A Circus Story

Registered: ​13th April 1946
Duration: 37 minutes
Feet: 3356 feet
Board of Trade Certificate number: ​BR/E9113
Production Company: ​Federated Film Corporation Limited

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Manchester Circus 1946 (B&W)

Title and Credits:

Told by : Ronald Waldman
Musical Arrangements: M. De Wolfe
Editor: Sam Lee
Continuity: P.M. Jeffcoat
Dialog written by : Edward Eve
Produced at : Belle Vue, Manchester
Photography: Edward Barrington
Script Glenda Baim
Recording : Harry Sheridan
Directed by: Sam Lee
Produced by : Harold Baim


The circus is coming to town again. Yes, that's the ring, and they're getting it ready for the big show. Excitement is high. The grown ups haven't seen one for a very long time. And some of the youngsters haven't seen one at all, though its tradition is still very close to the hearts of the people.

And look, here comes some of the animals already. Dapper little ponies who will soon be nodding their proud heads in the ring again. Yes, and sheep like poodles. That's a novelty. My goodness, this show is going to be grand.

And there are the performing dogs all keyed up to start.

And the horses who've been reared in the circus.

And the elephants. Gosh, what a party it's going to be.

This is the principal. As you can guess, he's a very busy man just now, with 1001 things to attend to; artists to see, contracts to sign, and so on. At the moment he's talking to Balliol and Merton, the acrobatic dancers, whose sensational act has topped the bill in all parts of the world. You'd hardly recognize them in their queuing clothes, would you?

Sign, please. But it's something more than a scrap of paper. It's a passport to the big top's big thrill for thousands of circus fans. As Balliol might have said to Merton, it's a clinch.

Other artists begin to arrive. Clowns, wags with bags and gags, to be followed later by the daredevils of tightrope and Trapeze, balancers, riders and the rest. They've come to fix their dressing rooms, lay out their props, and have a word with the ringmaster before the show. He's Mr. Lockhart, one of the most famous ringmasters, and what he doesn't know about the circus isn't worth knowing. As you'd expect of a ringmaster, he introduces the artists to the ring.

The ring itself is all hustle and bustle in preparation for the opening. Within a few hours, that magic circle will be the stage for a gay procession of acts, which, in showman's language, will knock them sideways. The scene is being laid for the greatest show on Earth.

Mr. Sparks, the electrician, and his assistants are busy checking the lighting, fixing cables, overhauling gear and testing effects. Lighting plays a very big part in the show's spectacular appeal.

This big top is big enough to seat 7000 people. It's the North's largest stadium, and it's a big job to get it shipshape. A clean show and clean seating, that's the idea.

One of the high flyers tests the trapeze. His troupe can't afford to take any more risks. The ponies are being groomed. They, like all other circus animals, are cared for like so many children. It's part of the showman's creed to look after them well, even before himself. And his reward is they're willing and intelligent performance. They're trained with kindness and treated with gentleness, and their owners are proud of them as horsey aristocrats.

Some of these circus ponies are worth a fortune. No wonder they're not allowed out without their overcoats and shoes.

And now he's getting into his gladrags, ready to trot into the ring under the powerful arc lights, and to the deafening applause of the crowd. His dresser has been with Tony for a long time, and they understand each other. A well trained animal, they say, reacts to the limelight as much as does any human actor.

The Woolly brothers are getting the brush off. As a matter of fact, they've just been checking over their music. It's two bleats to a bar. Even if they do look sheepish, they're certainly not mutton headed.

The wire walker tests his apparatus. With so much in the balance, he can't be too careful. The wire must be just right, neither too slack nor too taut. And with the merest touch of the feet, he can tell at once if it needs any adjustment. He's the live wire of the slack wire.

The staff are on parade. The first night's a big night under the big top. And the boys and girls are putting up a big show. Like the performers, they're keen to make a good impression. The house manager gives them final instructions, and each member of the staff knows what to do, when to do it, and how.

Grooms and attendants step out smartly to take up their positions. It won't be long now.

A checkup of the fire appliances is a very important item. With such a large capacity, the circus hall is equipped with scores of portable extinguishers. Now, don't rub the paint off, and these must be regularly examined.

