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Friday, 22 May 2009

Captain Tommy Kayes - Master of the Bouncing Lions

Due to popular demand, not to mention a bit of controversy, my father and I have decided to continue on the subject of the bouncer wagon (AKA "The Bouncing Lions"). My father has dictated the below post on "Captain" Tommy Kayes, the man considered by many to be the "Master of the Bouncing Lions". Although the pictures do not show Kayes in a wagon, the act is fundamentally the same with the caged arena being built to the same dimensions as the wagon. The point of this post is to define what is meant by the "Bouncer Wagon Act"; what makes it different from the conventional wagon act, sometimes referred to as a "Posing Act", and what makes it different the conventional cage act. - Jamie Clubb


The picture immediatley above my post was taken at Blackpool Tower Circus circ. 1940. When Tommy stopped working on the fairgrounds with the wagon cage he adapted a ring cage for his presentation. The dimensions were the same except for the height, which was a good 5’ higher than the beastwagon. This allowed him to bounce the lions high up, as seen in this photo. The first photo shows the opening trick with the pyramid on the slings attached to the bars of the cage. As soon as this was completed, the assistant would knock the slings on the floor from the outside. Tommy would pick one up and then use it instead of a chair for the rest of the act. It also shows him performing the “Head in the Mouth” with the male lion. This was rarely done in the performance, as he said it slowed the routine down. Much play was done before he entered the cage. The big lioness, Jubilee, would stand up at the door with her paws through the bars not letting him in. She would be then sent to the other end of the cage and an assistant would put a pole through to feign keeping her there, and allow Tommy to “slip in”. The fun would then start.

The two lionesses and the lion would make the pyramid instantaneously and then fly off. The two lionesses going up the wall of the cage and the male lion would stand in the position shown in the second photo. This would then be repeated at the other end of the cage. Finally the two lionesses would race round the top of the cage like the “wall of death” and the lion would circle the floor. Tommy would make his exit and Jubilee would stand at the door, defiantly roaring. In some performance they would announce that he couldn’t get in the cage and that it was too dangerous. The lions would be sent out and another one or two acts would work until Tommy came back in again. They’d let the lions in and this time he would “succeed in getting in”. He would finish by firing his blank cartridge revolver in the air, as the lions charged around. They worked automatically with virtually no effort from the trainer. He worked them with just the sling in his hand or a short stick, but sometimes with nothing at all.

Tommy Kayes died of pneumonia after catching a chill after his act. I am not sure of the exact date without checking, but it was in the mid ‘40s. - Jim Clubb



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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

from Jim Stockley: In that aerial shot of Dicky Chipperfield working the bouncer in S Africa, you can see John L Chipperfield on the far side of the wagon (dark suit and white shirt). He used to work the pole to keep the lions off the door. Looks like Johnny Bellamy is on the door?

In the previous post with the Leopard wagon at Bingley Hall you can see Dick Chipperfield Snr on left (bald head, back to camera), John L Chipperfield on right working the door and Johnny Bellamy seems to be wearing some sort of white overall.

I have a picture somewhere of Jimmy & Tommy Kayes and Jack Luck outside a wagon talking shop and telling lies (at Bostock's maybe?)

Anonymous said...

my name is tommy kayes i was called after the late captain tommy kayes who was my dad jimmy kayes;s brother

Jamie Clubb said...

Great to have you on here. My father would love to speak to you for his research. Please email us on jamie@amazinganimals.co.uk