The Victorian Clown

The Victorian Clown - James Frowde
The Victorian Clown

James Frowde’s memoirs – taken from the book ‘The Victorian Clown’ by Jacky Bratton and Ann Featherstone and adapted for radio and performed by Tony Lidington – represent the closest we have to a first-hand, vernacular description of the daily life of a British circus clown in the mid-nineteenth century.


Episode 1 of 3

At that time, circus people and pantomime artists were on the lowest rung of the cultural ladder, just a step above vagrants and beggars; indeed they were viewed with suspicion and fear by those who aspired or achieved more stable, residential lives.

Few people travelled very far in those days, so this was an era when the circus and fairground were glimpses into an exotic, thrilling world, which lay beyond the parish or county boundaries. Strange people performing strange feats, crazy antics which defied convention and expectation, wild animals tamed, colour and glitter, music and movement – all for a day and then gone, overnight, like a dream.

Here is the life of an ordinary, workaday, Victorian clown, whose tricks and antics prepared the ground for the comedians and wits we love today. Basil Fawlty, Tony Hancock, Stan & Olly, Paul Whitehouse & Harry Enfield all have their roots in the itinerant lives and familiar material of the comedians who plied their trade in circus rings and wooden fit-ups in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign – before even the music halls came of age.

Frowde remembers starting work doing menial jobs at Hengler’s Circus – owned by his grandfather.

Adapted and read by Tony Lidington.

Producer: David Blount
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

The Victorian Clown. Episode 1: Beginnings

Tenting & Travelling

Episode 2 of 3

Frowde remembers performing as a contortionist known as the ‘Duke of Limbs’.

The Victorian Clown. Episode 2: Tenting & Travelling

Beasts & Clowning

Episode 3 of 3

Frowde recalls working with a particularly wilful monkey; and injuring himself during a difficult horseback trick.

The Victorian Clown. Episode 3: Beasts & Clowning