Friday, 4 August 2017
What a fantastically atmospheric, magical and inviting picture of Circus Fantasia! As well as presenting a summer show on Clacton Pier until September (click here for more) the show's big top unit is still touring as usual. Catch it on Canvey Island this weekend.
Thursday, 27 July 2017
Nothing like opening the mail and finding the new 2nd edition of Circus Mania! The book the Mail on Sunday called "brilliant" is back with a new yellow cover (seen here with one of the purple first editions) and a new chapter bringing the stories of Circus of Horrors, Danny and Clive, Circa, Gerry Cottle, Zippos and others up to date.
Timed to celebrate the forthcoming 250th anniversary of the circus, my continuing journey behind the scenes of the circus world also finds me visiting the traditional sawdust under canvas show Peter Jolly's Circus and meeting Britain's last lion tamer, Thomas Chipperfield.
You won't find the new edition on Amazon yet, but you can get it early by buying direct from Peter Owen Publishers on 020 8350 1775 (London) or clicking here to visit the Peter Owen online shop. Be sure to ask for the new edition!
|Celebrating 250 years of the circus|
with Gerry Cottle and Dr Haze from
the Circus of Horrors
(Pic from the original Circus Mania book launch)
Wednesday, 26 July 2017
A year-long nationwide festival marking 250 years of circus in 2018 was launched this week on the very spot on London‘s South Bank where horseman Philip Astley set out the first circus ring in 1768.
The Circus250 logo designed by Sir Peter Blake - the pop artist best known for the legendary cover design of the Beatles record Sgt Pepper - was also revealed.
Throughout 2018, all over UK and Ireland, contemporary and traditional circuses, museums, festivals, churches, theatres and archives will be celebrating the 250th anniversary of circus in performance, exhibitions, concerts and events.
The full programme will be announced in October.
|Bobbo returns to the ring|
A clown from one of Britain's oldest and most famous circus families is among the stars of Circus Fantasia for their summer season on Clacton Pier.
After a while away from the ring, clowning in other environments including burlesque and the Clown Gathering UK gala show at the Seagull Theatre earlier this year, Bobbo Roberts says he's tickled to be back in the ring with jugglers, a unicyclist and a flying trapeze troupe.
"Having so much fun at Clacton-on-Sea. Come and see the show three times a day. It's better than the NHS," says Bobbo.
Bobbo grew up in the circus, where he learned his craft from such legendary clowns as Jacko Fossett. Click here to read his full story. And for more on Circus Fantasia click here.
|Those daring young men and women on the|
flying trapeze in Clacton.
|Where it's all happening|
from now till September!
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
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
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.|
For more on Circus Fantasia, click here to see my pictures of their transport.
Friday, 30 June 2017
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
Wednesday, 28 June 2017
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
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.
Saturday, 13 May 2017
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
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.
|"Buy Circus Mania or be exterminated!|
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!"|
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|
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|
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!"|
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!"|
“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!"
“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!
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.
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
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...
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.
|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!
|The story of a launch party|
as it originally appeared
in Writers' Forum.
With the updated new edition of Circus Mania at the printers, here's the story, at it appeared in Writer’s Forum, of the behind-the-scenes juggling for the book’s original launch party at Circus Space - now the National Centre for Circus Arts.
I planned the launch party before I wrote a word of Circus Mania.
In my proposal to Peter Owen Publishers I said, “Just picture the launch party, in a big top, with horses, clowns and acrobats...”
I sent an author photo with myself and an elephant and made up a cover quote: “A jumbo read!” - Sonja the Elephant, who promises to be at the launch.
That may sound forward, but I believe enthusiasm is contagious. Circus is a colourful, larger-than-life world. I wanted to get that spirit across to the publishers, reviewers, retailers and book-buyers - and I wanted a launch that would set the tone.
- the circus school where
Although we discussed launching in a big top, we eventually opted for Circus Space, the UK’s foremost circus school (and now the National Centre for Circus Arts), which is located in a former power station in the trendy, media-friendly London borough of Hoxton.
One reason was accessibility. A big top show would have meant a trip out of town and as Michael O’Connell, the marketing manager, pointed out: “It’s hard enough getting literary editors to a bar in soho.”
Just as pertinently, Circus Space’s publicity man, John Dix, was excited by Circus Mania (which has a chapter on the school). He suggested we hold the launch as part of their open day on World Circus Day and promised to publicise it to Circus Space’s huge database of past students and circus folk.
This created possibilities for advance publicity. Theatrical newspaper The Stage ran a special circus issue and included a half-page article on the launch. I was also able to write an opinion piece on whether circuses should have animals for the Daily Telegraph’s website. They ran it on the day of the launch, giving Circus Mania! a huge plug.
|How The Stage|
reported the Circus Mania launch
with Gerry Cottle (L)
author Douglas McPherson (C)
and Dr Haze from the
Circus of Horrors
Here I must pay tribute to the best known circus man of the past 30 years, Gerry Cottle. Knowing Cottle would be the most meaningful name to provide a cover quote, I emailed him some chapters and he sent a fantastic quote the next day: “Circus Mania is a passionate, up-to-date look at the circus and its people.”
Having already helped me so much, I didn’t expect him to travel to London from his Somerset home, but within five minutes of inviting him to the launch, he phoned and said, “I’ll be there and give you all the help I can.”
At that point it didn’t matter if any other circus ‘names’ turned up. We could tell the press and fans we had the big one.
Roll up, roll up!
