Why Sandy's hooked on the circus

HE has been hooked on the circus ever since, as a boy growing up in Scotland, he saw a blindfolded tightrope walker traverse above a lion's den with baskets attached to his feet.

HE has been hooked on the circus ever since, as a boy growing up in Scotland, he saw a blindfolded tightrope walker traverse above a lion's den with baskets attached to his feet.

More than 60 years later, Sandy Davidson has lost count of how many big top, stadium and hippodrome performances he has seen and has become one of the country's biggest collectors of circus memorabilia.

The 70-year-old, who lives in Thetford, has a whole bedroom and loft packed full of books, posters, stamps, photos and postcards on the subject and has been a major contributor of illustrations to circus publications from across the globe over the years.

The retired window display designer, who co-wrote a book on The Love of the Circus in the 1980s, is also one of the first ports of call for any writer or publisher researching the history of famous touring circuses and performers.

Mr Davidson, who was also the president of the Circus Friends Association for three years, said the circus had changed a lot from the days when it paraded through the streets, big tops were packed twice daily and 6d would give you entrance to a travelling zoo of wild animals, including lions, tigers, elephants, horses and bears.

However, he said the “knock out” atmosphere of the live circus would ensure that its clowns, trapeze artists and acrobats would continue to be popular across the globe for years to come.

Most Read

“My first circus was in 1944 when I was seven years old and to this day I can vividly remember the colourful poster and it captured my imagination and the performances lived up to it. The mixture of animal and human artistry takes your breath away and leaves a lasting impression,” he said.

But it was after moving home to near Murrayfield, Edinburgh, in 1947, and seeing the great circuses of Bertram Mills coming to town, followed by Billy Smart's, and Chipperfield, that he started collecting memorabilia on the subject and exchanging items with enthusiasts from around the world.

Mr Davidson, who has a small fraction of his huge collection on display at Ancient House Museum, in Thetford, said nothing could beat the 1950s heyday of the circus when millions of people used to tune in to watch Billy Smart's circus on the television after the Queen's speech on Christmas Day. However, very little of the exciting and unique atmosphere of the circus came across through the box, he said.

“The circus has survived in its modern form since 1768 and I feel it can survive the digital age as it has survived the onslaught of movies and the music hall. While I do not think the true circus I remember as a youngster will ever be seen again in this country, I have the most wonderful memories kept

alive by my collection,” he said.

Mr Davidson has travelled to France, Denmark, Monaco, Switzerland, Sweden, and Germany to see the best circus acts in the world, including the famous three- ringed Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey show in America. But he also believes that the Yarmouth Hippodrome is a “wonderful” place to see the circus.

Some of his most prized possessions include a bill advertising Foottits Circus in 1875, sketched by famous artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and a poster advertising a Sanger travelling circus in 1947 where Morecambe and Wise were eclipsed on the bill by Speedy the Clown.

Mr Davidson is now focused on collecting memorabilia on specific performers, including Reco, the first tightrope walker he ever saw, Koringa, who walked up ladders of swords and had the ability to hypnotise crocodiles and snakes, Millie Williams, a horseback ballerina from Australia who is now retired in Skegness, and fellow Scotsman Alex Kerr, who was animal trainer for Bertram Mills Circus and married Cromer woman Olga, daughter of Coco the Clown.

He is also interested in famous fans of the circus, which include Queen Victoria, artist Edward Seago, the actor who played Albert Tatlock in Coronation Street, and Prince Rainier of Monaco, whose circus festivals have been running for more than 30 years.

More current famous enthusiasts include Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, magician Paul Daniels and comedian Ken Dodd.