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, 18 July 2017

New Joseph Grimaldi film The Funniest Man In The World











On the showbiz grapevine...

Vicki Michelle, the actress who came to fame in hit BBC sitcom 'Allo, 'Allo, tells me she's just finished making a new short film about Joseph Grimaldi, the Victorian pantomime star known as the Father of Clowning.

The film, produced by John Conway, was shot in Blackpool and the starry cast includes real life funsters The Chuckle Brothers, with Barry Chuckle playing Grimaldi. Singing star David Essex plays Charles Dickens, who was Grimaldi's biographer; and Charlie Cairoli Junior plays Charles Dibdin - an often overlooked but important historical figure who gave the modern circus its name!

Michelle stars as Grimaldi's wife, Mary, while Jonathan Thomas-Davies makes an appearance as Lord Byron.

The short film is currently in post-production, but if it's successful, could it lead to a full length feature or TV drama?

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Circus returns to Clacton Pier this Saturday







A great circus tradition returns to Clacton in Essex this month, when Circus Fantasia sets up its ring in the Jolly Roger at the end of Clacton Pier.

Built in 1891, the Jolly Roger last hosted a circus when Chipperfields' appeared there in the 1980s. Since then, the Victorian building has been mothballed.

After a trial run during half term earlier this year, the 300-seat circus will be open every day from July 22 - September 3, with three one-hour performances each day. It promises to add a bit of sawdust magic to a salty day at the sea.

The Jolly Roger as it used to be.
Fantasia is an all-human show. But what must it have been like on the pier in the days of Chipperfields? Jamie Clubb and his father provide an atmospheric eyewitness account in a fabulous blog post here. With an elephant and lions stabled on the end of the pier and waves crashing over the top, it sounds like a scene from Noah's Ark!

For more on Circus Fantasia, click here to see my pictures of their transport.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Hugh Jackman stars with fake elephant in Barnum flick The Greatest Showman

PT Barnum
Drawing by Douglas McPherson










Well, the Ringling Brothers dropped the elephants - and we know what happened next - so perhaps its unsurprising that you'll have to make do with GCI pachyderms when The Greatest Showman, a musical biopic of circus founder PT Barnum rides into cinemas this Christmas.

Talk about movie 'spoilers', I have to say I lost some enthusiasm for the film when its star, Hugh Jackman, was snapped looking completely ridiculous astride a mechanical bull on the back of a truck during filming in Manhattan... the elephant he's supposed to be riding being added later by computer trickery.

Barnum himself would probably approve. The showman was known for his far-fetched publicity stunts such as presenting a white elephant... courtesy of a bucket of whitewash. As one of his competitors once said of him, "There's a sucker born every minute!"

Douglas McPherson met
only real elephants, not CGI ones,
in the research for
Circus Mania!
In the meantime, you can read all about Barnum and his real-life elephant Jumbo - the world's most famous elephant - in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

What does it mean when you dream you're a clown?











I had a funny dream last night. I dreamt I was a clown doing a cookery routine with an Invisible Shelf. I kept putting things like the kettle on the Invisible Shelf and, because there wasn't a shelf there, they kept clattering to the floor and bashing me on the foot. At the end of the routine I had a tray with a plate of salmon sandwiches and a cup of tea. I put the tray on the Invisible Shelf and a pair of hands came through the wall and held it. The hands were wearing orange gloves, the same colour as the wall, so the audience couldn't see them. After the crowd applauded, I left the tray on the Invisible Shelf, drank the tea and passed around the sandwiches to show they were real.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Douglas McPherson's review remembered... 20 years on!


Not circus, but it was nice to open the new issue of Country Music People and see my name in the above paragraph by BBC broadcaster and broadsheet writer Spencer Leigh.

It's gratifying to know that something as ephemeral as a review can stick in someone's memory twenty years on.

And if my reviews are that memorable, think of the impression my books must make!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

How to write about the circus and get published!








Ever wanted to write about the circus? A memoir of your life in the big top, perhaps?

Many people have a notion to write a book... one day. Others nurture a dream of writing a best-seller... in the same way that they dream of winning the Lottery. That is, without any real hope of it ever happening. Which of course it won’t, if they don’t buy a ticket. But writing isn’t something that anyone needs to put off. Nor is success limited to best-selling novels.


The fact is that anyone with something to say can start writing today and realistically be published in the very near future. Your first success may not be a best-seller, or even a book, but it will be a step towards growing a writing career with no limit on where it will end.

