The Sandow Family Circus Variety History -Part Five


The Sandow family circus variety history – part five – the 1950s.

Growing up in the 1950s was a golden decade for me in my formative years. Wonderful people, theatre, films, art and music of all kinds and the age of Rock and Roll. Unlike the current attitudes, perhaps, of moaning too much. In those days the attitude was very positive with houses being built, car ownership increasing at a fast pace and spending power increasing. Generally a happy and proud country I would say. Certainly I felt this and an age of fun for youth. Full employment was taken for granted and jobs were generally there to be found. Choice was available. In the mid-1950s I pondered about different directions and I loved the film industry; it seemed fantastic to me perhaps to join a film studio and work there in that environment. Seeing now so many films both old and new I do feel I could do a better job as a director in some of them! Performing was not high on my wish list seeing so much struggling by artistes in circus and the stage but when young one does not realise this is the story of life in all areas. Even then so much unpleasantness and back-biting was around. (Nothing has improved much in that direction). Touring circus does rely on a strict teamwork spirit – that is the nature of the thing. My father hated gossips, mixers, rumour spreaders and dodgers! The worst kind of people in circus. It is fine to question or make positive suggestions in private but not good out loud as sounding a Smart ‘A’! The mouths that might like to advise for any situation, a sound like, ‘why not do it this way as we always did on Collins show!’ Or, ‘the tent has a rip in it there if you notice,’ (especially from a caravan window!) Father might say ‘we are not Collins and why do you not lend a hand, mend the rip yourself or go back to Collins!’ On a wet field when things are not going well, the worst kind of Smart ‘A!

In the mid-1950s the theatres were closing fast and one circuit called Granada tried to promote Variety along with a feature film and screen advertisments. A daft mix to me now but clearly, all sorts of combinations were being tried. The family played one Granada week and the film was One Minute to Zero with Robert Mitchum. I saw the film several times through the stage pass-door. If anyone has ever seen a film from the side of the stage it is quite ridiculous with actors very thin!

1953 and the Summer circus season for Prince Cox at the old Rhyl Pavilion. (Studio promotional photo).

The classic Rhyl Pavilion, so enjoyable to work in. Dressing rooms looking out at the finest of sunsets.

Father is seen in the white jacket on the left.

I attended a Rhyl school until the summer break and it was the only time I have seen the Queen. All the schools visited the local football stadium field and she spoke to us from one of the stands – a long way away – 1953 being her Coronation year. I made great friends with a local butcher’s son Allan Shaw (if you see this Allan do get in touch)! We were both the same age and each Saturday would operate a Soap Box luggage service for the thousands of visitors leaving the trains at the station. We did very well to the annoyance of the local taxi drivers but on reflection they were great fellows.

Scottish Music Hall Society

The family’s final 17 months of tours each week commencing on a Monday – 1954.

  • July

5t- Gala at Hagley Birmingham
12th -one week of Variety at the Aston Hippodrome Theatre (Birmingham)
19th -one week of Variety at the Finsbury Park Empire (now a fringe music centre)
26th – vacant


2nd- Gala in Northampton
9th – Gala at Rotherham. Nice event occurred playing this large gala for Rotherham, that must have been over two days, I had grown more confident then and the local press ran a photo of me as ‘Britain’s Youngest Clown! I thought this was great for my first press copy but the next day several young teenage girls were asking for me! Frankly I did not know how to handle that at 14, I might have done a year so so later!

This experience placed in my mind the real power of the press and years later I used the idea for circuses that I did the advance publicity management for, like Joe Gandey with his son Philip. He too would be about that age and although Joe thought it a good idea Philip did not.

All the large Galas were very well paid and incomes for one day might match a full week in Variety.

