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."

Friday, 23 February 2018

Why circuses should have animals, by Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington









It was refreshing to read an article by noted animal behaviourist Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington stressing the positive benefits to both humans and animals of having animals in the circus ring.

In this quote from Country Squire Magazine, Kiley-Worthington doesn't just defend the practise but endorses it.

"There are very important arguments why pleasant interested contact between animals and humans should be encouraged and fostered and circuses can do this.  These are: 1) because relationships between humans and non-human animals can be mutually rewarding and enriching for both (and not just for therapy). 2) Because humans then have some experiences of direct contact, experience the emotions and mental abilities of different animals and realise that they too are sentient, thinking beings with desires and needs of all kinds, have value in themselves (not just an instrumental value for humans to benefit from) and therefore must be conserved. No TV documentaries, films, or watching through binoculars will provide these emotional exchanges & experiences that contact with others does provide "

Dr Kiley-Worthington was previously the author of Chiron's World, a ground-breaking study of circus animals that was sponsored by the RSPCA but not published by them because its findings conflicted with the Society's anti-circus agenda. Click here to read it in full.

She is currently a director of the Eco Research and Education Centre and has just published a paper on the similarities between all mammals, including humans. Read it here.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Circus books for teenagers and children









Do kids still grow up wanting to run away with the circus? They might after reading Bunty Armitage Circus Girl by former circus performer Pixi Robertson.

This lively Young Adult adventure sees the life of an everyday high-schooler turned upside down when she reluctantly accompanies her glamorous friend Cilla to an open audition for a part in a television mini-series.

Cilla doesn’t get the part, but the producers immediately latch onto Bunty, because of her uncanny resemblance to Louise Ireland, an historical circus performer that the series is about.

Things get really weird, however, when Bunty finds herself on set wearing Louise’s old costume... and is mysteriously transported back in time to an Australian circus a hundred years earlier.

The tale was inspired by Robertson’s friendship with the late nonogenarian circus pioneer Alice Evelyn Hyland and is packed with atmospheric insight into the life on a travelling show in the early 20th century.

Photos of Robertson riding circus horses in her younger days (that’s her on the cover) help to bring the spirit of the big top alive, while the sparky teenage voice of Bunty, the narrator, creates an engaging mix of past and present that will keep you turning the pages to the end. Click here to buy the paperback or ebook.

There’s more circus magic in Robertson’s Young Adult romance Tempo, which comes with a great cover illustration of Australia’s Flying Ashtons painted by Mitzi Allison Tilley.

Lina Casamiro, just back from college, is struggling to fit into her family’s flying trapeze act, which forms the centrepiece of their traditional travelling circus. She becomes more focused, though, when the dashing multi-millionaire Giles Deglorian, owner of an international Cirque du Soleil-style enterprise, arrives on the scene with a plan to hire Circus Casamiro and make Lina the star of his next equestrian spectacular.

Once again, there’s plenty of insight into circus life, and in particular circus life in Australia, which adds its own layer of interest to the story. The issue of animal rights is explored in some depth, although the animal rights protesters are perhaps overly caricatured - circuses find them a much harder foe to deal with in the real world.

This is, however, an escapist romance and it rattles along with enough intrigue, skulduggery and excitement to make life under canvas look like an appealing career choice for any teen. Click here to buy the paperback or ebook.

Finally, for much younger readers, Robertson has written A Book of Circus - an alphabet book in which A is for acrobat, B is for balancing and big top, C is for clown and... well, you get the picture.

This A4-size, landscape shape book has a soft cover and, with a page for each letter of the alphabet, is crammed with colourful photos of circus life. It’s a pro-circus animal book with elephants, giraffes, horses and monkeys, and comes with a two-page section at the back to explain to children (and their parents!) how well the animals are looked after. Even the study by behaviourist Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington is mentioned.

