Startling confessions of a 1960’s circusette

HAPPY DAYS Circusettes dancers, from left, Carol McCracken, Yvonne Fielding and Susan Greco met for the first time since their days at the Blackpool Tower Circus

HAPPY DAYS Circusettes dancers, from left, Carol McCracken, Yvonne Fielding and Susan Greco met for the first time since their days at the Blackpool Tower Circus

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Tucked away in the corner of a bar three women chat away.

Anyone sat close enough to eavesdrop might have wondered what they were rabbiting on about.

Tigers, high-wire acts, elephants, clowns, water being poured down skirts ... all of which was a trip down memory lane for Yvonne Fielding and her pals Susan Greco and Carol McCracken, who were meeting for the first time in 44 years.

The trio had the most sought after jobs in town back at the end of the 60s, working in the famous Blackpool Tower Circus as Circusettes

Now the Tower still has a circus each year – Mooky and Mr Boo – and a good one it is too.

But a few decades back the Tower Circus really was a sight to behold. The most famous circus building in the world, every seat for every performance was sold, wild animals were paraded around the ring, and the late, great clown Charlie Cairoli had the packed audiences in raptures.

Being a Circusette was a big deal.

First and foremost they were showgirls, dressed to enhance the circus ring between and sometimes during the acts. Their role over the years has been as dancers and entertainers

There were only six places each season and the competition was great with several auditions, short-lists and call­-backs before the final girls were selected.

Yvonne, Susan and Carol starred at the Circus in the late 60s, early 70s and met up again after finding each other on Facebook.

“It was terrific to see the girls again after all these years and we spent the whole afternoon nattering about the old days and reminiscing,” said Yvonne.

There was certainly plenty to reminisce about.

In the old days Charlie Cairoli was the circus star and headliner, but there were plenty of other acts.

Remember The Flying Marilees, a husband and wife act who toured the world and came to Blackpool each summer? How about Miss Yvonne, who presented the tigers for the circus?

Then there was Franz Althoff, who shipped over the elephants from his own circus in Germany; The Castors, famous for juggling with their feet; and world renowned tumbling act The Fercofs.

It must have been like an episode of Britain’s Got Talent every single day.

There was also Rupperts Bears, Valla Bertini Troupe, Barbara Morris’s Sea lions, The Elvardos, David Rosaire and his Pekinese, and aerialist Gerard Edon.

“It was so special, all these fabulous people, who travelled the world performing, in the same venue in Blackpool for six months of the year,” said Yvonne.

“I felt very lucky to be part of it at the time, and now, looking back, I’m even more proud.

“I know it sounds cheesy but I feel as though I and the other girls are an important part of the resort’s history and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Yvonne, who now lives in Poulton but grew up in Reads Avenue in Blackpool, was a Circusette for the 1969 and 70 summer seasons and remembers how she landed the role.

“At the first audition there were more than 100 girls there and we had to keep going back as they had to whittle us down,” she said.

“The final audition was at the Tower Ballroom, just six of us. I remember Bernard Cribbins was one of the judges and we had to walk in front of them wearing very little, with our hair pulled off our face so they could see exactly what we looked like.

“It was quite unnerving – I was only 19 at the time, quite young – but they must have liked me because I got the role.”

The atmosphere inside the Tower Circus during a performance is something Yvonne will never forget.

“It was incredible. The place was completely full and you could almost see a haze coming off the crowd. It was surreal really,” she said.

“I have performed in a lot of places before and since but nothing ever came close to those two years at the Tower Circus.”

Yvonne’s first season at the Circus was spent mainly being glamorous, though there wasn’t much glamour when the circus ended it’s run in October.

“It didn’t start again till the next May so I had to make ends meet during the winter by doing whatever jobs I could,” she said.

“I got a temporary job at the Town Hall sending out Blackpool brochures and I worked at a handbag shop in town.”

There was a bigger role the following year, with Yvonne chosen to appear with Charlie Cairoli himself.

“I got to do the slap­stick entree in the second half, just before the finale,” she said.

“I was dressed as a ballerina and Charlie appeared as a plumber. Mayhem ensued and I ended up with the contents of a bucket of water up my bum, thrown by Charlie, to the delight of the audience.

“Thinking about it now, and bearing in mind I did this twice daily for six months, I’m not sure how I didn’t end up with hypothermia!

“I had to dash off stage in annoyance and with the help of our lovely dresser, Auntie Barbara (Barnes) – who would be standing at the side of the stage with a huge towel – had to strip off in the elephant house because it was too far to go to our dressing room.

“I had to get dried off double quick in order to get into the costume for the finale which was just minutes later. I always only just made it.”

Yvonne – as well as Susan, who now lives in Bath, and Carol, who still lives locally, in Marton – stayed in the Circus for different lengths of time.

Susan, for instance, was a Circusette for nine seasons, while Yvonne did two seasons before embarking on a career as a club singer around the north.

“At the reunion we all agreed it was a wonderful time, the best in our lives,” added Yvonne.

“In fact when I go to the Tower Circus now, I am usually in tears with the emotion of being there and believe it or not, I can still smell the animals, even though they are long gone.

“It was a magical time in Blackpool’s history and we feel grateful to have been a little part of it.”