the government announced its plans to ban wild animals in circuses from December 2015. But that now looks unlikely to happen after the much anticipated Wild Animals in Circuses Bill failed to appear in the list of legislation to be brought before Parliament before the next election.

The campaign to outlaw performing animals is not new, however, and neither is the phenomenon of actors and other celebrities using their fame to endorse animal rights groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

The formation of the world’s oldest animal welfare organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), in 1824, led to the Cruelty to Animals acts of 1835 and 1876. The latter was intended to regulate experiments on animals. But concern over the use of animals in science spread to questions about their treatment in entertainment and led to the Wild Animals in Captivity Protection Act, 1900.

Jack London
- Pulp novelist who called
for direct action against
circuses with animals
The Performing Animals Defence League was founded in 1914 to campaign against the use of performing animals. It was followed in 1918 by the Jack London Club. The latter was named after American pulp novelist Jack London who called for direct action against animal performances in the forward to his 1917 novel Michael, Brother of Jerry, which focused on alleged cruelty to animals in America. The Jack Londoners, as they were known, picketed circuses in the US and then Britain and Europe throughout the 1920s.

The first attempt at a government ban came in 1921, when Liberal MP Joseph Kenworthy introduced the Performing Animals Prohibition Bill. The bill was unsuccessful, but a select committee was set up to investigate the issue and led to the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act of 1925 which to this day requires that anyone who wishes to perform with an animal in public must possess a licence.

Calls for a ban continued and in 1927, the RSPCA wrote to the Times, asking “Will the public help to abolish this painful form of amusement by refraining from patronising exhibitions in which performing animals have a part?” The letter was signed by a list of public figures and celebrities including playwright George Bernard Shaw and the actress Sybil Thorndike.

Billy Smart's poster from
the heyday of animals in the circus
The 1950s were a boom time for circuses in Britain, and a period when animal acts by far outnumbered tightrope walkers and trapeze artists. The two biggest operators, Billy Smart’s and Chipperfields, filled their 5000-capacity big tops with hundreds of animals from tigers and polar bears to sea lions and giraffes.

Against that background, the Captive Animals Protection Society (CAPS) was founded in 1957 to campaign and demonstrate against the use of animals in circuses and the exotic pet trade. In 1965, CAPS president Lord Somers sponsored a bill in the House of Lords to prohibit the use of performing animals. It was defeated by just 14 votes.

The 1970s saw the emergence of a new animal rights movement spearheaded by philosopher Pete Singer. Whereas previous campaigners had focused on animal welfare, the animal rights lobby sought to end the ownership of animals for entertainment, food, experimentation and products such as leather, by granting them equal rights to humans.

In 1984, husband and wife actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna founded the Born Free Foundation, named after the 1966 film Born Free, in which they had starred, to campaign against zoos and circuses.

Since the 1980s, around 200 local authorities have banned performing animals from council-owned show grounds. Circuses were forced to use private land in less accessible locations where animal rights activists often demonstrated at the gates. By the late 90s, most circuses had responded by dispensing with animals. The all-human Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus became the most successful big top shows in the UK, while Canada’s globally successful Cirque du Soleil, which had never featured animals, became the biggest producer in circus history.

An audience for animal acts remained, however. Zippos toured for ten years as an all-human circus but eventually introduced horses and dogs because of public demand. More recently, Ashleigh and Pudsey - a dancing dog - was a hit with the public on Britain’s Got Talent.

Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington's
report on circus animals
Click here for more.
In 1988, the RSPCA sponsored an 18-month study of circuses by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington. The society refused to publish the results because she concluded circuses caused animals no distress and could have benefits for conservation, education and science. Kiley-Worthington subsequently published her report in the book Animals in Circuses and Zoos - Chiron’s World? (Aardvark Publishing). In Greek mythology, Chiron was half man, half horse and symbolises the relationship between humans and animals.

In 1999, undercover film made by Animal Defenders International (ADI) led to the conviction of Mary Chipperfield for cruelty to a chimpanzee at the Hampshire farm where she was training animals for film work.

Under pressure to ban circuses from using animals, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) set up the Circus Animals Working Group. The resulting report by Mike Radford, in 2007, concluded that circuses were as capable of meeting the needs of their animals as other captive environments such as zoos, and that there were no welfare reasons for a ban.

My report in The Stage on the Great British Circus
elephant controversy
Further undercover operations by ADI, however, resulted in film of elephants being hit at the Great British Circus in 2009 and a retired elephant, Anne, being beaten by a groom at the winter quarters of Bobby Roberts Super Circus in 2011. Roberts was given a conditional discharge for failing to prevent the groom in the video from abusing the elephant.

