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."

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Peter Jolly Interview - 50 Years in the Circus

Peter Jolly
50 years under canvas

According to Peter Jolly, "The caption should be, this is what you look like after 50 years in the circus!"

And what a life he's led. At 15-years-old, he ran away with Billy Smarts' circus and within a few years was in charge of 11 polar bears!

"I came from a horsey background, but I branched out and learned whatever I could. I helped out with the elephants. I started clowning."

By the time he married, at the age of 21, he and his wife Carol were doing eleven acts between them, so they started their own circus. When they started, they were the only performers and did the whole show between them.

Circus in the sun
Peter Jolly's Circus opens its doors
in Rushall near Birmingham
Today, Peter Jolly's Circus remains a family affair, with Peter Jolly Jr as the dashing ringmaster and daughters Julie Ann and Sarah Jane performing in the show.

One of only two British circuses licensed to use wild animals, the programme includes's horses, doves, ducks, snakes, camel and zebra.

Peter Jolly Sr presents an 'educated pony' who does sums by counting with his hoof - an act that dates back to Philip Astley's first circus in 1768 and probably before. He also brings on a fox that rides around the ring on a horse's back.

Human acts include tightrope, foot-juggling, a very tall stilt-walker, clowns throwing water over each other and a whip-cracking wild west finale.

The queue that makes Peter jolly.
But it's clearly the animals that are the biggest hit with a big family audience on the night I attend, with queues for interval pony rides, photographs with a snake, and to see the lions fed after the show.

According to Jolly, animal rights protests are nothing new. "At Smart's in the 60s, they'd slash the tyres on the Rolls Royces. These days it's more name-calling on the internet than shouting outside the gates. But the general public don't read animal rights websites. If they want to bring their kids to the circus they do."

As he celebrates his half century under canvas, the queue outside seems to prove the 65-year-old showman right.

Click here for a review of Peter Jolly's Circus.

Updated 2nd Edition
includes my visit to
Peter Jolly's Circus
What's it like to run away with the circus? Read the stories of those who did, and those who were born in the big top; those who train tigers and those who swallow swords or swing on the flying trapeze, in Circus Mania - The Ultimate Book For Anyone Who Dreamed of Running Away With The Circus.

Click here to buy from Amazon.

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

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