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?’
“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 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.