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, 29 December 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as orangutan gets new rights

Should apes have rights?
er.... have you not seen the films?







A good day for orangutans, a bad day for circuses with animals or a step closer to The Planet of the Apes?

An Argentinian court has ruled that an orangutan called Sandra be recognised as a “non-human person” and therefore entitled to her freedom from a Buenos Aires Zoo. She will be transferred to a sanctuary that will afford her a degree more liberty.

Sandra’s case was argued by Agentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) and represents a breakthrough for the animal rights lobby in its battle to free animals from human ownership.

The court decides...
Earlier in December, the New York Appeals Court rejected an attempt by the Nonhuman Rights Project to free a chimpanzee called Tommy from private ownership. The judges concluded that Tommy could not be recognised as a "legal person," as a chimp "cannot bear any legal duties".

The judges ruled: “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.''

In 2011, the animal rights group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) filed a lawsuit against marine park operator SeaWorld, alleging five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves. A San Diego court dismissed the case.

But will Sandra’s case set a new precedent that could affect all animals in captivity?

According to Paul Buompadre, a lawyer for AFADA, "This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories."

The problem with the argument, of course, is that it assumes animals in captivity would be happier if freed. But since the animals can't speak for themselves, are animal rights advocates any better placed to speak on their behalf than the people who work with captive animals on a daily basis?

The zoo's head of biology, Adrian Sestelo, commented, "When you don't know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man's most common mistakes, which is to humanise animal behaviour."

But what I want to know is where will it all end?

"You finally gave them rights!"

For my thoughts on the issue of animal rights versus welfare, click here.

And to read the 100 year history of attempts to ban animals from the circus, click here.

Zippos Winter Wonderland



Love this aerial shot of Zippos circus 'Mega Dome' big top nestled among the fairground rides and stalls of Winter Wonderland in London's Hyde Park. And my hat's off to whoever took it from the very high vantage point of a thrill ride called Schneider's Power Tower.

Roll up, roll up until January 4.

For the inside story on the birth of Zippos circus, meanwhile, read my chapter-long interview with founder Martin Burton in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus. Click here to buy it from Amazon.

Russells International Circus Christmas Spectacular, Stonham Barms, Suffolk



Roll up, roll up... to fill those empty seats at Russells International Circus Christmas Spectacular at Stonham Barns near Stowmarket in Suffolk! But what sort of acts to they have to tempt you in? Click here to view the full gallery of images in the local paper.

They're there till Sunday, Jan 4. Tickets and times: 07752 218805




How to market a circus

The lights are on, the doors are closed and the show has begun...
but what lies in wait inside the big top?

If you read my previous post about Circus Fantasia, you might be thinking: yeah, nice lorries, nice ticket wagon, but what's the show like?

Unfortunately, the posters and flyers give us little idea of what to expect inside the big top. I doubt if their clown looks anything like the generic one on the poster, which gives us no idea what sort of acts they have. Definitely a case of you pays your money and takes your chance!

But shouldn't a circus poster do more to tempt us? Like showing us a must-see act, for example?

It was very different in the days of Bertram Mills, when the show that put the "Oh!" in Olympia would plaster a town with a whole range of posters - often one dedicated to each act and others that listed every act on the bill.

If you fancy treating yourself to a late Christmas present, The Posters of Bertram Mills by Steven B. Richley lets you flip through some of the greatest circus posters ever designed. And if you want insight into how a circus should be promoted, read The Advance Man by Jamie MacVicar. Click here to read my review.

There's a lot in both books that today's circuses could learn from. Because it doesn't matter how good a show may be if nobody rolls up to see it.

For more circus art, click here.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Fake pandas in Italian circus

Someone called the cops and said an Italian circus was bamboo-zling
the public with these dogs dyed to look like pandas. The circus
retorted that it "should have been obvious" what the animals
were to the public who paid to have their pictures taken
with them. 

From robot elephants in Mexico to rhinos going walkies in Germany and now an Italian circus in trouble for passing off painted chow chow dogs as pandas... it's obviously the silly season for circus stories.

Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson
meets one of the last circus elephants
to appear in Britain.
But should circuses have animals at all? That's one of the recurring questions that became a theme of my book Circus Mania. The Mail on Sunday called it "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form." Click here to read the 5-star reviews on Amazon. Download it to your e-reader for a backstage journey through Britain's circuses this Christmas.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Circus Fantasia Christmas Spectacular, Snetterton



The advance men for Circus Fantasia have been working hard to promote their Christmas Spectacular in Snetterton Park on the A11 bypass in Norfolk. The town of Wymondham has been plastered with posters as these ones outside a boarded up pub show - and Wymondham is miles from Snetterton. Phone for bookings: 0844 888 9991 or just roll up, roll up from now till Sunday Jan 4.

Click here for pics of the Circus Fantasia big top and transport.




Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Circus Vegas in Wigan

The Circus Vegas Showgirls











Welsh circus fans are in for a treat as the American-themed Circus Vegas rolls up in Wigan, until January 10.

The circus will make a visual splash with its array of American trucks and according to director John Courtney there will be plenty of thrills inside the  red white and blue big top, including the rip roaring motorbikes in a Globe of Death (one of the most dangerous of all circus stunts, as was proven by the headline-making collision at Uncle Sam's Great American Circus in Ipswich on Bank Holiday Mondayand one of the world's fastest jugglers!

According to the company's operations director Matt O'Hanlon"It will be a fun-filled event for the whole family to enjoy and there will be something for all ages.
"It will be a traditional circus with all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas. It will bring together traditional tricks with death defying performances."
Hope it's not this cold!

The Circus Vegas Globe of Death riders
Circus Vegas is in Wigan until Jan 10. Tickets: 07572 982 749

For more American trucks in the UK, click here to see the transport of Uncle Sam's American Circus.

What's life like for those who run away with the circus? Read my interviews with clowns, trapeze artists, tiger trainers and sword-swallowers in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus. Click here to read the reviews on Amazon.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Mexican robot elephant - the future of circus entertainment?

Robo-elephant - the future of the big top?

Is this the future of the circus? Meet Big Yorgi, the $50,000 robot star of Mexico's Magic Spacial Cyber Circus. He curls his trunk. He kicks footballs. He draws a gun and shoots bad guys. Oh, sorry, no - that's Robocop.

But as Mexico stands on the brink of a ban on real circus animals, their robo-replacement has reportedly played to sparse audiences.

"The circus is dying," said one of the show's directors. "When we arrive in town the first thing people ask is 'What animals did you bring?'"

It seems robo-jumbo is no substitute.

But is a ban on circus animals justified? Click here to learn what happens to circus tigers when they retire from the ring.

What's life like in a Mexican circus? Click here for my review of the award-winning documentary Circo.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

What happens to circus tigers when they retire?










Back in October, Alex Lacey, the English star of America's Greatest Show on Earth - the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus - retired the two oldest tigers in his act, the first two he ever trained and which he has worked with for the past 19 years.

On his Facebook page, the trainer paid tribute to the long-serving cats and reveals their future:

"Tara and India will stay with me and live along side their offspring and the other cats that they have have formed family groups with. They will continue to be included in morning practice sessions and keep the next lot of youngsters "in line" that are currently being trained. They will stay with me and receive the very best veterinary care available from Ringlings veterinary team. The best possible diet and the best possible team of animal carers. Tara and India have been replaced with Bella and Suzy who performed for the first time in a live show this evening and were excellent :)))
Bella is India's daughter. 
Thanks for everything my old girls xx"


Alex Lacey and his Gold Clown-winning brother Martin Lacey Junior are probably the two most accomplished big cat trainers in the world.

It was a visit to the Great British Circus, which was run by their father, Martin Lacey, that inspired me to write my book, Circus Mania. For a chapter on Lacey Sr and the truth about how circus tigers are trained, click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Animal rights activist goes undercover at the circus








What happens when an animal rights activist goes undercover at the circus? Find out in The Lion's Den, one of three romantic adventures in The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions by Julia Douglas - a perfect read to download to your e-reader this Christmas.

