John Masefield likened Circus to Paradise - “a world of strangeness and beauty in which all the inhabitants have a loveliness, a skill or swiftness not before seen, and where even the oldest jokes take on new life.”
Those words open the text of this delightful programme for Gerry Cottle’s 1984 season. The programme goes on to say:
“Gerry Cottle’s present purpose is not simply to restore Circus to how it used to be, but to make it as it never really was: to make our childhood dreams a reality - to create the circus we thought we saw as children, and, as grown-ups, had come to believe we would never see again.”
It was a ground-breaking show in two respects. Firstly, it had no animals at a time when the campaign against animals in the circus was starting to take hold among the local councils who licensed show grounds, but when the majority of circus-goers still expected to see them. Secondly, it included the students of Cottle’s first circus school who were recruited in open auditions around the country.
|The circus had a vintage look|
Like many things that are ahead of their time, the tour had a mixed reception, doing well in more arty, cosmopolitan areas, and less well in the more traditional provinces. But it left a lasting legacy. Among the alumni of Cottle’s school was aerialist Andrew Watson who went on to become a leading light in Cirque du Soleil.
Cottle himself remains committed to nurturing the circus talent of tomorrow. At Britain’s oldest tourist attraction, the prehistoric Wookey Hole caves in Somerset, he runs a new circus school for children who put on shows for the public every weekend and school holiday.
He has a recently-built hotel on site, making Wookey the ideal location for a West Country break. As well as the caves, a dinosaur park, fairy garden and, of course, a circus museum, you may even see his students create what in 1984 he promised would be “The circus that never was, but always should have been.”
For more information call Wookey Hole on 01749 672243.
|Gerry Cottle in 1984|
For the full story of Gerry Cottle and his Wookey Hole Circus School and the stories of many more colourful characters from circus past and present, read Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With the Circus, available in paperback and ebook.
Click to buy from Amazon or order direct from Peter Owen Publishers for just £10 including post and packing in the UK (add £2.75 postage worldwide). Send cheques to:
|Recreating the circus "as it never was|
but as it always should have been."
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP
Tel: 020 8350 1775 in office hours.