Following the large scale media outcry over Anne, animal welfare minister Lord Taylor announced in March 2012 that the government would ban wild animals in circuses from December 2015, with a new licensing and inspection scheme introduced in the interim. Only two companies, Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao, applied for and were granted licenses, with shows such as Zippos unaffected since they use only domestic animals.

The Stage
- The issue this article
originally appeared in.
Animal rights groups such as CAPs criticised the government for delaying the legislation necessary to bring in the ban, and when it emerged in June this year that the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill won’t be debated before the next election, its future was put in doubt.

After a hundred years of controversy, however, calls for a ban are unlikely to go away, and Britain’s stance on the matter will be closely watched by animal trainers and animal rights groups around the world. Both sides believe a ban in Britain, where circus was invented, could create a domino effect in Europe and America. And with the film and television industries largely dependent on circuses for their trained animals, that could have implications for the future of all animals in entertainment.

The 100-Year Battle To Ban Performing Animals - Timeline

1914 - Performing Animals Defence League founded.

1921 - Joseph Kenworthy MP introduces unsuccessful Performing Animals Prohibition Bill.

1925 - Performing Animals (Regulation) Act introduces licenses for performing with animals in public.

1957 - Captive Animals Protection Society founded.

Born Free
The film about a lion that gave its name
to an animal rights group.
1984 - Zoo Check Campaign, later Born Free Foundation, founded by Born Free stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers.

1980s - Many local councils ban circus animals from municipal show grounds.

1999 - Mary Chipperfield convicted of cruelty after undercover investigation by Animal Defenders International (ADI).

2000 - The Performing Animals Welfare Standards International (PAWSI) founded to promote animal welfare in audio-visual industries.

2006 - Classical Circus Association founded to represent circuses with animals.

2007 - DEFRA-commissioned Radford Report finds no welfare grounds to ban animals in circuses.

2009 - ADI releases undercover film of elephants being hit at Great British Circus.

2009 - Bolivia becomes first country to ban all animals in circuses.

2011 - Media outcry over ADI film of Anne the elephant being beaten at winter quarters of Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

2012 - Animal welfare minister Lord Taylor announces ban on wild animals in circuses in 2015 and Circus Licensing Scheme in interim.

2013 - Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao become only two UK circuses licensed to use wild animals.

2014 - With the Government's proposed ban on hold until after next year’s general election, Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick introduced a private member's bill under the 10-minute rule on September 3. It was blocked for the 12th time on March 6, 2015.

2015 - Thomas Chipperfield takes to the road in Wales with An Evening With Lions and Tigers.

2016 - The Welsh Assembly promise a ban on wild animals in travelling shows and appoint Professor Stephen Harris to carry out a study, which is expected to be complete by February 2016.

2016 - 10 February. Conservative MP Christopher Chope provides first public indication that the government may be reconsidering a ban, when he tells the Commons that the existing licensing regime has rendered a ban unnecessary. (Details here)

2nd Edition out now!
For more on the ever-thorny subject of animals in the circus, including a behind-the-scenes visit to Circus Mondao, one of only two British circuses licensed to use wild animals, read Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson. "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form," - Mail on Sunday.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Mexico City to ban circus animals

You can watch a bullfight in Mexico City, but you soon won't be able to see animals perform in a circus tent.

Six of Mexico's 31 states have banned animal circuses since the end of last year and the latest decision to ban them in Mexico City - which has still to be approved by mayor Miguel Angel Mangera - brought circus performers onto the streets in protest at the threat to their livelihood.

According to Mexico's National Circus Association, the country's 183 permitted circuses employ 50,000 people and around 5500 animals.

Mexico City officials argue that Cirque du Soleil thrives without animals, but one Mexican performer countered, "The first thing people ask is 'Do you have animals?' And if you don't they won't come."

For an insight into life in a Mexican circus, click here to read my review of the DVD Circo.

"In good times and bad, always the circus."
- Tino Ponce, Circo.

Meanwhile, did you know that the first calls to ban circus animals in Britain were made exactly 100 years ago in 1914. Click here to read a 100-year history of opposition to animals in entertainment.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Australia's funniest juggler James BuSTAR comes to UK

To celebrate World Juggling Day, June 14, here's a picture of Australia's Got Talent star James BuSTAR, who'll be bringing his mix of comedy and record-breaking juggling skills to the Glastonbury Festival later this month.

A graduate of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus School in Albury, Wodonga, BuStar's show mixes hilarious audience participation with crowd-pleasing juggling props such as axes and bowling balls. He's also proved adept at garnering media attention by setting such obscure world records as the most raw eggs juggled while hula hooping.

An example of his humour: "If you're wondering what to get someone for Christmas, give them a fridge and watch their face light up when they open it."

As well as Glastonbury, BuSTAR will be appearing at the Gaiety Theatre, Ayre, from July 18 - 26.

