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 February 2016

Arthur Pedlar - From Emmett Kelly to Buster Keaton, The Years of a Clown

What a privilege it was to sit in 'Clown Alley' this week and watch 83-year-old clown Arthur Pedlar putting on his make up for a show at the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft as part of the week-long Clown Gathering UK.

What stories he tells - as clearly as if they were yesterday - from the day he was inspired to clown at the age of six when he saw the legendary American hobo clown Emmett Kelly at Bertram Mills Circus in 1938, to working with Buster Keaton and appearing at Russia's 1886 circus building in St Petersburg.

What else has he done? He was the first living non-American clown to be voted into the International Clown Hall of Fame and Research Centre, Milwaukee; he was President of the World Clown Association 2003/2004; and is Honorary President of the Circus School of Israel which, as its raison d'tere teaches Palestinian and Jewish youngsters together. Oh yes, and he used to ride 8ft-tall unicycles!

Usually, Arthur is the auguste clown Vercoe, but for this special appearance among and before the cream of British clowns, he became the rarely seen these days musical whiteface clown Arturo.

Bobbo catches up with his reading at the Seagull.
For more on clowns and clowning, be like Bobbo and read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus!!

Trump wasn't the only politician who loved elephants

As Westminster debates a ban on wild animals on the circus this Friday and the Welsh Assembly is midway through a study designed to introduce the same to Wales (read all about it here), it was refreshing to come across this picture of Liberal candidate Elspeth Attwoll taking Womba the elephant to meet her Glasgow constituents in 1974.

Apparently, she helped train the elephant at Southampton Zoo, which was owned by the Chipperfield circus family. Who wouldn't vote for a gal like that?

If only today's politicians took elephants on the campaign trail instead of campaigning against them. Maybe circus defender Chris Chope should try it.

Then again, there is that guy in America...

Some things will never change.

Why Chris Chope is Right to Block Circus Ban

Christopher Chope
defends the circus.

In the always emotive debate over animals in the circus, it’s rare to hear the calm voice of reason. But that view was provided in February by the Conservative MP Christopher Chope when he said a ban on wild animals in the big top is unnecessary thanks to a licensing regime that has been in place since 2013.

Chope was speaking in the Commons as fellow Conservative Will Quince introduced a private members bill to hasten a ban that the government announced in 2012 would be in place by the end of last year.

But as Chope pointed out, we are now entering the fourth year of a licensing scheme that has rendered the management of animals in circuses completely transparent. Every aspect of the animals’ lives are strictly regulated, from the size of their accommodation to their diet and retirement plan. Circuses are subject to inspection several times a year, including unannounced visits.

During the past three years, no fault has been found with the animals’ welfare, so why introduce a ban?

For the past 30 years, the conversation about animals in the circus has been dominated by animal rights groups such as Peta that oppose the use of animals for any purpose on principle. Peta’s slogan is “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.”

But accusations that life in the circus compromises an animal’s welfare have never been substantiated.

The Radford Report, commissioned by the last Labour government, found that circuses were as capable of meeting the needs of their animals as other captive environments such as zoos. The report concluded that there were no grounds for a ban in the interests of animal welfare.

It is often said that transporting circus animals from place to place compromises their welfare. But an independent study by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington, which was sponsored by the RSPCA and published as Animals in Circuses and Zoos: Chiron’s World?  found that animals quickly become accustomed to travel and exhibit no stress.

That was borne out in an experiment on the big cats of Martin Lacey Jr, which can be viewed on YouTube. Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, were tested before and after an 800km trip across Europe and showed that the animals suffered no stress whatsoever. In fact, the lions were so comfortable that Lacey was able to take saliva swabs from their mouths with his fingers - an act that in itself shows the unique bond of trust between circus animals and their handlers.

There is also evidence that travel enriches the lives of circus animals by giving them the stimuli of new sights, sounds and smells in each location. When I visited Circus Mondao, their camels had just been taken for a long run through a forest. When the show visits the coast, they’re walked on sandy beaches. Circus animals get out and about.

The other accusation commonly levelled at circuses is that they “force” animals to perform “tricks.” In reality, they are trained to display natural behaviours in return for the reward of praise and treats in exactly the same way that household pets are trained.

