YESTERDAY'S TOWNS

HOWDY, MY NAME IS BILL STRONG, I'LL BE YOUR "24 HOUR MAN", ROUTING YOU INTO THE PAST TO SEE WHAT THE CIRCUS WAS IN DAYS GONE BY. IF YOU'RE LIKE ME, AND MISS WHAT IT USED TO BE, THEN COME ON ALONG AS WE GO DOWN THE ROAD FOLLOWING THE ARROWS BACKWARDS, TO "YESTERDAY'S TOWNS"! IF YOU HAVE CIRCUS RELATED PICTURES YOU WOULD LIKE POSTED, SEND THEM TO,,,,yesterday1@verizon.net,,,,AND WE WILL TRY TO FIT THEM IN. "24 HOUR MAN" WILL HAVE THE FINAL DECISION ON POSTING.

My Photo
Name:
Location: GIBSONTON, FLORIDA, United States

Three years at CWM made me a real traditionalist, and I keep remembering Bob Parkinson saying, "I want the people to see what the circus used to be, not what it is today. That's what this site is about!

Friday, July 13, 2007

IN MEMORY: DAVID SMART, UPDATED FROM JOHN GOODALL

This news from John Cooper in England.

I'm sorry to announce that David Smart (father of Yasmin, currently ending her 3rd season with Big Apple) died on Monday (9 July) from a heart attack - so I doubt he had much pain. I believe he was 78.
RIP.
David Smart
telegraph.co.uk
July 14, 2007


UPDATE

David Smart, who died on July 9 aged 77 was, with his brothers Ronald and Billy Jr, the owner of the successful circus founded by their father, Billy Smart.

He had been involved in the running of the circus from its inception on April 5 1946 when Tommy Handley and the entire cast of ITMA topped the bill at Southall Park, Middlesex. With their father, the brothers built Billy Smart's Circus into Europe's most successful traveling show.

At the height of its success, Billy Smart's Big Top could hold 5,500 spectators, and the show involved more than 200 horses, 20 elephants (including one called Joan who could ride a tricycle), assorted polar bears, lions, tigers, llamas camels and sea lions, plus vehicles, entertainers and a 15-piece orchestra.

The brothers inherited the business after their father's death in 1966, but the traveling circus closed in 1971 and the assets were later sold. Subsequently David went on to found his own circus, David Smart's Super Circus, in Battersea Park. But the days of the big shows were over and the enterprise soon had to be abandoned.

One of 10 children, David Smart was born on August 21 1929 at Hayes in Middlesex. His father Billy - himself one of 23 children - was then a traveling showman and fairground proprietor. David was delivered into this world in his parents' trailer.

In 1946, aged 16, he was pitched into the sawdust when his father, on a whim, bought a circus he passed while out on a country drive with his wife, Dolly. David and his brother Ronnie soon found themselves busily employed showing the company's growing herd of Asiatic elephants.

Their first (elephant) came from Singapore by ship, but two years later five more were flown to London from Bangkok on a BOAC York freighter, specially converted to provide an elephant lift. The trip was an eventful one. Even before takeoff one elephant broke down the side of her stall, another tried to climb out of the plane, and all five squealed and trumpeted for all they were worth.

The animals were given sugar cane so that the aircraft could take off, and there was no problem until after the plane left Bahrain, when the animals began showing signs of boredom. One kept trying to open the aircraft escape hatch with her trunk and a man had to spend most of the rest of the trip guarding the hatch to avert disaster.

By the early 1950's, however, younger brother Billy had taken on responsibility for the elephants while David and Ronnie became mainly involved in backstage work.

David supervised audience seating and the lighting and sound, and was responsible for the production of the circus program. He also produced the hugely popular cowboy extravaganza, the Wild West Show, a noisy and exciting display involving hordes of cowboys and Indians, horses, chuck wagons and gunfire.

But he was unable to escape the elephants entirely. On one occasion, the show was playing in the Staffordshire area, on a site over a coal-mine, when the elephants, standing in their tent waiting their turn, suddenly ran wild. They stampeded into the ring and towards a packed audience.

David Smart rushed to head them off, spraining an ankle in the process. He managed to get in front of the elephants, but was helpless to stop the herd heading straight for him. Luckily the faithful lead elephant, "Birma", saved the day, stopping in her tracks within a few feet of him, and turning herself broadside to bring the others to a halt.

"Birma", who had been bought from Wellingborough Zoo in 1949, remained with the family after all the other animals were sold off and the show closed.

In 1949 the highwire and trapeze artiste Olga Elleano joined the circus. She and David married and had five children, though her career in the ring was brought to a premature end after she was mauled by a sea lion.

By the time Billy Smart, Sr died the circus had become a household name, with regular shows on television. After taking over, the brothers hosted big charity events and Royal performances. As their success increased they made unsuccessful bids to establish a Disney-style theme park, first at Blackpool and later at Brighton. They also hoped to establish a permanent site for the circus at Blackpool, to rival the Blackpool Tower Circus. In November 1967, they created the first (and only) Circus Ball and Gala, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and they subsequently developed the Royal Windsor Safari Park from an estate formerly owned by the car magnate Horace Dodge.

The circus ceased as a traveling enterprise with a last performance at Clapham Common in 1971, after the costs of transport became too great. The Smarts were also beginning to attract the unwelcome attentions of animal rights activists and, on several occasions, circus vehicles had their tires slashed.

The circus did not stop altogether with the end of touring. There had been regular television shows from the 1950's and David and his brothers continued to stage these until the 1980's. Billy Smart's circus was a big enough draw to rival the Queen's broadcast on Christmas Day and drew in many stars from other areas of showbusiness. In 1977 David masterminded a big top show at Windsor to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

In 1980 David left the family concern to found his own circus at Battersea Park, which opened in June with a Royal performance in the presence of Princess Margaret in aid of the Variety Club and children's charities. A winter season followed but the venture proved uneconomic and David had to admit defeat. In 1986 Billy and Ronnie Smart sold the family circus company's assets and moved to Marbella.

In the 1990's Ronald Smart revived Billy Smart's Circus (now run under licence by Tony Hopkins) on a smaller scale and David assisted in staging some of the early shows. As an acknowledged expert on circus management, he became close to Prince Rainier of Monaco, advising on the annual international Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. He served on the international jury of the festival in 1983.

David Smart is survived by his wife Olga and by their son and four daughters.

2 Comments:

Anonymous fatima said...

Thanks for the great story about the Smart's family. However, no mention of the sister?? Her name, I believe, was Rosy and she married Sasha Polaikoff, Coco's son (the original Coco)
In my time there was always a circus gala held in London. Almost every performer in England would come to London to enjoy the gala, which took place during the Xmas holidays. I don't know how it is now over there, but Xmas was a very busy time for circuses and pantomines....in most of all the towns...ah, the good old days...LOL
(Have to fit in a LOL)

7/16/2007 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before I forget, the funeral is tomorrow (Wednesday 18 July).
Billy Jr (who was actually christened "Stanley") died 2 years ago of cancer.
Indeed, Fatima, Rosy married Sacha Coco (more formally Alexander Poliakov), who died a few years back.

John.

7/17/2007 12:19 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home