Finally, the programs. Before they usher the Usherettes get the book of words. It's nearly time.

Come on, let's get going. We don't want to be late. Look, we're not the first. Those people are going too, and there'll be a big crowd before long. Who can ignore the call of the circus? Line up there with the advance guard of a big procession of first nighters. It's almost like a society function. Everybody who is anybody must be there.

They come from all parts of the north and for miles around. Boys and girls, men and women, young and old, and a great variety of types. The call of the circus has been heard from afar. The first night especially, is a big adventure. And after all, you can't see a circus every day.

Yes, the circus is calling. Calling all cars. Who ever dreamt of a circus car park a few years ago. But today the circus becomes the destination of hundreds of family cars.

We've clicked, at the turnstiles, and in a moment or two we'll be in our seats.

We're in. We've arrived. We're actually there. We take our seats with a feeling of excited anticipation. What we've been looking forward to so much is now about to happen.

But what about little Jimmy? He looks lost. Wonder what he's thinking.

And still they come. It's been one continuous procession since the place opened, and it looks as if it will be packed out. Well, they're packing them in now, and in a few moments the show will start. Wish they'd hurry up.

Preparations are being made in the dressing rooms. Working under the glare of the big arcs, the performers must pay particular attention to details of dress and makeup. And talking of makeup, one of the past masters in the art is the clown. Have you ever thought with what care the experienced clown puts on his greasepaint? Here's a little study in the progressive stages of a clown's face treatment that will surprise you. Having fixed the foundation, he partly makes up the eyes, which must look wide open and incredulous. The clown, after all, is the innocent victim of everyone's wiles.

Then the cheeks. From time immemorial, the clown has always turned his face to a laughing world. Yes, that's his line, and it heightens the cheekbones.

Eye pattern stage two coming up. The big white rings around the eyes are part of the traditional makeup. All the most famous clowns, Grock Grimaldi and the rest adopted it. And now it's an old, clownish custom. After the eyes, the eyebrows. They must be almost as prominently lined as the mouth. The clown hasn't much use for a cupid's bow kind of mouth. He likes to do things in a big way.

Now the wig. Another part of the traditional makeup is a bald head. Boko, napper or nut.

And now look what's turned up. Yes, the turn up is the regulation shape. And lastly, the lid tile or titfer. Your clown, ladies and gentlemen, is almost complete.

Magnificent, in topper and tails and cigar, the ringmaster surveys the scene. Mighty fine. Mighty fine.

Yes, it's housefull, and that's a very pleasant sight for the performers. Hurry up, miss, you're keeping us waiting. A good audience and lots of applause are just as much meat and drink to circus folk as to those on the stage.

An electrician stands by at the switches that control the house lighting, and that means a lot of lighting. Number one goes up and there's a rustle of anticipation and programs among the audience. Everything's ready in the ring, and in a moment it'll be floodlit for the first act.

The conductor with upraised baton is waiting for his cue, while the ringmaster and the grooms hurry forward to their positions.

There goes the switch. This is the musical beginning of a big adventure, a journey into circus land.

While the orchestra is playing, the attendants move towards the ring. It's all worked out with the precision of a battalion on parade. Each man knows his position and his job and he goes to it.

The ringmaster gives the ring a final look over and sees at a glance that everything is in order. The rehearsals have certainly been worthwhile, and then he makes his vows. The first night has started.

The first act with an escort of clowns, is an Indian bareback rider and his squaw. And what a horseman that redskin is! Great White Chief Running Water has been brought up with horses and sometimes brought down with them, but nothing on four legs scares him unless it's a couple of income tax collectors.

With all the agility of a jack in the box, the great White Chief springs onto his horse and plays his little game of daredevil over backs. There's a perfect understanding between mount and rider. I wonder what's happened to Jimmy? Wouldn't he just enjoy it? Uh oh. Do you see what I see? Well, what do you know? The call of the circus seems to have been too much for him. And he's simply gatecrashed. After all, you don't get anywhere if you're not enterprising. Well, he's been lucky so far. And unless some busybody butts in and tells him to buzz off, he'll be all right.