There’s also a two-page section telling the history of the circus and, particularly, the circus in Australia. Did you know the first circus performances down under were performed by Robert Avis Radford in 1847? Or that bushranger Ned Kelly was a circus fan who visited Ashton’s Circus on many occasions?

Such facts, and the fact that the photographs are from Australian circuses such as Ashton’s, Webers and Stardust will make the book of interest to grown-up circus fans in other parts of the world, too. Click here to order by messaging Pixi via Facebook.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

"Circus Mania is a brilliant account of a vanishing art form"

But don't take my word for it, take the word of Roger Lewis who said that about it in Britain's biggest-selling Sunday paper, the Mail on Sunday.
Click here to read the full review.


Friday, 12 January 2018

Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson on TV


My thanks to Fabiana Cacace at That's Norfolk TV for interviewing me about Circus Mania, the stories that inspired the book, Norwich and Great Yarmouth's historical claim to be jointly one of the Six Cities of Circus, and the new updated edition of Circus Mania released to celebrate 250 years of life and death in the sawdust circle.



Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Norwich Castle lit up for First Day of Circus

(Credit: Norwich Evening News)


Here's Norwich Castle lit up with Sir Peter Blake's Circus250 logo to celebrate the birth of the circus, 250 years ago on 9 January, 1768. And when BBC Radio Norfolk announced the light show on the 4pm news... they included a sound bite from "Circus Mania author Douglas McPherson...!"

The quote was taken from my earlier on-air chat with Stephen Bumfrey. You can listen to the whole interview here (I'm on just after the 3pm news, introduced, naturally, with that unmistakable piece of circus music Entrance of the Gladiators!)

In our wide-ranging chat about all things circus, we talked about Norwich's own historical circus star Pablo Fanque - Britain's first black circus proprietor during the 19th century - and Stephen played the Beatles song Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite, which was inspired by John Lennon coming across a poster for Pablo Fanque's circus in an antique shop window.

Click here to read 15 Facts about Philip Astley - the man who invented the circus!



Wednesday, 3 January 2018

First Day of Circus to light up Britain for Circus250

The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
will be lit up for #firstcircusday





Today, January 9, marks the 250th anniversary of the very first circus, and the Six Cities of Circus will be lighting up Britain by projecting the Sir Peter Blake-designed Circus250 logo on prominent buildings including Norwich Castle, the Blackpool Tower, the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, the Derry Walls in Belfast, the We Are Curious science centre in Bristol and the Guildhall in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where Philip Astley, the inventor of the circus was born.

The illuminations are expected to begin at about 4.20pm when it gets dark.

Circus fans and circus companies, meanwhile, will be marking the launch of the year-long Circus250 celebrations by taking to social media to share news of their plans, coming events and all things circus under the hashtags #firstdayofcircus and #Circus250.

The Six Cities of Circus are:

www.circus250.org
Newcastle-under-Lyme - Birthplace of Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus as we know it. Click here to read 15 Facts about himNoFit State Circus premieres their new in-the-ring show Lexicon under their big top in March and Astley’s Astounding Adventures – specially commissioned for Circus250 year - opens at New Vic Theatre in July.

London - Birthplace of Philip Astley‘s first circus - the first circus in the world, in fact! - and home of the National Centre for Circus Arts (Read all about the former Circus Space here). CircusFest – the Roundhouse’s month-long celebration of contemporary circus – kicks off in April. The V&A is one of many major London museums joining in the celebrations with a Friday Late Circus – Past, Present and Future.

Launch of the Circus250 logo
in London
Bristol - Home to more circus companies than any other British city. The Royal West of England Academy Circus250 exhibition Sawdust and Sequins opens in Bristol in March accompanied by performance from Bristol circus school Circomedia.

Pablo Fanque
plaque in Norwich
Norwich and Great Yarmouth (joint) - Norwich is the 19th century birthplace of Britain’s first black circus proprietor Pablo Fanque. Events in Norwich will include The Lord Mayor’s Celebrations featuring a circus parade with life-sized elephant puppets winding through the streets in July, and Famished, the new show by Norwich-based Lost in Translation, opens. The seaside town of Great Yarmouth, meanwhile, is home to the Hippodrome, Britain’s only surviving complete circus building. Click here to read about the fateful encounter in this legendary circus building that inspired Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus.

