Losing our clowns is no laughing matter

Blackpool clowns Grandaddy and Nanny Trumbell
Blackpool clowns Grandaddy and Nanny Trumbell
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Apparently slapstick is more than just a concept for clowning these days – it’s an actual object.

If you didn’t know that it could be because the number of clowns appears to be in decline.

Clowns International (CI), the UK organisation for the performers, says membership has plummeted from around 1,000 to little more than 100 since the 1980s.

But in Blackpool, a traditional entertainment town, clowns show no sign of disappearing any time soon.

Entertainers Grandaddy and Nanny Trumbell, from Pembroke Avenue, North Shore, use a little face make-up, lots of colour, magic, mischief and a ‘slapstick’ to have children amused and parents booking them months in advance.

Otherwise known as Ron and Lilian Curtis, both in their late 60s, the husband and wife team have been working as clowns for two years, since Ron retired from work at Heysham Power Station (“I went from fuel to fool”) and are already booked up for every day in July.

Though they say they do see some of the “fashionable” fear of clowns that could be behind the decline in numbers.

“There is an image problem for clowns,” according to Blue Brattle, honorary vice president of CI.

Ron added: “Older traditional clowns wore a lot of make-up because they had to be seen in the circus ring, but children can be nervous of that, so our make-up is very light – we just have a red nose and a colourful costume.

“The little competition we have is from clowns who wear a full face of make-up, I think some do it as a job rather than as something they love doing. Some don’t realise you have to be gentle with children.

“We do a lot of slapstick, make balloon models, have a bubble machine, run games with prizes and do magic – the children’s reactions are unbelievable

While Ron agrees the number of clowns on the circuit may be in decline due to changing tastes, as regional director for the World Clown Association, he says numbers are on the up.

He added: “We’ve got about 2,500 worldwide, and a good few in the UK.”