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Confessions of a Showman: My Life in the Circus

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Confessions of a Showman: My Life in the Circus.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Gerry Cottle(Author) Helen Batten(Author)

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Gerry Cottle, a stockbroker's son, ran away to join the circus when he was just 15 and soon married into Britain's oldest circus dynasty. In time, he was the owner of the biggest circus in the world until his growing cocaine addiction led to his arrest and bankruptcy. He recovered, and, ever the showman, went on to make millions with the first ever non-animal circus, the Moscow and Chinese State circuses, and the Circus of Horrors.

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Review Text

  • By Tiger Tiger on 6 September 2006

    I didn't think I'd like this - I'm not particularly a fan of the circus, but after seeing Gerry Cottle on Richard and Judy I was intrigued and decided to give his biography a read. In a way Gerry Cottle could be described as the Robbie Williams of his day (or rather, Robbie Williams is the Gerry Cottle of today!). Gerry has led a very interesting life - he was the world's first confirmed sex-addict (long before Michael Douglas!), was a cocaine addict and is the most successful circus boss ever. Apart from that, the circus world is certainly a weird and wacky one - Gerry describes how he regularly stuck his head in a crocodile's mouth and describes what clowns really get up to back stage!I really did enjoy this book - everyone should give it a try, especially fans of the circus and entertainment in general.

  • By Bingo on 4 September 2006

    I bought this book after seeing Gerry on an afternoon chat show. He reallyhad me laughing, and I wanted to know more. Circuses are great and it's ashame they aren't what they used to be any more and reading this book was atrip down memory lane, I could almost smell the candyfloss! If you've everbeen to the circus, you will love this book.

  • By Diabolo on 27 June 2009

    A brilliant journey through the world of circus: The highs and lows, rivalries, business methods, and working practices of one of Europes biggest traditional entertainments. It's all here in Gerry Cottle's book and there are a number of surprises in store too. One of those you'll read over again. I just couldn't put it down.

