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Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Deleted Introduction of "The Legend of Salt and Sauce"

Continuing on from my previous post, I decided to publish another entry that did not make it into my completed book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce". This time it is one of many attempts at an introduction. Back in March 2004 I was quite confident that the whole story of Salt and Sauce had been told. Little did I realize that I would be receiving information that would change and unveil so much about their lives three years on from that date. In fact, I was still uncovering information and establishing great contacts during the month of the deadline Aardvark Publishing had set. Looking back on the introduction it is quite sad to see the name of at least one person who has died during the writing of the book, Clinton Keeling, and also amusing to see the cultural approach I took back then regarding Music Hall and Circus. It's amazing to see how much has changed in the past few years.

This book deals with the past. It begins in the Victorian era, sometimes harking back even further, the main action of the tale covers the Edwardian decade, The Great War years through to the Second World War and finally we go through the late forties, the fifties and coming to a conclusion in 1960. It is the result of work contained in three bulging folders of information and several out of print books. Two thirds of the information in the folders comes in the form of cuttings or photocopies of old newspapers most easily over half a century old and some over the whole century. Yet the writing of this story for me didn’t begin with the reading any of these primary sources. It started with an email dictated by my father and typed by me, an email that was never finished, but evolved into the book you are about to read.

I work for my family’s firm in the Cotswolds, supplying and training exotic animals for the film industry. Years ago my parents ran a circus and before that my mother’s parents were part of a famous travelling showbusiness legacy that stretched back to the 1600s. I have grown up in the world of entertainment and animals. My father is a keen zoo and circus historian. The two businesses are very far apart in Britain today, but their histories are closely linked, as I was to discover when researching the lives of Salt and Sauce. Dad grew up in an age when the two openly traded animals with one another and joined the circus for a last hurrah in wild animal training before the industry began its decline in the UK. Today he is often consulted by both zoo and circus enthusiasts, helping them with their research, information he has often gleaned from contemporaries of the time or their relatives. Dad has the advantage being both a scholar and an experienced veteran in his field of study.

It was October 2001 and my father received an email from Rob Vaughan, a zoo historian. An article had recently been published in “Zoo!” magazine entitled “A Pachyderm Puzzle” by zoo curator and historian Clinton Keeling, which had raised many questions about two famous captive elephants known as “Salt” and “Sauce” of the first half of the twentieth century. Dad began answering Sam’s questions and correcting some of Clinton’s mistakes in a very matter-of-fact way. The email was going fine until Dad became unsure about a few facts. As time went on, so did the email. After a week or so Dad was bringing in all the information he had on the elephants and before long we were noticing some big contradictions. It soon became obvious that the research we were doing and the work were compiling fitted something far larger than a simple email response. Quelling Sam Whitbread’s requests for updates on our answers to his questions, Dad announced we were going to write an article.

It wasn’t long before extra books were bought and we began contacting other people who had written books that mentioned Salt and Sauce. Soon we were receiving research from various members of the public and performing contemporaries of the elephants. Relatives of the families who were involved with the elephants also sent copies of their research notes and newspaper clippings. This had become a large project. We had sources in several fan-based publications that were happy to publish the resulting article and even serialise it, but it seemed to me that these two amazing elephants deserved a lot more than this.

They had helped sell countless numbers of circus and music hall tickets. Newspapers and books recounted episodes featuring the two elephants. Several radio broadcasts concentrated on them, a major motion picture featured them, hundreds of flowers had been left in memorial of the death one and souvenirs had been sold off the continuing success of the other. They even lent considerable weight to two business arrangements. They had become a part of circus folklore and episodes of experiences with them had been re-told around the proverbial campfire for many generations. Some were awed by the amazing skills the two elephants were trained in, others sold their tales on the elephants’ notoriety. No, a simple series of articles didn’t justify the first complete recounting of such celebrated histories.

I suggested to Dad that we should look towards publishing it as a booklet. He was already building a collection of photographs and postcards of the elephants and agreed. However, the idea of turning into a book didn’t take long. Dad was interviewed by an author of a book on animals in films. I took the opportunity to ask for the professional writer’s help. He assisted me a lot and put me in contact with an excellent agent, Laura Longrigg, who has been a constant objective yet enthusiastic guide to me.