A lion leaping between pedestals is displaying its natural agility and benefiting from the exercise. A lion sitting up on its haunches is striking the pose they use to peer over tall grass in the wild. Elephants often stand on their hind legs to reach high branches.

Will Quince reckons circuses no longer serve an educational need because the growth in foreign travel means “many more people can travel across the world to see these animals in their natural habitats.” That “let them eat cake” attitude, however, ignores the fact that circuses take animals to audiences that in many cases will never be able to afford an African safari.

Martin Lacey Jr - Unique bond.
Watching animal documentaries on TV is a poor substitute for seeing them in the flesh. And even those who travel abroad will not witness the unique bond between human and animal that circus trainers achieve through a lifetime of close contact and dedication.

The current licence was introduced as a temporary measure ahead of a ban. But during the past couple of years our understanding of circuses has changed, both because of the transparency achieved through regulation and a new willingness by the industry to strip away the mystique of the big top and show the public how its animals are trained and cared for.

Because of that new understanding, Chris Chope is right to say that a ban is unnecessary. It can only be hoped that more MPs will take his commonsense view and block Quince’s bill when it is given a second reading this Friday, March 11.

Note: The probability is that the bill will blocked once again, in a repeat of last year, when Jim Fitzpatrick's private members bill was blocked almost weekly by Christopher Chope and Andrew Rosindell. Attempts to ban animals from the big top have, after all, been happening for the past 100 years, as you can read here.

Click here for 5 Ways You Can Save the Circus!

Monday, 15 February 2016

5 Ways YOU Can Save the Circus Today

If you want to see this circus lion act now!

Christopher Chope’s speech to the Commons last week was the first indication that the government could be changing its mind about banning wild animals from the British circus. That doesn’t mean it has changed its mind.  Will Quince, who is trying to introduce a ban as a Private Members Bill, is a Conservative, too.

What Chope has provided is a unique opportunity to show public support for his view and convince the government that the current licensing scheme has rendered a ban unnecessary.

It’s a chance for every circus fan to stand up and make a difference by taking the following five steps.

1 Email Chris Chope and give him your support for supporting the circus and opposing a ban. It’s vital to show him and the Prime Minister that the public is behind him. Reach him on and cc it to

2 Write to your own MP, stating your support for Chope and asking him or her to oppose a ban when the bill gets a second reading on March 4. The easiest way to is go to where you only have to put in your postcode to email your local representatives.

3 Write to the papers. Chris Chope’s speech has barely been reported, so raise awareness by writing a letter to your local and regional newspapers, and your favourite national daily paper, stating why you believe he is right to oppose a ban. If you need ideas, include any or all of the points in my Huffington Post article 10 Reasons The Show Must Go On. Writing to papers makes a huge difference. Peta and ADI hit every paper every day with press releases to stimulate coverage for their cause. UK circuses don’t have the resources to do that, but YOU, their fans and supporters, do. A lot of fans doing a little each, will add up to a lot of exposure.

Important: Include in any letters to papers and MPs a reference point where people can go to find out more, such as the Save UK Circus Facebook page or the Astley’s Legacy - Circus The Truth blog. The important thing is that you provide a next step where people who may be encountering the issue for the first time can find out more and see that a lot of people feel the same way.

4 Send a selfie to a women’s mag. The UK has half a dozen weekly women’s mags such as Woman’s Weekly and Take A Break that feature reader’s letters - a photo and 30-50 words. Send a pic of yourself riding a camel or meeting Thomas Chipperfield and a few lines about how much you enjoyed seeing some circus animals. If a few get published, that puts out a positive image of animals in circuses to readerships of between 100,000 to 500,000 - and they’ll pay you £25 - £50 too!

5 Become a citizen journalist. Anyone can blog on the Huffington Post or post news items on Blasting News and reach a far wider audience than you will by saying the same things to your friends on Facebook. Simply send a pro-circus opinion piece of 500 - 800 words, or a review of a show, to . If you have any sort of expertise in circus or animal welfare, they will be particularly keen to include you. Alternatively, if you know an industry insider ask and persuade them to become a Huffington Post blogger. Maybe they don’t know they could. Perhaps they don’t realise that blogging will raise their business profile as well as promoting the cause - so tell them about it. As an example, check out the posts by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance. If he can blog pro hunting, others can blog pro circus animals.

