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."

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bobbo's Diary of a Clown - Part One: Chovy Shops and Unicycles

How does a clown get his luggage from one end of a bus depot to the other? On a unicycle, of course!

In the first of an exclusive series of extracts from his diary, Bobby 'Bobbo' Roberts Jr, tells us about his return to the circus for a season on Clacton Pier with Circus Fantasia this summer.

When I was younger it was a case of an agent coming to see you work. I remember the likes of Roberto Germain's who was in this business himself as a very renowned horse rider, and Lew and Lesley Grade - although I don't remember them - but there was Bernie Delfont, who I remember as he was also a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats, and my very own uncle Laci.

“The reason I’m going on about agents is nowadays most acts post their acts on YouTube and Facebook. So although I might have left circus to try some different things from street work to music hall and burlesque and even working and teaching at Clown Gathering UK, I, like many others, like to keep up to date on Facebook.

“There was a post saying how Mathew Wingate, the director of Circus Fantasia, was looking for a clown, and a very kind lady called Tanya Mack, from Planet Circus, tagged me in it. So I sent Mathew, who I've known for a while, a message saying I hear you are looking for a clown. He said ‘Yes, Clacton Pier who I’m doing a show with want a run in clown.’ I said a few names to him and he said, ‘I want you, you prat!’

“I felt very chuffed as I'd been out the business for three years so I went to my boss and I explained that I'd been offered some circus work. He said, ‘Well, you must do it as its all you know.’ So then came the hard bit: telling my wife Gillian and my two boys Logan and Bailey that I’d be away for six weeks and I’d be away for Logan s 14th birthday. But they were all so very supportive. Bailey said, ‘Can you bring me a real Minion back?’

“So I booked the bus to London and with a giant case and a smaller one and a rucksack and a unicycle I got there in one piece. Having my bags checked when got to London I wondered what the lady thought as she brought out juggling rings and a rubber chicken with other bits of my trade like goggle specs and a giant fidget spinner that me and Gill had made a few days before the trip. It wasn’t the most funny prop but it was very topical. So after that I then got to looking at how to get to Clacton and believe me it was no easy task with bags full of props and my own things and my unicycle.

“As I was looking for where to go a good mate called Ed rang me. He was a former spotlight boy at Bellevue Circus when he was a teenager and is now in a very successful jazz/blues band. I said, ‘What line do I get to go to Clacton?’ He said ‘Why?’ I explained that I was In London and he said, ‘Can you wait till 11 and I’ll come and pick you up.’

“I said yes right away as I didn’t fancy struggling with them darn cases and unicycle. So I went for a coffee and, me being me, rode my unicycle to the other end of Victoria bus depot with my cases and stopped off at a coffee house. I can see why its called Costa as should be called Costa lot of money, but sure enough my mate came and we walked to his car. As it was coming to lunch time and the traffic was getting more busy then normal, he decided to go through Westminster and I got to do a bit of sight seeing at the same time, including some of the West End and the Talk of the Town, which was formerly a circus building. We passed the Windmill and saw a lot of buskers, and it made me think - my life really did pass me by in circus, street work and burlesque. Then, after a hour, we got out of the big city and I was on my way.

“In between talking about the business and how the world has changed so much we got to Clacton and I phoned Mathew up and said ‘I’m now in Clacton.’ He said, ‘Oh, can you hang around a hour or so as I’m still on the road.’ I might add here that as well as doing a show at Clacton, Mathew and his wife Anya run a very successful touring show. So I said that's fine. So after saying goodbye to Ed I found a spot to sit. I thought as I've been stuck on a bus and a car it would be nice just to sit outside as it was very rare for the UK to have a hot spell. So as I was getting burnt where I was sat, and I was getting a bit bored, I started juggling 3 balls and some people I was sitting there talking to later on came to see the shows.

“I decided to explore the town I would be in for six weeks, so I went up to a bloke who was selling all the normal seaside stuff: buckets and spades, giant blow-up things and, I’m pleased to say, the funny post cards still. I explained to him that I would be working on the pier for six weeks and how my new boss was still out on the road, and he kindly let me leave my cases with him and even give me an ice cream as he said ‘Welcome to Clacton.’

“I started to explore the seaside town and I knew I was going to like it as there were 23 chovy shops (second hand shops). After a short while, Mathew phoned me back and I got picked up by his advance publicly man, Roy, who as a teenager had worked for my dad. I last saw him when I worked for Charles and Rebecca on Circus Bollywood, so had a good catch up with him as we drove to where the wagons were. We weren’t going go stay on the pier like the circus did in 1982 with all the animals.

“We got there and I met Anya for the first time as we’d only ever spoke on Facebook. Straight away we got on as I've seen her dad do his very funny trampoline act on Zippos circus, plus she made a good cup of tea as Mathew was still on the road. I would be staying in the bunk wagon with some of the other artists, two dancing girls and a BMX man, so I was finding out about some of the other acts who would be working on the show when Mathew phoned up and said the filters had gone in the lorry he was in. In the true circus way, he changed them by using his belt from his trousers.

“In the meantime, a white lorry turns up with a lovely looking wagon. A bloke jumps out and it’s Danny Hasler who I've known since we was both much younger, who does two very nice acts - a juggling act on the back of a quad bike  and a unicycle act of different heights and going up and down steps. So more tea was drank while we looked out for Mathew, and then two vans and wagons  pulled up and out jumped two girls and two boys who I was told do a trapeze act.”

To be continued... 

Click here to read Part Two of Bobbo's Diary of a Clown.

And click here to read and interview with Bobbo about his upbringing in one of Britain's oldest circus families.

For more on clowns and clowning click here to order the updated 2nd edition of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Circus Elephants ban in Illinois

The fate of the traditional circus with animals has suffered another blow with Illinois becoming the first state in America to ban elephants from the big top.

The ban is due to take effect from January 1, 2018, which means the Kelly Miller Circus, currently touring the state, could be the last opportunity for locals to see jumbos in the ring.

The circus blamed campaigners such at the Humane Society for the ban and recently posted a video on its website showing how Cindy and Jenny, the two elephants on the road with them this year, are cared for by trainer Joey Frisco. The 35-year-old Frisco describes in the clip how he literally grew up alongside the two elephants, which are now 45 and 51-years-old. View it here.

"Animal rights extremists put their agenda through without letting the public know," Tavana Brown, general manager of the Kelly Miller Circus, said of the new law passed by the state House and Senate.

The circus insists it will return to Illinois next year, without elephants, but ringmistress Rebecca Ostrof warned the absense of the elephants - which form part of the Kelly Miller logo - could hurt ticket sales as it did for America's most famous circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, which was forced to close earlier this year after withdrawing its elephants in the face of local legislation in places like California that made it impossible to tour with them.

"They're part of our story," said Ostrof. "What did people want to go see at Ringling? They wanted to go see elephants. People really missed them."

For more on the story of elephants in the big top, including my visit to quite probably the last British circus to feature the giant beasts, pre-order the new edition of Circus Mania from Peter Owen Publishers by clicking here.

"A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
-Mail on Sunday