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."

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Gerry Cottle's Circus on Magpie in 1975

A lovely little look behind the scenes of Gerry Cottle's Circus
on children's TV show Magpie in the 1970s.


Friday, 19 February 2021

Gandey's Circus in the 1960s

Today, Gandey World Class Productions is one of the biggest producers of big top entertainment in the world. This charming, nostalgic documentary takes us back to its origins as a small family circus in the 1960s. Spot current MD Phillip Gandey when he was in short trousers!

Friday, 22 January 2021


A strongman who lifts an elephant, the world's oldest lion trainer, acrobats, clowns, wire walkers and a sign-writing fakir... it's all in this wonderful documentary, transporting us back to the heyday of Gerry Cottle's Circus in 1976, 'World Within A Ring.'

"I did what every boy wants to do. I ran away and joined the circus."

                - Gerry Cottle (1945 - 2021) RIP

Thursday, 14 January 2021

GERRY COTTLE 1945 - 2021

Gerry Cottle, Douglas McPherson, Dr Haze

It was sad to hear of the passing yesterday, January 13, of the great British circus showman Gerry Cottle.

Gerry, who ran away with the circus at the age of 15, and established his eponymous show in the 1970s and 80s, was probably the most widely known name in the UK circus industry for the past 40 years.

A life-long circus enthusiast, Gerry was immensely helpful to me when I was writing my book Circus Mania. He introduced me to interviewees including his former business partner Brian Austen, provided a quote for the cover and graced the book launch with his starry presence.

He will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.

Gerry Cottle at the Circus Mania
book launch
as reported in The Stage.

 For the story of Gerry Cottle's remarkable life in the circus, click here

...and in the updated edition of Circus Mania
marking 250 years of the circus.

Friday, 8 January 2021

15 Facts about Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus


Philip Astley, the father of the circus was born on 8 January, 279 years ago. Here are 15 facts about the man who first brought together equestrian displays, acrobats, strongmen and clowns in the circus ring.

1 Philip Astley was a cabinetmaker’s son from Newcastle-under-Lyme.

An illustration from
Circus Mania
2 He was born on 8 January, 1742.

3 He was a sergeant major in the Fifthteenth Light Dragoons.

4 Astley’s first displays of trick horse-riding were in the open air at Half Penny Hatch just south of Westminster Bridge in London.

5 His wife Patty provided musical accompaniment on a drum and also performed on horseback.

6 Their first performance was on Easter Monday, 4 April, 1768.

7 Astley’s circus performers included a strongman called Signor Colpi and a clown called Mr Merryman.

8 Astley established the still-standard diameter of the circus ring as 42-ft.

Astley's later,
grander amphitheatre
9 Astley never called his entertainment a circus. The word was coined by Charles Dibdin and Charles Hughes who established the rival Royal Circus.

10 Astley was invited to perform before King Louis XV of France in 1772.

11 He built France’s first purpose-built circus building, the Amphitheatre Anglais, in Paris.

12 He established circuses in 20 European cities.

13 Astley’s Amphitheatre is mentioned in books by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

14 His name is commemorated in the dance tunes Astley’s RideAstley’s Flag and Astley’s Hornpipe.

15 Astley died on 27 January 1814 and was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.

New Edition
Out now!
For more on the history of the circus and the lives of today’s circus performers click here to buy Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus by Douglas McPherson

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

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Big top pantomime from Planet Circus


It's behind you! But not this year's big top entertainment, as one of the UK's biggest circus companies pitches its tent for a big top pantomime this Christmas.

Planet Circus is putting on Cinderella in Lincolnshire from 11 December to 3 January.

Other yuletide entertainment includes a Christmas season at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome while the Circus of Horrors kicks off its Revamped and Rockin' theatre tour at Wookey Hole January 8.

And the good news is that the social distancing and other safety measures that Britain's big tops have put in place since returning to the road this summer have proved effective.

According to official test and trace results, not a single transmission of Covid-19 has been attributed to a circus or theatre show this year.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Remember, remember

This darkness will not last forever. There will some day come a Fifth of November — or another date, it doesn't matter — when fires will burn in a chain of brightness from Land's End to John O' Groats. The children will dance and leap about them as they did in the times before. They will take each other by the hand and watch the rockets breaking, and afterwards they will go home singing to the houses full of light...

P. L. Travers,

Monday, 13 July 2020

Uncle Sam's Great American Circus in Rhyl, from 29 July

As Britain's big tops spring up all over the UK once more, Uncle Sam's Great American Circus has announced that it will be trucking into Rhyl on 29 July.

Click here to see my pictures of Uncle Sam's trademark American trucks when the show visited Norwich.

Also look out for Circus Wonderland - which stars Britain's best-dressed clowns, Mr Popol and Kakehole - when they recommence their 2020 tour in sunny Shoreham 23 - 26 July.