LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the circus!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Kathy Bates grows beard for American Horror Story: Freak Show

Here's Kathy Bates as you've never seen her before - as a bearded lady in the new series of American Horror Story: Freak Show. Her co-stars include a strong man, a lady with two heads and another with three breasts, in a series set in a carnival of the bizarre in 1952. The show debuts October 5.

But what's life like in a real life freak show? Read a full chapter on the Circus of Horrors and the history of freaks in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus! Click here to buy from Amazon.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Britain's biggest circus star!

Who's the BIGGEST star in the big top? How about Circus of Horrors giant Mariusz La Shad who stands a towering 7' 7". Catch him and the rest of the funky freaks on tour now!

Read a full chapter on the Circus of Horrors and the history of freaks in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus! Click here to buy from Amazon.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Giffords Circus HQ for sale

The lounge of circus boss Nell Gifford

Would you like to buy the home of a circus proprietor?

Folly Farm, the HQ of Giffords Circus is on the market for £1.5 million.

In my recent review of Gifford’s Circus - The First Ten Years (read it here) I described how Nell Gifford and husband Toti built their Gloucestershire home on the site of a derelict garden centre.

Today, their two bedroom house comes with an attached practise barn where they created their shows, and 11 acres of paddocks that are home to their circus horses.

“After 14 years we have finally outgrown our home at Folly Farm and are moving our entire HQ to just outside Stroud,” says Nell.

Giffords Circus practise barn
The property is on the market with Butler Sherborn estate agents.

Friday, 22 August 2014

White lions born on Circus Krone

Congratulations to mother Princess and father King Tonga on the birth of their four white lion cubs at Germany's Circus Krone.

Certified Circus Writer

Thursday, 21 August 2014

GIFFORDS CIRCUS - The First Ten Years Book Review

In October 1999, Nell Gifford was invited to give a talk at the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival the following May. She suggested that they book her circus and gave them a glowing description: "There will be showgirls and a dancing horse and a motorbike and a raucous atmosphere, lit by gaslight!"

The director booked the show. The problem was, Gifford didn’t have a show. Or wagons. Or costumes. Or artists. Or capital.

Building a circus from scratch in time for Hay-on-Wye took its toll on Nell and her landscape gardener husband, Toti. They ran up a £100,000 debt, had to move out of their rented cottage and slept on the floor of a pub where the landlord gave them free food.

Two engagements on the way to Hay did not improve their financial situation. They couldn’t give tickets away. Their vehicles fell apart on the roadside.

But they dragged their convoy, broke and broken, to the festival to find their three-day stand was sold out. The audience and critics loved them, and a new darling of the circus world was born.

The circus is full of wonderful stories - of magical moments plucked from disaster - and Gifford’s is one of them.

Her previous book, Josser, describes how she ran away with a circus to escape her pain after her mother was brain-damaged in a fall from a horse. Her apprenticeship mucking out horses and elephants on Santus Circus in the 90s was far from glamorous. It was, in her words, “a hard and negative world and a bad time for circus.” But she had seen the flipside of how circus could be presented and appreciated in America’s Circus Flora and Germany’s Roncalli, and she wanted to rebuild the dream world of the big top in her homeland.

Nell Gifford riding high
Giffords Circus - The First Ten Years, relates how she and Toti took the next step to create a circus of their own. Their work ethic is exhausting to read about. The side story of how they transformed a derelict garden centre into their home and winter base - a linked house and practise barn that symbolises how closely their lives and art are entwined - is a tale of hard work and determination in its own right. It’s even more amazing that they did it between trips to Moscow and Hungary in search of performers, and rehearsals in which nobody shared a language.

This beautifully illustrated book delves deeply into both the artistic and practical sides of running a circus.

Inspired by a chanced-upon drawing of a ballerina standing on horseback, Gifford sought out a ballerina and horse to create an act she describes as “A step forward to defining who we were.”
When a rare excursion from Gloucestershire to inner-city Hoxton Square was nearly thwarted in its final yards by a gate too narrow for their vintage wagons into the square, Toti pulled the gatepost from the concrete with his bare hands.

