IT’S 50 years since Gerry Cottle ran away to join the circus.
It came, he admits, as a bit of a shock to his “nice middle class” parents – who were instructed not to try to find him.
But their loss was our gain. Half a century on, Gerry Cottle’s circus is putting the WOW! into the Globe Theatre at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
It’s the very venue which was purpose-built to offer an alternative to Blackpool Tower Circus back in animal circus impresario Peter Jay’s day. And it became the base of the much missed cirque-ballet Eclipse for many years and the shorter lived Forbidden.
What it’s never offered is what we’ll see between now and Saturday, November 3. And that’s 50 acts in 100 minutes.
It’s all presented by a man whose love of the circus began with a visit to Jack Hilton’s Circus at Earl’s Court at the age of eight.
Seven years later he left a note telling his parents “Please do not under any circumstances try to find me. I have gone.”
He served his apprenticeship at the Robert Brothers’ Circus – and says the training in juggling, tenting, clowning and other elements laid the groundwork for his own success.
He later married Betty Fossett, youngest daughter of circus showman Jim Fossett. If the name sounds familiar it’s because Elaine Fossett, mother in law of breakfast telly presenter Aled Jones, was one of the guiding lights of the fund raising campaign for the Grand Theatre, and other charitable campaigns.
But at a time when many major touring shows had fallen by the wayside because of declining fortunes, Gerry and partner Brian Austen put their own show on the road.
Gerry Cottle’s Circus went it alone four years later.
He became part of the hugely successful Seaside Special, which was essentially a variety show held in a big top by the seaside and ran from 1975-79.
Faced by a growing boycott of animal acts by local authorities in the early 1980s, and despite winning his case against Edinburgh Council, by 1993 he had sold his last elephant and started touring with a wholly non-animal show.
But his most radical departure came after a meeting with Dr Haze – the Preston-born impresario behind the enduring success of Circus of Horrors. The pair joined forces to open the edgey hard core Circus of Horrors at Glastonbury in 1995, heavily influenced by the French circus Archaos which had toured the UK between 1989 and 1991.
In 2003 Gerry Cottle retired from the travelling entertainment world and purchased Wookey Hole in Somerset which he transformed into a circus museum, daily circus shows and a range of additional attractions.
The Blackpool season offers a chance to see a circus which bridges the gap between the traditional family audience and the modern rock-and-roll adult show.
The 50 acts – in keeping with Gerry’s 50 years – include some world class entertainers from around the globe. They include breathtaking blindfold high wire Italians Chico and & Ernesto, the death-defying Los Marinos Wheel of Death from Columbia, the six Big Top Beauties flying high on the aerial silks, the somersaulting, spiralling eight African acrobats, Mad Max Norton the
Crossboy King, international illusionists the Magical Melville’s, and comedy capers from Cottle’s Crazy Comics. And that’s just for starters.
There’s also up and coming talent thanks to the Circus Kids trained at Gerry’s Somerset school.
Gerry himself admits: “Circus in the UK needed a kick up the butt so much so I decided to call my new show WOW!, to set it aside from some of the so called circuses touring the UK.
“I am so pleased to be back and show people everywhere the joy and magic of great Circus. I promise you a circus like no other. You have my personal guarantee.”