Well, that commissionaire fellow seems a decent sort, though. You see, he's got kids of his own.

And now for a good laugh, Jimmy. They're all on the carpet again. And they do say that little chaps' the shortest giant in captivity. They're the famous Three Austins, the international clowns.

Act number two coming up, and that's a cue for the conductor to get busy again. All the acts have their own band parts, a sort of signature tune, and the maestro plays them in while he looks up at his mirror to see what's happening in the ring far down below.

This time it's a hand balancer, or, if you like, an equilibrist. An artist with a remarkable gift for balancing on anything or anywhere. Give him a table and he'll keep his feet as far away from it as possible. He's a hand walker.

Keep your boys at home in the evening by amusing them with tricks like this. It's bound to get a big hand.

And what about this for a beautiful bit of balancing? While you're on your toes, he's on his fingers, and he's gone all light headed. But a lamp on the head is better than a lamp on it.

Fingers down, feet up, chin in, lamp out. Everything's in the balance.

Good show sir. A very good, well balanced show.

And now look who's here. What that girl can't do with skis is nobody's business.

Now did you ever? Just another way of walking on all fours.

And here's one sure way of keeping the feet dry.

On a sort of crazy pyramid of chairs, the performer does a remarkable hand balance. It's almost like trying to balance on the top of a ship's mast in a storm. Bad enough if you were right way up. But our friend can do it, hands down. They say he since he was in a high chair.

And now for the highlight of the act. It's an amazing feat of balancing on a swaying perch, with the body not only upside down, but leaning sideways to keep the center of balance.

And so say all of us.

And now the clowns come out to play again. They always like to imitate the previous act. Wonder what's cooking this time?

Willowy wench in the slinky skirt. Another balancer,eh? Where did she get that idea from? Steady there, steady.

Now look what he's done. Just when she was making good. He must go and do a thing like that.

Well, but perhaps there's reason for that excitement. You see, Muriel's got a dance date with her partner, but they've only got one ticket. How can two people go in on one ticket? It's not large enough. But, my dear. Good gracious. Yes. You can't keep a good clown down.

Must be her son down below there. Comical little fellow, isn't he?

This isn't as easy as it looks. Putting over slapstick sort of fun needs experience. What's more, good clowning means good timing.

And now it's the turn of the Shetland ponies with their lady trainer. The ponies are beautifully proportioned, elegantly and perfectly schooled, and these intelligent little animals are always a joy to watch. They respond quickly to orders.

Now here's a nice picture. And after that run around, it looks as if they'll soon be putting their feet up.

I thought so. This may look easy, but it takes a lot of training.

Round and round he goes, and the kiddies sit there, entranced.

A fine example of horsey gracefulness and feminine training. Yes, women can train horses as well as husbands. One nag, after all, is very much like another. And in any case, it's the ring that counts. Yes, it's all in the ring.

And now for the tale of the trapeze. Perhaps of all circus acts, performers on the trapeze are the most daring. They take their lives in their hands, right through their act. A short swing, a faulty grip, or bad timing might mean a serious accident or worse. But these artists are so well rehearsed and so fearless that a mishap is almost unheard of. The secret is that a high flier never allows himself to become careless.

Meet the Flying Twins. They like to be together side by side if they're a little turny, because the trapeze is that way. It's all right, chum, they won't...

Grand, isn't it, Jimmy?

Now watch this. As she swings, she slides. For one breathless moment, she hangs by her feet, and then by one foot. Wham! There she goes.

The human pendulum! Gosh, she nearly missed it that time. Or did she? What skill, what pluck!

By the way, that's a girl up top there. She's the sole support of her big family. It's a bit of a strain, but she manages.

The artists have their own canteen where between cups of tea they talk shop.

He goes in for small talk.

And now Balliol and Merton, the famous Adagio dancers.

Strength with grace, that describes the act that has toured the world. It's a happy blend of acrobatics and posturing, of balance and poise, movement and artistry. In other words, it's a fine example of the team spirit.

But what does he care in front there? He wants to read the fat sticks.

Here's a pose that's as difficult as it's well balanced. And moreover, it's the hold that matters.