Based on a series of articles in Writers Forum, Start Writing Today, will show you how to take that first step and many others. The twenty-five chapters show you how to write, and most importantly how to sell, magazine features, reviews, news items, short stories, memoirs and books.

Start Writing Today reveals the three-step trick to selling any article or book, and how to nurture professional relationships that will help you earn for years to come.

Everything in this book is based on my personal experience of being a full time writer for more than twenty years, and at every step of the way includes examples from my own work to show how the techniques, tips, cheats and hacks worked for me and how they can work for you.

Most of all, this book will show you how you can start writing today.

Click here to buy Start Writing Today.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Interview with Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson



What inspired Circus Mania? What are my favourite circuses? How do I see the future of circus? Click here to find out in this interview with My Weekly.

Blame the Daleks!

"Buy Circus Mania or be exterminated!
Obey! Obey!"

















What have Dr Who's arch enemies got to do with the circus? Not a lot, except that while I was wondering what to call my circus book I found myself gazing across the office at my Dalekmania calendar, and suddenly it came to me: Circus Mania!

Soon afterwards I wrote a short story set in the era of Dalekmania. It’s called My Dalek Days - a Dr Who-dunnit on a film set in the swinging 60s. It was published by My Weekly and they generously gave me a nice plug for Circus Mania at the bottom of the page. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the story. (Read it from behind the sofa if you wish...)



"Seek, locate... and buy Circus Mania!"
MY DALEK DAYS

A Dr Who-dunnit in the swinging 60s

by Douglas McPherson




Everyone wondered how the Daleks moved around. Some people thought they were remote controlled. But it was a lot less complicated than that.

Someone like me had to sit inside on a little bench, with my feet sticking through the bottom, and push the thing around on casters - all the while remembering to wiggle the eye stalk and the arm with the sink plunger on the end.

It was very cramped and dark inside, and could get pretty claustrophobic during a long day’s filming. Especially as you knew you couldn’t get out. It took two men to lift the top half into place, so once you were in, you were trapped.

Visibility through the wire mesh grill was very poor and communication was difficult. You could hear what the actors and director were saying, but nobody could make out what you were saying unless they put their ear right up against the grill.

We didn’t do the voices, you see. All those shouts of “Ex-ter-min-ate!” were done by an actor by the side of the set, with a funny little gadget to change his voice. We just had to remember to press a button that made the lights on the top our heads flash while he was talking.

It was a fantastic break for me, straight out of drama school in 1966. The Daleks were almost as big as The Beatles. Dalekmania they called it, and everyone was saying the metal monsters’ second big screen adventure was going to be the biggest film of the year.

Peter Cushing as Dr Who
Peter Cushing was playing Dr Who with Bernard Cribbins as his sidekick, and it was a wonderful opportunity to work with such great actors - even if no one was ever going to see my face!
On the posters, the Daleks were given a bigger billing than Dr Who. But on set, it was a very different story. Us humble operators were at the bottom of the pecking order.

Not only did we seldom get to socialise with the stars, once we were inside our Daleks everyone seemed to forget we were there at all.

At lunchtime the cast and crew would wander off to the canteen and I’d be trundling after them, waving my plunger and desperately trying to make them hear my muffled cries of, “Hey, let me out of here!”

During the breaks between scenes, people would stand around chatting right next to me as if I wasn’t there. Sometimes they’d even lean on my casing as if it were just another piece of scenery.

At first I thought it was a bit rude. But after a couple of days, I realised I was overhearing more studio gossip than I would as an ordinary extra.

Most of it was spread by Ruby, a mother hen of a wardrobe mistress, with a huge beehive hairdo, who had worked in the studio for years. Whenever you heard her click-clacking across the studio floor in her high heels and skirt that was far too short for her age, you knew you were about to hear some piece of salacious news.

Even when Ruby was on her knees adjusting an actor’s costume between takes, a mouthful of dressmaker’s pins didn’t stop her expressing her opinions.

Most of Ruby’s news bulletins during the first few days’ filming concerned a young make-up assistant called Tina.

The Daleks invade the big screen
Tina was a shy little thing with a Cilla Black haircut - one of those girls who don’t seem to know how pretty they are. But I’d noticed her right away. Well, you couldn’t miss her, really. She came right onto the middle of the set, between shots, and stood on a little stool in her mini-skirt so she could reach Peter Cushing’s head and make sure his shock of white hair was properly teased up for the mad scientist look.

She didn’t notice me, of course. I was inside my Dalek and by the time the day’s filming was over, she was gone.

Generally, Tina tended to stay in the make-up room. And, unfortunately, us Daleks didn‘t need make-up.