In a circus world fragmented into fifty shades of ‘new’ and ‘traditional,’ Giffords Circus, with its vintage look, tiny tent, horses, dogs and gentrified audience, occupies a niche of one. Gifford traces her artistic vision to memories of a bohemian middle class childhood, before her mother’s accident, where special occasions were always celebrated on a grand scale but everything had to be homemade. Endless food and endless guests. Dressing up. Handmade decorations. Singing. Games.

A visitor described their first show as “Edwardian children playing at circus,” and Gifford took it as a compliment.

Giffords’ style has been dubbed ‘heritage circus.’ But it’s not just circus they’re preserving - it’s a slice of middle England. A rural middle class mindset of country pubs, village greens, fetes, gymkhanas and do-it-yourself fun. “An English world where the pony is childhood.”

It’s no wonder Giffords Circus wowed the patrons of the Hay-on-Wye Festival - bohemian thinkers who would be out of place in the gritty working class environs of Peter Jolly’s Circus (Britain’s last with lions and tigers, and a picket line of animal rights protestors to match) and who probably wouldn’t be totally comfortable with the slick metropolitan aesthetic of Cirque du Soleil either.

It’s funny. When I was writing my own book, Circus Mania, I often found myself comparing audiences as much as shows: different circuses for different classes. On one hand, the appeal of the circus transcends class. But, in England at least, it doesn’t unite the classes. Perhaps in England, it never could. We like to pretend we’re a classless society, but the tribes of class are as rigidly separatist as ever, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a journey through our circus tents. Giffords Circus thrives in the shires where it’s audience shares the same childhood memory of what a circus should be.

Giffords Circus - The First Ten years by Nell Gifford (The History Press)

Giffords Circus barn - one careful owner
For Sale
If you'd like to buy the perfect house to run a circus from, Giffords Circus HQ, Folly Farm has gone on the market for £1.5m. Click here for more.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Peter Jolly's Circus extends stay in Wirral

Roaring success!
Peter Jolly's proves people
love lions

Animal rights protesters have been out in force, stirring up negative headlines in the local paper and picketing the gates every day since Peter Jolly's Circus pitched its tent at Saugham Massie Road in the Wirral. But it's the 'sold out' signs not the protesters that have been turning visitors away.

The sideshow outside
According to PR man Anthony Beckwith, the circus has seen such an "explosion" of interest that it has extended its stay by more than a week until August 10.

Looks like the public wants to see animal acts after all. Either that or, with a mooted ban always hanging over the big top, they know it could be their last chance to see tigers and lions in a British sawdust circle.

The queue that makes
Peter Jolly
Click here to read my review of Peter Jolly's Circus and the last of the British big cats.

It's International Clown Week
Scroll down for clowns!

International Clown Week August 1 - 7

It's International Clown Week!

For 10 Clown Facts, click here!

For Scary Clowns, click here!

For Britain's funniest clowns, click here!

"I loved this book"
- Customer review

For the history of clowning, the dynamics of the whiteface and the auguste, and interviews with top clowns Danny Adams and Bippo, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus!

Click here to read the customer reviews on Amazo

Monday, 28 July 2014

International Clown Week begins today - are you scared yet?

The Burnley Clown
Bringing terror to the streets
- or just clowning around?

Clowns are supposed to make us laugh, but some people find them creepy or plain scary. The sinister clowns of horror films have stoked fears - or have they merely exploited a fear that was already there? In the following article, I trace the history of scary clowns.

Coulrophobia - the fear of clowns - is estimated to afflict 2% of the adult population, but anecdotal evidence including the existence of websites such as I Hate suggests the figure is much higher (you can even sign up for your own email address).

ClownhouseMr JinglesIn Fear Of Clowns and Killer Clowns From Outer Space are just some of the horror films to feed or exploit the fear of white-faced funny-men. The Joker in Batman and the toy clown that comes to life in Poltergeist are further examples, while Bart Simpson embodied childhood fears when Homer built him a bed in the shape of a scary clown.

