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."

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Dick Whittington screened live from Bristol Hippodrome to your local cinema

Ashleigh and Pudsey
Panto stars coming to cinema screens
December 7

Earlier this month, America's Big Apple Circus made history - or rather, missed its chance to make history - by broadcasting its show live from New York to cinemas across America.

Sadly, as reported on the Showbiz David blog, hardly anyone showed up in the movie houses to see the show. In the cinemas attended by Showbiz, his family and friends, ticket-buyers were outnumbered by the usherettes. And there were plenty of empty seats up on the big screen. The BAC couldn't even fill its tent before putting it on display for the world.

Presumably, it will be a while before another circus repeats the experiment, although it's not entirely without precedent.

As chronicled in my book Circus Mania, Gerry Cottle's fame in the 1980s rests in no small part on the fact that the BBC televised a Saturday night variety show from his big top every week, mixing circus acts with the singing stars of the era. Other more established circuses had apparently been offered the gig but turned it down. They didn't want to surrender their tent on the most profitable night of the week in exchange for the fee the Beeb offered.

What the old circus families couldn't see, but the young and hungry Cottle could, is that the fee was immaterial compared with the publicity. The TV exposure helped Cottle become the most famous and successful showman of his era - and what was to stop him taking a second tent out on the road on Saturdays?

Jump back to the present and, although not a circus, it's interesting to learn that the Bristol Hippodrome is following in the Big Apple's clown shoes by broadcasting it's pantomime, Dick Whittington, to cinemas across Britain on December 7. The cast includes Ashleigh and Pudsey, the dancing dog act that came to fame on Britain's Got Talent and Mr Bloom from children's TV programme CBeebies.

Clive and Danny
Clowns and panto
One thing's for sure: I doubt there will be any empty seats on screen. While I've often been in a circus tent more empty than full I've never attended press night at a pantomime and found it anything but sold out. And they don't fill the theatres with comped seats, either. In many regional theatres panto is so popular the annual show pays for the venue to stay open the rest of the year.

Could the circus learn something there, such as casting bankable names famous from TV? Maybe, maybe not. At the Theatre Royal in Newcastle they stopped casting minor celebs when they realised that for the past ten years the big draw was father and son clowns Clive Webb and Danny Adams - perhaps the only true stars on the British circus scene.

If you've never seen them, take a look at this YouTube clip to see just how funny they are.

But, given that panto relies even more than circus on audience participation and the experience of "being there" in an excitable crowd, will Dick Whittington be able to break through a cinema screen and work up a multiplex crowd into shouting "He's behind you!"

Did you know clowns are nicknamed Joeys after Victorian funny-man Joseph Grimaldi? And that although joeys are synonymous with the circus, Grimaldi never performed in a circus - he was a pantomime star.
For a full chapter on Britain's funniest clowns, Clive Webb and Danny Adams, plus much on the history and dynamics of clowning, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

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