While Michael concentrated on inviting literary editors and critics, I emailed an invitation to everyone in my address book. Some were editors and journalists I hoped would give the launch advance publicity, even if they didn’t attend. And I got a plug in some surprising places, such as a quarter page in car magazine Classic American, which has nothing to do with circuses or books, proving that editors tend to support their writers.
I also invited contacts in PR firms, people I’d interviewed, general acquaintances and people I barely knew. After all, who knows if some of them might be circus fans, or spread the word to a friend who was?
Proving the ‘you never know’ theory was a PR whose most recent communication had been to berate me for writing “the nastiest article I’ve ever read” about her client. Not only did she promise to come but she added, “You probably didn’t know I used to be a clown...” I wondered if she was going to bring a custard pie.
|Inside Circus Space|
“I’ll be the one in the sparkly tights!” Roger emailed.
“As long as they don’t clash with mine!” I replied.
What I didn’t realise was that Roger had a guest spot on LBC Talk Radio. A few days later I got an email from a friend: “I’ve just heard them talking about your book on the breakfast show...”
|The new edition|
“It’s always a nail-biting race to the finish,” said overseas rights manager Simon Smith. Michael said he’d attended launches where they didn’t have the book ready. He assured me we’d be OK, but his words came back to me as I waited for the proofreader’s queries and realised we were already a week behind.
Two days before the launch, with no sign of the book, I asked Michael if it was back from the printers. “I know we’re cutting it fine,” he replied, but assured me the printer would deliver copies direct to Circus Space in time.
|Gerry Cottle to Dr Haze: "It's not a|
Having spent a year writing, researching and publicising the book it was wonderful and quite moving to finally hold one in my hand. Flipping through the pages, I felt another wave of relief, as editorial director Antonia Owen had told me she’d known launches where the printer had put the wrong book in the cover.
Our hosts at Circus Space did us proud, with uniformed waitresses serving drinks against a backdrop of people swinging on the trapeze and walking the tight-wire. On the sunny terrace outside, students strolled about, juggling with balls and clubs.
I didn’t perform myself - the relaxed mood was more suited to mingling than a formal reading. But Gerry Cottle made a nice speech and said he thought Circus Mania would give a good boost to the circus industry. Dr Haze, the charismatic ringmaster from the Circus of Horrors, graciously signed books for the fans, as well as posing for publicity pictures with me.
|Tha late publisher Peter Owen|
who was awarded the OBE for
services to literature
I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and thank all the people from Peter Owen - and to discuss future strategy with them, such as which were the most circus-orientated countries to target for foreign rights.
The most rewarding part of the day was, of course, seeing the readers who’d come along to buy a copy. I’ll never forget the beaming face of the young American lady who bought the very first book. She looked so excited I thought she was going to faint. She made me feel like the biggest star in the world as I inscribed her copy with the traditional big top salutation: May all your days be circus days!
- Loved by clowns!
Friday, 28 April 2017
|Proving the popularity of 'Ireland's Favourite Circus'|
just look at the queue for standby tickets
in Antrim this weekend.
Beat the queue and reserve your seats at www.duffyscircus.com
|Tom and Jamie Duffy on the Wheel of Death|
Highlight is Jamie's forward somersault.
|Keeping alive the tradition of animals in the ring.|
Thursday, 27 April 2017
Sunday, 16 April 2017
Friday, 14 April 2017
Monday, 10 April 2017
Here's a warmly recommended book to look out for on World Circus Day, this Saturday - and no, it's not my own! Big Top Typewriter charts David Lewis Hammarstrom's half-century voyage through the choppy waters of the American circus scene.
Click here to read my review of Big Top Typewriter.
Click here to buy from Amazon.
Thursday, 30 March 2017
Friday, 10 March 2017
A common accusation against circuses is that animals are 'forced' to perform, when the truth is that they are encouraged to exhibit behaviour that they find natural and enjoyable. Training and performance are organised play, like an owner throwing a ball for a dog to retrieve. The dog brings back the ball because he enjoys the game, as can be seen by his eagerness to repeat it. It would be impossible to force such a response.
In any group of animals of the same type, whether dogs, horses or lions, some individuals will be cleverer than others or stronger in some skills than others. A circus trainer's skill lies in being sensitive to each animal's nature and matching it to an appropriate routine. A particularly agile animal would be trained in jumping, for example. A more docile or affectionate one would be chosen for close contact work where the presenter hugs or kisses the animal.
But what happens to animals that don't enjoy training at all? They don't get trained, simple as that.
That was the case with Syas one of the tigers in Thomas Chipperfield's show An Evening With Lions and Tigers. Syas has now left the company for a new home, and the following statement from the show illustrates the love and responsibility trainers feel towards even those animals who don't wish to perform:
We stopped including Syas in our shows back in 2014 as his personality did not fit with preforming. He has a very short attention span and likes to do his own thing. Like people animals are individuals some take to working and preforming very well such as Syas’ brother Altai who enjoys working and human interaction. We would never force any of our animals to do something they are not completely happy and comfortable with. We decided to keep Syas with us for company for his brother, however, over the past 12 months as they have matured they have grown apart. Altai has shown more and more affection towards the lions and his human carers while Syas does his own thing. So with great consideration and emotional turmoil we decided he would be best suited to a zoo environment where he could be potentially part of a breeding program for these endangered species. We found a home back in 2016, however we pulled the plug after information came to light that the home was not suitable and we would not send any of our animals to a home we were not 100% satisfied with. Then this year as the opportunity arouse for home that seemed perfect after much communication and seeing the new habitat plans offered for him we decided to go ahead with the rehome. It’s important our animals’ individual needs come first above our own personal attachment. Tsavo, Assegai and Altai are all very happy together and are eager to start our tour this season.