For more UK dates, and videos of the man in action, visit his website.

Grab your balls!
For World Juggling Day
And for 15 Juggling Facts for World Juggling Day, click here!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome summer circus - meet the cast

Going through the archives, I found this great picture of the cast at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, Britain's oldest circus building still used for its original purpose. In the back row, the Flying Neves trapeze troupe - that's their safety net behind them. Below them, from left to right, we have Joseph Micheletty - Diabolist Extraordinaire; rollerskating siblings Alicia and Miguel Peris; aerial straps and German wheel star Denis Remnez; and, in front of them, Ukrainian balancing act the Bio Brothers. At the front are son and father clown team Danny Adams and, in ringmaster guise, Clive Webb, flanked by the Hippodrome Dancers.

The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
- where the ring becomes a swimming pool
It was this cast that I met when I went backstage at the Hippodrome to write one of the chapters of Circus Mania. So join me in the Hippodrome's spooky 100-year-old corridors to find the Neves family in training and Miguel Peris talking about growing up in the circus; hear the ghost stories; thrill to Danny Adams recreating Houdini's death-defying milk churn escape; watch the circus ring transformed into a pool for synchronised swimming; and go into showman Peter Jay's caravan - which he keeps inside a secret store room.

Elsewhere in the book, come with me beneath the canvas of the Great British Circus to meet tiger trainer Martin Lacey; cringe at the fakirs of the Circus of Horrors; and wonder at the tales of retired ringmaster George Pinder as he relates the history of Britain's oldest circus family.

It's all in Circus Mania - the book the Mail on Sunday called "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form." Click here to buy it from Amazon.

Zippos sold out in Glasgow!

A bit of mud didn't stop the crowds rolling up and selling out the Zippos big top when Britain's favourite circus pitched up in Victoria Park, Glasgow earlier this week. Catch the show on tour in Scotland this summer. Click here for dates.

And read the story of how a progressive clown called Zippo went from Covent Garden street entertainer to running Britain's best known traditional family circus. An interview with Martin 'Zippo' Burton is just one of the many behind-the-scenes tales of circus life in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus.

Click here to read seven top-rated reviews on Amazon.

100 year battle to ban circus animals - in The Stage this week

Elephants on the front page
The Stage, June 12

Calls to ban animals from the circus have been with us for 100 years. The issue has been debated in Parliament and the House of Lords. As recently as two weeks ago, it looked as though the Government would be bringing in a ban on wild animals from next year. But when the Queen made her speech to Parliament last week, the long-promised Bill wasn't among the legislation for the coming session.

As Britain's last two circuses with wild animals breathe a sigh of relief at their latest reprieve from the threat of a ban that has hung over them for years, I have traced the 100 year history of the bitter battle over circus animals in this week's edition of The Stage.

Nice to see the story flagged up on the front page. Click here to read the 100 year history of opposition to animals in entertainment.

Circus Mania author
Douglas McPherson meets
one of Britain's last
circus elephants
For more on the rights and wrongs of animals in the circus click here.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Thomas Chipperfield - Chief lion trainer and raffle ticket salesman

Thomas Chipperfield, Britain's only big cat trainer, proves there are no divas in the circus, as he parades the raffle prizes in the interval at Peter Jolly's Circus. Click here to read a review of the show.

New Edition includes
my meeting with
Thomas Chipperfield at
Peter Jolly's Circus
For the inside story on the lives of Britain's hardest working entertainers, the clowns and trapeze flyers who also work on the hot dog stand, put up the posters, drive the lorries and build the big top, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus!

Click here to buy from Amazon.

"Damn everything but the circus!" - e.e. Cummings

e.e. cummings
Poet and circus fan

Don't y'all have days like that?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Royal reprieve for circus animals

The Queen's Speech
Fans of wild animals in circuses breathed a
sigh of relief as the much-trailed
Wild Animals in Circuses Bill
failed to materialise

In 2012, Animal Welfare Minister Lord Taylor announced that the government intended to ban wild animals from British big tops by December 2015. Animals rights groups criticised ministers for delaying the legislation to bring in the ban.

Last week, it was announced in The Times and, indeed, on government websites, that the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill would be announced in today's Queen's Speech to Parliament. The speech sets out the legislative agenda for the coming session.

When Her Majesty made her speech at the opening of Parliament, however, the Bill wasn't among the 11 pieces of legislation announced. Clearly the coalition felt putting a 5p tax on our supermarket bags and frakking beneath our houses was a higher priority than a law banning less than 30 animals in just two circuses - Peter Jolly's and Circus Mondao.

That means the ban now won't come before Parliament before next year's general election - and if the government changes in that time, who knows what its future may be?

Update: June 6.