  • By Rob Hardy on 14 October 2006

    There are plenty of stories about the boy who ran away to join the circus, but few such actual boys. Gerry Cottle is one. He had had a British middle class upbringing, and was sent to a fine grammar school, where "I had done as little work as possible, bluffed my way through every test and bunked a day's school wherever I could in order to work on my circus skills." And so in 1961 at age fifteen he ran away, leaving a message to his parents, "Please do not under any circumstances try to find me. I have gone forever. I have joined the circus. You do not understand me... I have gone." He had at age eight formed his ultimate ambition, to own the biggest circus Britain had ever seen, and he was to make good on that goal, and many others besides. He tells a colorful life story (with documentary maker Helen Batten) in _Confessions of a Showman: My Life in the Circus_ (Vision), a lively warts-and-all autobiography that tells his unique story from elephant muck to big top success, with world travel and cocaine addiction thrown in.Cottle had taught himself juggling with fruits from his mother's kitchen, and his dad even encouraged performance in front of his Masonic lodge when Cottle was thirteen. He has a memory of his upbringing as simply being a period when he was forced to wear gray, and when the circus came to town, he got to see colors, sequins, and pretty girls. Having left home, he took up in the Roberts Brothers Circus, where among other things he played the rear end of a pantomime horse. He had other menial tasks, cleaning up after the elephants being the worst one; the circus was grubby hard work, and he loved it. He loved the companionship and pestered all the circus staff to tell him stories about their lives. There was an enormous problem for him, though; he was a "flattie" or a "josser", circus slang for an outsider. The big circuses were family affairs, and as a josser, Cottle was not going to get to be a performer. He worked on his juggling, and aspired to be a clown, but the family frankly told him, "You'll never be a clown, you're only a tent man." He went on to a smaller circus that was less picky, and got to perform, but realized that as much as he enjoyed showing off, especially to the girls, he was not the most talented of ring acts. He could only be big in the circus by owning and directing one, and he did get training in important administrative details like how to put up posters (put them in the main streets and concentrate on the better class of shops, and also enjoy the kick of putting your own poster over that of your competitor). But he was still a josser, and he needed the contacts and cooperation of an established circus family: "I was only going to get this by becoming one of them."The way to do that was to marry in, and that is just what he did. He first saw Betty Fossett as he was working in her family's circus. She did a lasso act and she showed off her performing dogs. She was, however, only twelve. He pursued her avidly, and was in love with her despite the admitted attraction of becoming part of the family. They moved together into a caravan by the time she was sixteen, and they eventually married. It was a tempestuous relationship, complicated by a difficult life on the road and his womanizing and drug use. Before it wound up, the marriage did produce three daughters, who became, respectively, a juggler, a trapeze artist, and a trick rider. Cottle expresses enormous fondness for his daughters, and also for the son who has gone into non-circus public relations.He has no fondness for animal rights protesters: "Generally they were a filthy lot. Lots of unemployed people and students with nothing better to do than to stir up a fuss." They were no problem when he was starting his career, but in the seventies the tide turned and towns which had welcomed the circus would no longer allow it to set up. At a time when a circus was not thought to be a circus without lions and elephants, the performers felt their whole traditional way of life was being questioned. Cottle was exasperated that giving the animals the demanded exercise cages did not satisfy any protesters (and the lions, being particularly lazy, just lay around as they always did and never got any exercise). He delights in telling about the absurdities of the protests. A week before they were to set up in Dorset, he got a letter from the Weymouth town council to say that unless the picture of King Kong on the posters were removed, the circus could not be set up. Not only was there no real King Kong, there was no real gorilla, only a clown in a gorilla costume. Towns famous for their horseracing protested that circus horses were abused. In one routine, clowns lifted the lid of a dish to reveal a live duck in an otherwise animal-free show, but the local council of Haringey refused to have any live animal performing. Cottle and his assistants went out and counted all they places (especially Chinese restaurants) in Haringey that served duck, and rode a publicity wave of headlines like "You can eat a duck in Haringey but you can't watch it perform!" There were some such publicity successes but eventually keeping animals in the acts was more trouble than it was worth. Cottle thinks that this reflects a prejudice against circuses that is a particular form of English snobbery. "In the rest of Europe circus is seen as a precious art form, which is ironic when circus started in Britain. Here we are seen as barely better than gypsies, and we all know how they are treated."Cottle moved on to the Circus of Horrors, which was a big success with young people, and to fun fairs, and his current project of the caves and the amusement park at Wookey Hole. He has been clean of cocaine for several years; his book has many harrowing stories about the effects of his habit on his business and on his family life. Cottle, now that he is an elder statesman for the circus, is no longer running a circus, but he has, after many falls, landed on his feet. There are plenty of passages of sadness, financial reverses, and self recrimination in his book, but overall it is a rollicking memoir of a unique life. Readers will learn the vital nature of candy floss (that's cotton candy to us Americans) to make or break a circus's budget. There are details of how to transport a circus overseas, with all the animals, as Cottle responded in 1975 to the decree of the Sultan of Oman: "He wants a British circus in Oman in December." (What simpler times those were.) On another trip he and his circus found themselves in the middle of the Iranian revolution. Like any showman, he gives descriptions that leave the reader wishing to be able to see the thing described, like the "hot-air balloon father and daughter act which consisted of the balloon whirling around at an impossible speed and them falling out and their clothes falling off." He reveals the trick of how to stick one's head into a crocodile's mouth, but there is no trick that will let one escape from the greatest danger, the vile breath of the crocodile. He tells how he staged the worlds largest (_Guinness_-approved) custard pie fight, complete with two concrete mixers to make the custard. His book is a recounting of a romp of a life, full of odd events and funny stories. It's a great show.

  • By Guest on 4 September 2006

    I really do not like circuses - always having felt they are degrading for the animals and humans involved so can hardly believe that I went out in search of Gerry Cottle's book after seeing him on Richard & Judy. I'm glad I did too as I see circuses in a totally new light now and as a piece of British heritage that has almost been forgotten. Gerry Cottle has had an interesting life and he tells of the spills and thrills with gusto - I guess that a lot has been left out. Buy this book even if, like me, you think that you don't like circuses - Gerry will make you change your mind and you'll be thoroughly entertained to boot.

  • By BK2K on 12 January 2014

    A flawed showman with an impeccable tale. Some great yarns here and insights into the process of circus. An engrossing read.

  • By B. E. Knowles on 2 September 2006

    A fast paced insight into the world of the circus through the eyes of a circus owner between 1970 and the present day. Full of crazy anecdotes about life on the circus. Unputdownable!

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