Being the son of a wild animal trainer and an employee of a company that provides animals for the world of entertainment, it will be of no surprise to readers that I didn’t take the animal rights route. Having said this, it would have been easy for me, with the materials provided, to write a sentimental story of poor animals torn from their natural environment and unnaturally trained by greedy men only to be exploited for the whims of a decadent society. The truth of the matter is that I didn’t see a life of cruelty in the histories of Salt and Sauce, and I don’t believe it would have been respectful to their memories to have recorded it in this way.

There are many accounts in newspapers, books and off contemporaries of the animals that they often wondered wild on the circus grounds they occupied. They lived to good ages and were often regarded affectionately in spite of their infamous reputations for killing and destroying. I don’t believe they lived a life of luxury anymore than many of the humans who lived alongside them. However, they were never hidden from the public and in spite of being transported in an era where live exotic animal exportation was in its infancy as was veterinary work and animal husbandry, Salt and Sauce triumphed over disease and disaster to perform for six decades.

The world of circus and music hall today is looked upon with a snooty derision by the country that gave birth to it. In the British comedy series, Blackadder Goes Forth, the following comment sums up the modern era’s attitude to the old world of variety: “Oh yes, the great music hall tradition; two men with incredibly unconvincing cockney accents going ‘what’s up with you then?’ ‘what’s up with me then?’, ‘yes what’s up with you then?’ ‘I’ll tell you what’s up with me, I’m right browned off, right browned off.’ Get on with it!”

As for circus, I have far more personal recollections of the condescending scorn poured on it. Recently a circus friend of mine invited me to a touring comedy show. The performance was being held inside a circus tent and my friend was in charge of organising its dismantling and erection; what in the circus world is known as a tent master. The last comedian on the bill had a constant problem with a heckler. All of the comedians were enjoying a socialist stance, but couldn’t resist making derisive comments about the tent, ironic when I think how the working classes supported the circus throughout its heyday in Britain and how circus gave many a working class individual the chance to make his fortune. This particular comedian responded to the heckler’s cries to entertain him with: “I see, you thought this was a circus. You were expecting to see some poorly treated animals and clowns that pretend to chuck water over you.”

It’s fair comment to say the institutions in Britain didn’t move enough with the times. Nell Stroud speaks in her book “Josser” of how she dreamed of becoming a part of a romantic traditional circus, but to her dismay often found circus artists trying to piggyback off the latest media craze. The result in most cases is a tackiness that takes much away from the romantic’s idea of the unique institution that is circus. The best have been guilty of it. As a child growing up my parents circus I loved our attempt of using a Star Wars gimmick in order sell the legendary “Gina in the Moon” act, Shirley Fossett’s fantastic aerial display. Ironically when Shirley first did the act it was completely original and was often imitated. There have been rare examples when the imitation far exceeds the product it is deriving inspiration from. Eva Garcia, who died from a tragic accident at Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus whilst I was writing this book, sold her aerial silk act as the “Tomb Raider” character Lara Croft and provided a scene that was far more beautiful and had far more substance than anything the video game or empty feature film could hope to achieve.

Nevertheless circus remains the outside art form, despite being the most versatile; appealing to virtually every part of society. There are circuses in nearly every country in the world. In Europe the traditional circus is revered. The same could be said for Asia and the Middle East. America is home to the famous Ringling Brother’s, Barnum and Bailey Circus that has become such a large institution that it has toured with more than one unit for decades now. However, in Britain the only circus that is given respect by the media is the Canadian import, Cirque du Solei. Although a brilliant spectacle it draws little from the foundations for the modern circus set down by Phillip Astley in 1768. There is sometimes no ring and never any horses.

Yet for all Britain’s embarrassment over their centuries old tradition the mark of the circus can be found across the land. Buildings with names such as the Hippodrome, Empire, Coliseum and Arena were created by circus people for the showing of circuses. It was in buildings such as this that Salt and Sauce lumbered through their routines and packed houses. They would live deep within the bowels of the building and be visited by the same public who cheered through their displays. They could be seen through the streets of London, Manchester and many others, linked trunk to tail often stopping traffic and, one occasion, even the King of England himself. Outside of the large cities and across the countryside these two magnificent icons trod their path from one circus ground, or tobre, to the next. Even the coastlines of Britain saw the elephant duo mingling with holiday makers and immersing their great grey hides in the sea.

Salt and Sauce touched the hearts of many generations. They were celebrated creatures of over a half century that, in spite of the fear they inspired through the legends spread about them, were present at three weddings and brought happiness to at least one child member of the public who rode on Sauce’s back. Salt and Sauce are part of my people’s culture and history, they are also part of yours.

Jamie Clubb March 2004
©Copyright. Jamie Clubb 2007

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