An interesting article in the New Statesman suggested David Cameron personally nixed the ban. The paper speculated it was because he shares his Cotswold constituency with Britain's leading supplier of trained animals to the film and TV industry Amazing Animals. Could it be the Prime Minister is a circus fan?

Or could his last minute intervention have been influenced by my timely interview with Britain's last lion trainer, Thomas Chipperfield in last Saturday's top Tory read, The Daily TelegraphClick here to read it.

Should circuses have animals? Read my personal journey through this ever-thorny issue in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus.

Click here to read half a dozen 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Did you know the first calls to ban animals in the circus were made exactly 100-years ago in 1914? The Phenomenon of celebrities endorsing animal rights campaigns is nothing new wither. The writer George Bernard Shaw and actress Sybil Thorndike were just two who gave their support to the issue early last century, while pulp novelist Jack London gave his name to a direct action protest group, the Jack London Club. To read the complete 100-year history of opposition to animals in the circus, click here

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

AirCraft Circus school training

Ever dreamed of running away with the circus? If you’d like a good grounding in the necessary acrobatic skills,  AirCraft Circus is seeking students for its next foundation course, beginning August 26.

The full time, intensive 16-week course for adults includes up to four classes a day in aerial skills such as static and flying trapeze, rope and silks; ground-based tumbling, acrobalance, Chinese pole and trampoline; juggling, hula hoops, unicycle and diablo; taster sessions in specialist skills like tight-wire and stilts; rigging and safety; plus physical theatre and act creation.

To see the sort of skills you could pick up, head along to the circus school’s End of Term Cabaret this weekend, Friday 6 and Saturday 7th of June and see the students of the last foundation course showing off their work.

For tickets and more details on the foundation course, visit or call 020 8317 8401.

The show takes place at AirCraft Circus’ base, The Hanger, near the Thames in South East London and offers the chance to check out their training facilities.

If you fancy learning the ropes (ahem) previous circus experience isn’t essential, but you need to be fit! As the school says, “We like to think we make it look easy but really circus is very tough, its all rope and steel and bruises day in and day out.”

But what’s life like for students who go on to join the circus? Read Circus Mania for chapters on Circus Space - now the National Centre for Circus Arts - Zippos travelling Circus Academy, which travels in its own big top, and of course dozens of people like showman Gerry Cottle, sword-swallower Hannibal Helmurto and Bippo the Clown who swapped everyday lives for sawdust, spangled and glamour. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

The scientific study of circus animals the RSPCA didn't want you to read

The book the RSPCA
didn't want you to read

With the Queen's Speech to Parliament on Wednesday likely to announce that the proposed ban on wild animals in British circuses will be debated in the coming session, I've been looking into the history of opposition to performing animals.

Did you know that the first calls to ban animals in entertainment were made by the Performing Animals Defence League exactly 100 years ago in 1914? (For the complete history, including timeline, click here)

It was also interesting to come across a landmark study of animals in the circus by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington in the late 80s.

The 18-month study was sponsored by the RSPCA, but the Society refused to publish the results because it couldn't reconcile some of the doctor's observations with her conclusion that circuses did not by nature cause distress to their animals.

Kiley-Worthington subsequently published her report in the book Animals In Circus & Zoos - Chiron's World? (Aardvark Publishing). In Greek mythology, Chiron was half man, half horse, and symbolises the relationship between humans and animals.

The book is out of print, but you can read the full text by clicking here. I'd urge MPs about to vote on the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill to read it before they make up their minds.

Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington
Click here for her thoughts on circus animals
Kiley-Worthington, a leading ethologist, or animal behaviour specialist, has some criticisms, particularly in regard to the confinement of certain animals and the conditions at winter quarters. But she makes some simple suggestions for improvements and states than circus owners readily took up some of her ideas. Since the study was undertaken 25 years ago, we can hopefully assume that things have improved further since then.

She also observes that training is no more harsh than in other training situations such as riding stables. The animals she studied in around 30,000 hours of observations, showed no signs of fear or reluctance to perform. In fact, she reports that some primates appeared to enjoy the audience's appreciation and repeated tricks or added their own stunts in response to applause.

While farm animals show great distress during transportation, Kiley-Worthington reports that circus animals quickly acclimatise to being transported. They enter the lorries without reluctance and show no signs of distress at the end of their journeys.

The doctor concludes that circuses can have a beneficial role to play in conservation, education and the scientific understanding of animals, and that the money spent trying to ban circuses would be better spent improving them.

A quarter of a century on, that's surely a strong case for rejecting a ban and continuing with the Circus Licensing Scheme which has regulated wild animals in big tops for the past 18 months.

Read my personal journey through the emotive subject of animals in the circus in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus. Click here to buy from Amazon.

To read the full 100-year history of opposition to animals in entertainment, click here.