Blackpool - Home of the Tower Circus staging shows since 1894. The town comes alive with circus celebrations, from the traditional Tower Circus to the cutting edge Grundy Gallery.

Belfast - Throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland, circus schools were places where the two communities met to create great work. Contemporary Tumble Circus’s Christmas show closes the Circus250 celebratory year in Belfast’s Writers Square.

For details of forthcoming events visit www.circus250.org

As we head into circus' biggest year for 250 years, get your circus on by reading Circus Mania by Douglas McPherson - a backstage journey through a secret world of clowns, jugglers, tiger trainers, sword-swallowers, trapeze artists and showmen. 

Click here to read the 5-star reviews on Amazon of the book the Mail on Sunday called "A brilliant account of a vanishing art form."

And may all your days be circus days!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Scotland and Ireland ban wild animals from the big top as the traditional circus slowly disappears

Thomas Chipperfield presents the last big cats
to grace Peter Jolly's Circus, in 2014






“I remember the elephants - just.” Those are the words with which I began Circus Mania. From the first line there was a whiff of nostalgia about my survey of the circus world, even though the focus was not on the history of the big top but a journey through the circus scene as it exists today. The Mail on Sunday called the book “A brilliant account of a vanishing art form.” Naturally I was pleased to use the quote in publicity, although some circus aficianados objected to the word “vanishing”. Surely, they argued, the contemporary circus scene is flourishing? A ‘circus hub’ at the Edinburgh Festival and ‘national’ status for the former training school, Circus Space, which became the National Centre for Circus Arts in 2014, reflects a new appreciation for an age-old form of entertainment in today’s arts scene.

But as we enter 2018 - Circus250! - the 250th anniversary of Philip Astley’s first circus, a large part of the circus tradition is vanishing - the tradition of animals as a major part of the traditional circus bill.

The circus was born on horseback - Philip Astley was a trick rider who built his show around equestrian skills. Lions, elephants, sea lions and chimps’ tea parties became, by the mid-20th century part of everyone’s idea of what a circus is.

Today, though, the animals are disappearing fast.

As PT Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman hits cinema screens, the show that bore his name, the 146-year-old Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus is no more. Legislation meant it could no longer tour with its elephants and without them it couldn’t sell tickets.

In Britain, meanwhile, just two weeks before the start of Circus250, the Scottish parliament unanimously signed off a ban on wild animals (by which it means all non-native species) in travelling circuses.

Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said the legislation meant "we will finally and at last truly be able to say Nelly the Elephant has packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus".

It is the first such ban of its kind in the UK, but will it be the last - and will it end with wild animals or prove to be the thin end of a wedge that eventually squeezes even horses - the animal upon which the circus was founded - from a sawdust circle literally designed for four-legged entertainment?

Martin 'Zippo' Burton
(on the right)
Zippos Circus owner Martin Burton, representing the Association of Circus Proprietors, told the Scottish Parliament that a law based on the proposed ethical grounds "will eventually close your zoos".

He said: "The economic impact on animal displays in shopping centres, on displays at outdoors shows of hawks and wild birds, on reindeer and Santa, and eventually zoos will be massive.

"Once you start banning things, particularly on ethical grounds, it is clear that this will spread, because if it's ethically not right to have a wild animal in a circus, then it is ethically not right to have a wild animal appear at a gala or a county show, and it is ethically not right to have a wild animal appear in a shopping centre, and it is ethically not right to have a wild animal appear in a zoo.

"It is clear and logical that that is the only way an ethical ban can go. You can't choose your ethics, you're either going to say it is ethical or it is not ethical."