Tour dates
16th- Moss Empire Theatre Nottingham
23rd -Moss Empire Theatre Glasgow
30th -The Alhambra Theatre Bradford


6th -The Grand Theatre Doncaster
13th -The Palace Theatre Exeter
20th -Theatre in Brixton – London
27th – returned to the Moss Empire Glasgow


4th -The Palace Theatre Manchester (with Howard Keel)
11th -Theatre in Dewsbury
18th and 25th – two weeks vacant


1st -Theatre in Ayr (Scotland)
8th – vacant
15th -New Theatre Cardiff
22nd and 29th – vacant


6th to 27th vacant



3rd to 24th – Sunderland Moss Empire Theatre in Pantomime (It so happens that the one and only Mickey Rooney appeared in pantomime at this same theatre, winter – Christmas 2007, and so very sadly Sid James died there in 1976).
31st -Hippodrome Theatre – Brighton
14th -Palace Theatre Blackpool
21st (returned to) Moss Empire Finsbury Park – London
28th- The Hippodrome Theatre Manchester


7th -The Royal Theatre Bournemouth (with Morecambe and Wise if memory serves, they were not topping the bill)
14th -The Empire Theatre Leeds
21st – vacant
28th -The Empire Theatre Oldham (Manchester)


4th – vacant
11th -Hippodrome Theatre Preston
18th – vacant
25th -The Globe Theatre Stockport


2nd and 9th – vacant
16th -The Garrick Theatre Southport
23rd -The Moss Empire Theatre Newcastle
30th – Gala in Hull

Summer Season for Billy Russell – the Hippodrome Circus Great Yarmouth 1955.

Summer season circus commenced on the 6th June at the Hippodrome Great Yarmouth, the purpose built circus building with water feature below the ring to the 12th September. At the close of this season my sister Margaret left the family to retire with marriage to Robert Jones the stage manager at the Rhyl Pavilion North Wales where, as mentioned previously, 1953, the family provided acts for the 16 weeks run of the Prince Cox (annual) Circus. Afraid this occurrence has caused yet another disagreement with the Circus Friends for publishing a gossip piece about this family issue. A page was published in one 2003 issue of their magazine about our circus in Ireland – 1948 and the difficulties. Again containing gossip best avoided. The last sentence concerned an apparent fall out between father and Margaret concerning the marriage. As I recall the truer version is this. I was present when Bob and Margaret approached our parents about getting married. This must have been late 1954. Father must have referred to the signed contract for the 1955 season. What happened I think is, they got married early in 1955 and she wanted to leave against this and other signed contracts. Obviously the season there was under a cloud because of this niggle. The C.F.A. implies that father was against the marriage – this was not the case. Margaret finished the Hippodrome season. I would not have made this issue public but the C.F.A. have already done so.

This was the programme for the 1955 summer season at Great Yarmouth.

Paulo’s fast voltage
Sandow’s Comedy dogs
Li Chung Zsai – Chinese balancing act
Six Shetland ponies presented by Richard Sandow
Clarinda Paulo – ballerina on horseback
Billy Russell’s Sea Lions
Molins and Domini – triple-bar act
The Four Mohawks horse riding act
Ray Cortez – flying trapeze
The Two Heinkes – cycle act
Little Walter and Daughter – musical act
The Sandow Sister – double trapeze act
Water Spectacular finally with swimmers
Circus clowning by Len (Spider) Austin and Company including Tomato!

The Shetlands, the ringmaster was Roberto Germains who appeared in the films The Beauty Jungle and Octopussy – I can be seen central with top hat. This season clowning assisting Len ‘Spider’ Austin.

Margaret when performing the sling drop would be over the band pit and the front row in the theatres!

Billy Russell was a fine proprietor and gentleman. One day spying me purchasing doughnuts from his front sales pitch (at that time he had a small children’s novelty set of roundabouts and rides to the building front), took me aside and said ‘ if you care to help out for a couple of hours with the juveniles (as he called them) I will pay you and provide free doughnuts!’ More than happy to oblige. Another great year at Yarmouth. The show-girl swimmers would sunbathe on the flat roof of the dressing rooms but privately of course. It should be remembered that Mr Russell was a film buff and filmed every programme each year for his collection. Where are these films one might ask.



Author: Tom Sandow

born into showbusiness - full life entertaining, management, agency, engager of acts and artistes - show producer presenter.

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