Here's an exclusive extract...

It was love at first sight - for Charlotte, anyway. What the lion was thinking, she had no idea.

A printed sign tied to the wire mesh identified him as Sphinx, and he sat as proud, still and beautiful as the ancient Egyptian monument after which he was named - head up, forepaws gracefully crossed in front of him, in the exact centre of the cage.

It was a chilly evening. Charlotte was glad of her cable-knit tights and the sheepskin coat that had been a real find in the charity shop. But Sphinx, so far from his African home, seemed oblivious to the damp English wind that stirred ocean-like waves in his luxuriant mane. He appeared oblivious, too, of his harem of four lionesses, lounging and washing themselves in the shadowy far corners of the enclosure.

Charlotte wondered if he was aware of her, or the other circus goers - mums and kids who had paid an extra 50p to gawp at the show’s ‘performers’ in a shanty town of pens and tents behind the big top.
If Sphinx was aware, he feigned regal indifference.

Charlotte moved closer, her tied-back copper hair a righteous blaze in the sunset, and dared to touch the cold mesh. She imagined the lion dreaming of the open veldt, its horizons shimmering in the heat haze, with no cruel humans in sight.

That’s where you should be, Charlotte thought, angrily. Not caged among these throbbing generators, caravans and lorries. Not forced to earn your dinner by jumping through hoops.

It was the 1980s, for heavens sake, not the 1890s when people knew no better.

Her pulse quickening, Charlotte glanced around for a door to the enclosure. She’d set him free this minute if she could.

Not that she would dare, with all the families around. She didn’t want anyone hurt, no matter how misguided they were in paying to see an ‘entertainment’ that made slaves of creatures as noble as Sphinx.

She forced herself to be calm. There was a longer game to play.

“Beautiful, isn’t he?”

Charlotte jumped at the sound of a man’s voice, close behind her. She spun around and found herself staring at the broad chest of Guy Starr, the circus owner.


Want to read more? Click here to buy The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions - three stories of women in unique worlds on the fringes of entertainment.

In The Fairground Girl, Beatrice falls pregnant by fairground worker Eddie and runs away to join his world in the rock'n'roll years of the 1950s.

In The Lion's Den, animal rights activist Charlotte goes undercover to expose cruelty at the circus and finds herself torn between two men and two ideologies.

In Blue Eyes and Heels, Angel fights for equality in the world of professional wrestling.

Read all three adventures in The Fairground Girl and Other Attractions.



Tuesday, 9 December 2014

When Emily ran away with the circus





If you're looking for a circus adventure to curl up with this Christmas, try downloading The Showman's Girl by Julia Douglas to your Kindle or other e-reader, or pick up the large print paperback at your local library. 

Here's how the adventure begins...


It was ten in the morning, on the first of May, 1932, and the circus on the common was just coming to life. In the roped-off paddocks, horses snorted in the morning sun. In makeshift runs beside ornately carved and painted caravans doves and chickens cooed and clucked. From nearby tents, more exotic animal noises carried on the air: the low, raspy yawn of a lion, and the trumpet of an elephant’s reply.
They found Adam Strand, the circus owner,
in the big top...

Thirteen-year-old Emily Brooke had come to know the sounds and animal smells of the circus well, and its sights, too: gleaming motor lorries and horse-drawn goods wagons, each emblazoned with the
name of Strand’s Grand Circus; simmering, shimmering traction engines that provided electricity; the doll-like circus women, in their silk dressing gowns and headscarves, hanging tiny costumes on washing lines; the men in their vests, painting pieces of scenery or repairing props.

This morning, though, as she hurried across the rough grass, trying to keep up with the long, confident strides of Molly Malone, the elephant trainer, Emily scarcely noticed her surroundings. Her insides were too tied up with nerves.

They found Adam Strand, the circus owner, in the big top. The side panels were rolled aside, like curtains, to let some air under the towering roof, and as Emily’s eyes adjusted to the strange half-light beneath the canvas, the sight of the tall, imposing showman made her catch her breath.