Burton’s words are being bourn out in Wales, where the Welsh government is currently planning to introduce a new license for Mobile Animal Exhibitions (MAEs). The legislation is aimed at circuses, but because of the difficulty of defining a circus in a way that separates it from other animal exhibitions, the Countryside Alliance and Kennel Club have raised concerns about the effect on other ‘MAEs’ from cattle shows and dog shows to falconry displays.

Across the Irish Sea, the Irish government decreed in November that wild animals would be banned from travelling circuses in Ireland from January 1, 2018.

In England, a ban on wild animals in the big top proposed by David Cameron’s government has so far been staved off with a successful licensing scheme, although the Scottish ban will give fresh ammunition to the animal rights groups pressing for a ban south of the border.

But even without a national ban, local council legislation has reduced the number of ‘wild’ animals in Britain’s big tops to a handful of camels and zebras spread across Peter Jolly’s Circus and Circus Mondao, while only two or three more circuses, such as Zippos, still have even horses or dogs.

The news reminds me of how lucky I was, as a late convert to the appeal of the big top, to visit the Great British Circus during the writing of Circus Mania and be able to report upon the elephants and tigers that I saw there. At the time, it felt like a rare glimpse into a disappearing past. Re-reading that chapter today, with the Great British Circus now five years closed, I wonder if it was the last glimpse of such a circus that any of us will ever see in the UK again.

Is the disappearance of the animals a good thing for the circus? It's an issue I grappled with during the writing of Circus Mania. I was brought up to believe it was a cruel tradition, but as I interviewed animal trainers and show owners and saw more shows, my understanding grew. By the time I wrote a new chapter for the updated 2018 edition of the book and described my visit to Peter Jolly's Circus my opinion on this always contentious subject had changed a lot from the one I had before I saw my first circus with animals. Perhaps yours will, too.

Click here to buy the updated, new edition of Circus Mania and read about my journey through a world that is disappearing fast.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The UK's Six Cities of Circus announced for Circus250




Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the UK’s Six Cities of Circus – the places with the most significant circus heritage and best of today’s circus performances - have been revealed for 2018, the 250th anniversary of the very first circus.

They are - and let’s have a drum roll please...

Bristol - Home to more circus companies than any other British city. The Royal West of England Academy Circus250 exhibition Sawdust and Sequins opens in Bristol in March accompanied by performance from Bristol circus school Circomedia.

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome
Read all about it in
Circus Mania!
Norwich and Great Yarmouth - Norwich is the 19th century birthplace of Britain’s first black circus proprietor Pablo Fanque. Events in Norwich will include The Lord Mayor’s Celebrations featuring a circus parade with life-sized elephant puppets winding through the streets in July, and Famished, the new show by Norwich-based Lost in Translation, opens. The seaside town of Great Yarmouth, meanwhile, is home to the Hippodrome, Britain’s only surviving complete circus building:

Philip Astley
An illustration from
Circus Mania!
Newcastle-under-Lyme - Birthplace of Philip Astley, the Father of the Circus as we know it. NoFit State Circus premieres their new in-the-ring show Lexicon under their big top in March and Astley’s Astounding Adventures – specially commissioned for Circus250 year - opens at New Vic Theatre in July.

London - Birthplace of Astley‘s first circus - the first circus in the world, in fact! - and home of the National Centre for Circus Arts. CircusFest – the Roundhouse’s month-long celebration of contemporary circus – kicks off in April. The V&A is one of many major London museums joining in the celebrations with a Friday Late Circus – Past, Present and Future.

Blackpool - Home of the Tower Circus staging shows since 1894. The town comes alive with circus celebrations, from the traditional Tower Circus to the cutting edge Grundy Gallery.

Belfast - Throughout the Troubles in Northern Ireland, circus schools were places where the two communities met to create great work. Contemporary Tumble Circus’s Christmas show closes the Circus250 celebratory year in Belfast’s Writers Square.

For more on the culture of the circus, click here to buy the new updated second edition of Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book for Anyone who Dreamed of Running Away with the Circus.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Order Circus Mania for Christmas!