In any case, Tina had a boyfriend, a bit-part actor called Steve, who was playing one of the Daleks’ semi-human accomplices, the Robomen - although, if Ruby was to be believed, their relationship was far from happy.

“That poor girl!” Ruby said in a particularly shocked voice one morning.

Twisting around inside my Dalek, I saw through the grill that she was talking to Alf, the burly foreman in charge of building the sets.

Glancing over her shoulder to check no one else could hear her - and clearly assuming my Dalek was empty - Ruby added in a lower voice, “She told him she was expecting, and you know what he did? He laughed in her face and said he wanted nothing more to do with her!”

Alf made an angry noise and put his fist on top of my dome with a heavy thud.

“It’s time somebody took that young man to one side and told him a few home truths,” Alf said forthrightly.
..........................

"Daleks are the supreme beings in the circus!"
During the second week, we filmed on location around some abandoned warehouses. It made a change to be working outside but created some problems.

On rough pavements, the Daleks wobbled and shook like shopping trolleys, and in cobbled alleys we couldn‘t move them at all. Alf had to lay plywood tracks for us to roll smoothly along.

While we waited for Alf to complete the task, I watched Steve clowning about as if he were the star, rather than a bit part. He took particular delight in flirting with a slinky-looking continuity girl right in front of poor Tina.

I noticed that Alf was watching him, too, and seemed to hammer in his nails a little more forcefully.
.............................

When I arrived for work the following morning, a real-life drama was in full swing. As well as the usual trucks full of lights and cameras, the road to the warehouses was blocked with police cars and an ambulance.

One of my fellow Dalek operators spotted me and said, “I don’t think we’ll be needed today. One of the Robomen was found dead in an alley. It looks like he fell out of a loading bay - from two floors up.”

At the catering van, Ruby had a different theory.

"I'm green with envy!"
As I stood behind her and asked for a mug of tea, she told Alf, “I reckon Tina arranged to meet him up there - then gave him a push. I certainly wouldn’t blame her.”

“It could have been anyone who shoved him off,” said Alf, between bites of a bacon sandwich. “I heard he owed a lot of money - some of it to some pretty nasty people.”

Looking around, I saw Tina on the other side of the road, a check coat hugged tightly over her mini-dress. She looked distraught, and utterly alone, as if nobody knew what to say to her.

There wasn’t much I could say myself. But my heart went out to her.

On impulse, I took my untouched tea over and held it out to her.

As her pale blue eyes flicked up to meet mine, Tina looked surprised, but then grateful as she accepted the steaming mug.

"Whoever put disco lights in here
will be exterminated!"
As it turned out, there was no time to say anything because two men in trilby hats and dark coats had arrived meaningfully by Tina’s side.

“Morning, Miss,” said one of them, “My name’s Inspector Jewel. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you a few questions.”
..............................

The next day, I was back in my Dalek. Steve’s part in the film was too small for his death to threaten the picture and, having already lost a lot of time, the director wanted to press on.

The atmosphere on set was tense, though - and the rumour mill was working overtime.

“They kept her at the police station all night,” Ruby told Alf, as he dusted down my Dalek shell. “But they had to let her go because she had a watertight alibi.”

“Well I never believed it was Tina,” Alf said gruffly. “But I’ll tell you this much, Ruby, whoever did it, did her a favour. She’s better off without that wrong ‘un.”

“You’re right there,” said Ruby. Then, more distantly, she said, “I wonder if she’ll keep the baby?”
........................................

Don't worry readers
- it's only a toy!
Well, she did, and now he’s in his forties with two lovely children of his own.

They’re both mad about Dr Who, of course, and they could hardly believe it when they found out their granddad used to be a Dalek.

“Did you exterminate loads of people?” they asked enthusiastically.

“Loads!” I laughed.

Well, one, actually.

But even Tina doesn’t know that.


New edition
coming soon!
Douglas McPherson is the author of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed Of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

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




And you can read more fiction by Douglas McPherson in comedy crime book The Blue Rinse Brigade. Click here to download the ebook from Amazon.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Circus week in The Stage

It's circus week in theatrical bible The Stage this week, including this piece by yours truly on what happens backstage at the Circus of Horrors...

Click here to read it online.

You'll also find my pieces on the history of Sir Robert Fossett's Circus, and the reasons circus directors give for wanting or not wanting animals in their rings, along with a whole tent-load of other circus articles.

Pick up a copy and tuck it under your arm with the title on view and people will think you're an actor!