Bart Simpson
"Can't Sleep, clown will eat me!"
Clowns, in one form or another, have always been with us. The court jester of medieval times is just one historical example of an anarchic fool licensed to poke fun at society’s mores.

The father of modern clowning was Victorian pantomime star Joseph Grimaldi, after whom clowns are still nicknamed Joeys. Grimaldi popularised white face paint with red markings on his cheeks as a way of making his expressions more visible in smoky, candlelit theatres.

Grimaldi was a massive celebrity but a memoir posthumously edited by Charles Dickens revealed him to be a tragic, depressed figure in private who punned, “I’m grim all day, but I make you laugh at night.”

The Fear of the Mask
- Dr Who goes to the circus

Whenever a director needs a
scary villain, you can always
count on a clown
Andrew McConnell Stott, author of The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi (Canongate), traces the enduring cliche of the sad man behind the clown face directly to Grimaldi. And it’s perhaps the fact that a clown’s make-up disguises the wearer’s true emotions that makes us suspicious of them.

According to author Ramsey Campbell, who employed sinister clown themes in The Grin Of The Dark, “It’s the fear of the mask, the fact it doesn’t change and is relentlessly comical.”

Grimaldi’s French contemporary Jean-Gaspard Deburau, who created the pantomime character Pierrot, became the first real life killer clown when he struck a boy and killed him after being taunted in the street.

Fictional killer clowns quickly followed with the 1892 Italian opera Pagliacci (Clowns) depicting a Grimaldi-type character who murders his wife.

The mid-20th century was a golden age for loveable clowns as television spread the fame of Bozo the Clown in America and Charlie Cairoli in Britain. The popularity of clowns was reflected by the decision of McDonalds to adopt Ronald McDonald as its mascot in 1963 - although opponents of the fast food chain may regard the Happy Hamburger Clown as a prime example of a smiling clown with a sinister agenda.

Ronald McDonald
making another fan for life
Cairoli’s generation of big-footed funnymen had become established as children’s entertainers whereas earlier clowns like Grimaldi provided satire for adults. But it was the association with childhood innocence that allowed horror writers to make clowns scary - for what could be more frightening than a homicidal maniac loose among kids?

Real life added to the image of clown as predator when John Wayne Gacy - a registered clown called Pogo - was convicted of killing 35 men in Chicago between 1972 and 1978.

“Clowns can get away with murder,” quipped the man newspapers dubbed the Killer Clown.

Today’s clowns are well aware that many people find them more scary than funny. Some circuses in America run clown therapy workshops in which children watch clowns applying their make-up to demystify the transformation.

Danny Adams
What makes him such a funny clown?
Could it be his anarchic streak
makes him just a little bit scary?
Many British clowns, such as Danny Adams of Cirque du Hilarious, have reduced their make-up to a minimum.

“Too much make-up scares the kids,” says Adams. “I’ve never worn a lot and over the years it’s got less and less.”

Jasper King of musical clown troupe the Chipolatas wears no clown make-up at all, saying, “When I started out I had a white face and I soon realised that wasn’t the way to go. It alienates people - you’re someone different. I want the kids to think, ‘He’s the same as me.’”

But if you take away a clown’s make-up, is he still a clown?

Slapstick movie stars Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy were direct descendants of the American circus’ hobo clown or character clown, and were clowns in every respect except face-paint, which on the big screen they didn’t need. The most successful clown of recent times is Mr Bean, although few fans of Rowan Atkinson’s mostly silent creation ever recognise him as a clown.

The world will probably always need clowns to hold up a distorted mirror to the absurdities of life.

But perhaps because they no longer appear in smoky Victorian theatres they no longer need exaggerated faces to be seen.

Circus Mania - loved by clowns!
For the full story of clowning and interviews with some of today's funniest clowns, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus by Douglas McPherson

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form."
- Mail on Sunday

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.