All of the above takes time and effort... but hours are wasted talking to the converted on social media when you could be making a real difference by talking to hundreds of thousands of the unconverted on mass media.

If you care about the future of the circus and want to make a difference, give up Facebook for one evening a week and spend that time writing to newspapers and MPs.

Do not leave it to others, but do encourage others to do the same, by sharing this post with them on Facebook and asking them to act.

Do it now, when it will count the most, because your circus needs YOU.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Conservative MP Christopher Chope says circus ban is unnecessary

Christopher Chope
defends the circus

The circus industry’s hopes that the government has changed its mind about banning wild animals from circuses have been boosted by Christopher Chope, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, stating that the current licensing scheme rendered a ban unnecessary.

Chope was speaking in the Commons on Wednesday 10 February as fellow Conservative MP Will Quince attempted to use the Ten Minute Rule to independently introduce his Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition) Bill, in an attempt to hasten a ban promised by his party in 2012.

As on previous occasions in 2014, when he blocked repeated attempts by Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick to introduce the same legislation, Chope insisted a ban must be brought forward by the Government rather than via a backbench MP. However, he went further this time to introduce the idea that a ban isn’t necessary at all, thanks to the licensing regime already in place to protect the welfare of animals in the big top.

“I think it’s not surprising that as a Conservative I should regard it as controversial that we in this House should be thinking about introducing a total prohibition on what is currently a perfectly lawful activity,” said Chope. “There’s then an issue about what we define as a wild animal. For example, does (Mr Quince) think that a camel – which is in most countries of the world regarded as a domestic animal – should be banned from being able to participate in a circus?’

Chope pointed out that the existing licensing regime requires up to seven inspections per year of animals in travelling circuses compared to one per year for zoos.

“We’re now about to embark on the fourth year of that licensing regime and nobody has criticised the welfare of the animals subject to that licensing regime,” said Chope. "On the basis that good Conservatives should argue for less regulation and prohibition, and as little as is possible and reasonable, I think we have reached a compromise here where we’ve got a proper, tight welfare licensing regime without the need for a total ban or prohibition.”

Quince’s Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition) Bill will get a second reading on March 4.

If you care about the outcome, click here to see what you can do to make a difference.

Did you know that attempts to ban animals from entertainment have been brewing for 100 years? Click here for the 100-year timeline in the war over animals in the circus.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Conservative MP Will Quince calls for ban on wild animals in circuses

Under threat
One of Britain's last performing tigers

As the Welsh Government works towards banning travelling circuses with wild animals (read about it here), Conservative MP Will Quince will bring the debate back to Westminster this Wednesday  (Feb 10) when he attempts to use the Ten Minute Rule to introduce his Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition) Bill.

The 10 minute rule allows any MP to propose a piece of legislation for future debate. Most never progress to law, but a rare few do. Since 1945, sixty acts of parliament have become law after originally being introduced under the 10 minute rule. The most recent was the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002.

In most cases, MPs know private members bills stand little chance and introduce them purely as a way of gaining publicity for their chosen cause.

Throughout the second half of 2014, Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick kept the issue of banning circus animals in the media by using the 10 minute rule to introduce a similar bill every few weeks, after the Government failed to pass a ban it promised in 2012 would be law by December 2015. On each occasion, Fitzpatrick's bill was blocked by either of the Conservative MPs Andrew Rosindell, a genuine circus supporter, or Christopher Chope, who took the official party line that the matter would be debated "when Parliamentary time allows." (Click here for more)

Some in the circus industry see the government's delay as a sign they have no heart to bring in a ban that was promised in haste after the media storm surrounding Anne the Elephant.

Animal rights groups, by contrast, maintain that the Prime Minister has assured them that a ban is still on the agenda, promising, "We're going to do it."

Update 10 February: Chris Chope brings hope that the government is changing its mind about a ban. Click here for latest. And click here to see what YOU can do to make a difference.

Whatever the truth about the government's intentions, Wednesday's motion is just the latest move in a 100-year history of attempts to ban animals from entertainment. Read the century-long timeline here.

And click here to read 10 Reasons Why The Show Should Go On!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Book review: When Clowns Attack by Chuck Sambuchino

If you’re planning a trip to sunny Lowestoft at the end of the month, when clowns from all over the world are descending on the seaside resort for Clown Gathering UK (click here to read all about it) then you might want to pack this handy little book alongside your bucket and spade: When Clowns Attack - A Survival Guide by Chuck Sambuchino.