And now comes the big spot of the act. The girl climbs to a high platform over the arena. The atmosphere is tense. There's something about that unhurried ascent that means a thrilling sequel.

The man takes up his position in the ring below. A spotlight is focused on the girl, and after a moment's pause, she jumps.

He catches her safely, timing and judging distance, plus acrobatic skill have done the trick. So you'd like to see it again, eh? Well, anything to oblige. Only don't make a habit of it. Gets a little tiring after a while, you know.

Here are those rascals again. And with their sensational act, I shouldn't wonder. How are the mighty fallen?

There's plenty of time. He hasn't much on his hands at the moment.

No use. He's made up his mind to bump himself off.

Backstage, the Scots get ready for their equestrian act. Animals and riders must be correct in every detail before they make their entrance. The act is a model of its kind, a perfect example of superb horsemanship and split second timing.

Mr. Scott evidently thinks that the best way to back a horse is to stand on it, but it isn't the easiest way. It means a long period of training. It means that you must arrange to be born in the business. And most circus stars are.

Here's a nimble bit of work. It's the Scot's idea of horseplay. One good turn like this deserves another. And now things are beginning to move. Number one gets ahead by the tail. He's in front on the back. Then comes the second man. And another second, the third.

Ain't life grand? This is just up Jimmy's street. He forgets everything at the sight of a beautiful fairy on horseback.

They seem to like it too.

Up and over and around and off. It's a Scott speciality. A trick that earned them the name that made them famous. You'll notice that he uses only one hand to get momentum for the spin.

The Austins are at it again, and this time they seem to be doing a spot of mesmerizing. I don't think they're quite nice to know.

Every dog has his day and today is a big day. Give them an order and they jump to it.

We caught the knife thrower in the throws.

Ah, and here are the merry muttons, Mavis and Marmaduke, the Merinos of the moment. The models of magnificence. Mafeking madly to the music of the maestro. Blonde and brunette, a beautiful brace of baskers in the limelight.

Now for a bit of strong man stuff. Leopard skins and muscles. He's down for the count.

Next comes the 'wizard of the wire', the wire walker, come, juggler!

She always said she could make rings around him and this is how she does it.

But how on earth do the hoops get on the wire? Well, that's their secret, and they're keeping it that way. Just making things awkward for himself. That's what he's doing.

This is where he goes gaga. As if he hadn't his hands full enough already. The only thing he won't throw up is his job.

What's going to happen now? Why, of course, the Oxfords are about to embark on a brisk bout of basketball on bikes. It's the belles against the bombshells.

And how's this for a neat bit of passing? A near miss, dear miss. But you're a trier. Better luck next time. The great ideas to keep the ball out of reach of your opponent, who, of course, sees that you don't.

Jimmy simply eats it.

The bombshells are pressing, and it's as much as the belles can do to hold them. It's pace that counts. The sort of pace that never gives the other side any peace.

So they take their bows and their bikes? No, they leave their bikes for the cleaners. It's been a grand game, girls, and we're very proud of you.

And now the audience rises to the playing of the King. The first night is over, but its memory lingers on. The opening performance has conjured up in the mind, a picture of the when the circus was the principal and sometimes the only form of entertainment. The circus that was really the nursery of what one calls today show business. The hard school from which so many first rate performers graduated and in fact are still graduating.

And the audience seem to be leaving with a tinge of regret. The circus, after all, is a family affair. The sort of show that appeals to Mum and Dad and the kiddies. It's a grand, honest to goodness kind of entertainment that doesn't have to depend on illusion. It's the downright skill of the performers that counts.

The ring is empty now, but to Jimmy, at any rate, it's full of dreams. Come along, my lad. I know, but you can't stay here all night.

And so across the magic circle, now deserted, but still very full of memories. Jimmy's experience is one he'll never forget.

To think it was on this very spot that it all happened. "Oh, well, it was wonderful", says Jimmy. "I'd like to be in a circus when I grow up". "Oh, and what would you like to be, son?"

"A clown". 

[The End]

All music should be cleared with 

De Wolfe Music 
Queen’s House 
180-182 Tottenham Court Road