Clowns and Circuses

READERSVOICE.COM aims to collect a few interesting reading tips. There are a lot of books from the distant past that deserve to be read, so here are a few stories from these books as a bit of a sampler. This issue focuses on clowns.

In his 1954 autobiography Broken Hearted Clown, Butch Reynolds writes about life in the sawdust ring over his forty year career. He knew all the major circus stars in the UK, and he worked as a clown in both large combines and small two-pole tents, which he preferred. He included a chapter on circus lingo, eg. flatties were members of the audience.

He writes: Another very useful circus character is “Mr. Chatsby”, often the man who gives away the free tickets. A flattie asking for one at the boss’s wagon will be told: “Mr. Chatsby gives away the free tickets, he’s in the horse tent, I believe”. The groom in the horse tent will say that Mr. Chatsby has just gone over to the top, and if the ringmaster is there, maybe practising a pony, he will probably say that Mr. Chatsby is over by the wagons somewhere. And so the bewildered flattie goes round and round, never finding the mysterious Mr. Chatsby who gives away the free tickets. In fact, if you ever encounter the name of Mr Chatsby on a tober [circus ground] you may as well give up your quest there and then, unless, perhaps, you try countering with: “Nante on the stuff, cul” (cut that out, in circus tongue).

Butch Reynolds quotes the Archdeacon of London, O.H. Gibbs-Smith, preaching in 1952 at the St. James’s Parish and Clowns’ Church, Pentonville Rd, London (demolished in the mid-1980s). The deacon said that most people are better off for having a sense of humour and the sense of proportion it gives them.

The deacon said: The clown’s brand of humour is generally broad and simple, never cruel, bitter or salacious, but nothing so surely deflates the bombastic self-importance of “Man, proud man”, who “dressed in a little brief authority, plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as to make the angels weep”.

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