Roll up! Roll up! See the wondrous new face of Circus Mania, 250 years in the making! Full of the remarkable tales of circus life that made it a classic on its first outing. Learn about the origins of the circus from Roman times, to the colourful characters that make the circus the international phenomenon it is today. Circus Mania 2.0 is bigger, better and couldn't be timelier.



Saturday, 9 December 2017

Circuses to see this Christmas!





If you'd like to visit the circus this Christmas, there's probably one not far away! Here's a list of an incredible 23 shows around the country, according to the Circus Friends Association. (There's probably a few more out there, too!)

Big Top Christmas Circus - Floralands Garden Centre, Catfoot Lane, Lambley, Nottingham, NG4 4QL.
16th to 31st Dec.

Blackpool Tower Circus - Mooky Doolittle circus pantomime.
The Promenade, Blackpool, Lancashire, FY1 4BJ.
25th Nov to 21st Jan.

Charles Chipperfield Circus - Christmas Spectacular.
Sandwell Valley Farm Park, Salters Lane, West Bromwich, West Midlands,
B71 4BG.
2nd to 24th Dec.

Circus Funtasia - Winter Wonderland Manchester, Event City, Phoenix Way, Manchester, M41 7TB.
9th Dec to 1st Jan.

Circus Ginnett Christmas Circus - Plowmans Garden Centre, 392 Christchurch Road, West Parley, Ferndown, Dorset, BH22 8SW
16th to 31st Dec.

Circus Normandie - Stansted Park Garden Centre, Rowlands Castle, Hampshire, PO9 6DX
16th Dec to 3rd Jan.

Cirque Du Soleil presents OVO - Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AP.
7th Jan to 4th March.

Yarmouth Hippodrome
Hippodrome Christmas Circus Spectacular - St Georges Road, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30 2EU.
10th Dec to 8th Jan.

John Lawson’s Circus - Squires Garden Centre - Badshot Lea. Badshot Lea Road, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 9JX.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

John Lawson’s Circus - - Squires Garden Centre - Washington. London Road, Washington, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 3BP.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

John Lawson’s Circus - Squires Garden Centre - Shepperton. Halliford Road, Shepperton, Middlesex, TW17 8SG.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

John Lawson’s Circus - Squires Garden Centre - Stanmore. Common Road, Stanmore, Middlesex, HA7 3JF.
25th Nov to 31st Dec.

Matt Ryan Day presents Circus Spectacular Christmas Show - Flitwick Village Hall, Dunstable Road, Flitwick, Bedford, MK45 1HP.
9th and 10th Dec.

Cirque Berserk - Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH.
17th Nov to 1st Jan.

Moscow State Circus - Ealing Common, Uxbridge Road, Ealing, London,
W5 3TJ.
20th Dec to 7th Jan.

Paulo’s Christmas Circus - Sanders Garden World, Bristol Road, Brent Knoll, Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, TA9 4HJ.
2nd Dec to 1st Jan.

Planet Circus - Christmas Spectacular - Bypass Car Boot site, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, NG6 8AB.
17th Dec to 7th Jan.

Santus Circus presents Le Cirque de Noel - Polhill Garden Centre, London Road, Badgers Mount, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 7AD.
14th Dec 5th Jan.

Slava’s Snowshow - The Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX.
18th Dec to 4th Jan.

Wookey Hole Christmas Circus - Wookey Hole Caves, near Wells, Somerset, BA5 1BB.
18th Nov to 7th Jan.

Zippos Circus - Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH.
17th Nov to 2nd Jan.
Circus in Ireland.

Fossett’s Christmas Circus - Tallaght Staduim, Whitestown Way, Tallaght, Dublin 24.
14th Dec to 7th Jan.

Tumble Circus presents Winter Circus 2017 - Writer’s Square, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT12 2HB.
8th to 27th Dec.

To Keep up with circus news, join the Circus Friends Association.