A lot of people are afraid of clowns. And with good reason, according to Chuck, the founder of Red Nose Alert.

Consider: they hide their identities behind impenetrable make-up and false names like Happy, Fuzzy, Sunshine, Sniff and Giggles - nicknames earned by their addiction to ecstasy, weed, LSD, cocaine and laughing gas, respectively.

They’re impervious to pain, whether its a giant mallet to the head, a pie tin in the face or a fire extinguisher blast down the trousers. That’s not slapstick, says Chuck, it’s borderline super powers.

Their baggy pants could be hiding anything from a baseball bat to a bazooka. And, worst of all, they’re above the law. If they want to whack you with a rubber chicken or give you an over-the-head wedgie, they’ll just do it!

They're coming to get you!
Click here to read about
Britain's real life
clown crime wave.
But clowns aren’t just individual nuisances in Sambuchino’s book, they’re an organised menace that will abduct your children to swell their big-shoed ranks and ultimately seek to take over the world and impose Fools Rule on the rest of us.

Until that day comes, look out for individual attempts to steal your wallet, your life or your sanity.

The book lists some danger zones to avoid. The circus is an obvious one (“Just don’t f***ing go!”). Also, anywhere called Funhouse. Closed amusement parks are the most dangerous of all. That’s where the most deranged homeless clowns congregate, and where the clowns are said to bury their dead.

But what should you do when clowns attack?

If you find yourself being chased by a clown posse, throw a banana skin in their path. Clown Law dictates at least one of them will have to slip on it and hopefully take the rest down like skittles.

If any are still chasing you, try throwing an imaginary ball high in the air and shout “Catch!” Again, Clown Law commands the funny fellows will have to stand around trying to catch the invisible object.

Running upstairs is another good choice. Those outsize boots make stairs a challenge for bozos.

Sambouchino also offers some tips for spotting a plain clothes clown. If your new friend strikes you as a bit suspicious, try a word association test. Say “Big,” and if he replies “Top,” “Nose” or “Shoes,” you’re in trouble. Say “Balloon” and if he answers “Animals” - start running!

There’s safety in numbers, so if you’re worried about growing numbers of clowns in your neighbourhood, ally yourself with Peta activists - animal rights supporters are the sworn enemies of the circus. Also make friends with mimes. For some reason, mimes are apparently another sworn enemy of clowns, and if it comes to a clown raid on your home, a squad of the silent ninjas are the best people to have on your side.

This is a silly book, of course - a bit like those guides to surviving a zombie apocalypse. I mean, clowns are harmless bringers of joy, aren’t they? They wouldn’t turn on us... er, would they? Surely they don’t pose the same threat to our civilisation as a plague of zombies. But then again... how many zombies have you ever seen in real life? But there are an awful lot of clowns around, aren’t there?

Click here to buy When Clowns Attack from Amazon.

And click here for the History of Scary Clowns!

Clowns return to Bognor in May

Bognor becomes Clown Town

Is this the year of the clown?

We’re just a couple of weeks away from Clown Gathering UK, which will see around forty big-shoed funny people descend on the seaside town of Lowestoft for a week of workshops, prop swaps and a couple of shows at the Seagull Theatre (click here to read more).

And now it’s been announced that the clowns are returning to Bognor, scene of their famous Clown Town celebrations, in May.

Festival founder
Bingo the Clown
A clown convention was founded in Bognor in 1985 by, among others, the late Trevor Pharo, aka Bingo the Clown, and ran annually in association with Clowns International until 1993.

After a decade-long break, the convention was revived in 2006 and ran until 2013, when the host, Butlins holiday park, scrapped its Circus Circus weekends.

The Bognor festival was famous for its parade through the town that, at its peak, featured 100 clowns and drew crowds of thousands.

Now, local couple Jenny and Barry Jones have decided to revive the festival at their Jeneses Arts Centre in Linden Road, from May 12 - 14. The event will include workshops, a gala evening show at the Arts Centre on May 13 and, of course, a parade through Hotham Park on the 14.

Details: 01243 868174.

Be sure to go along and bump a nose!

Circus Mania
Loved by clowns!
Click here for 10 Clown Facts!