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Thursday, 12 November 2009

My Kingpole Article

Earlier this year a series of emails and subsequent discussions on Facebook prompted my father and I to write and research on a unique but relatively short-lived wild animal act known as the "Bounce" (aka the bouncing lions or the bouncer wagon). It became a series of posts on this blog as more information came to light and eventually materialized into an article that was published in the Autumn 2009 edition of the Circus Friends Association magazine, the King Pole. I now reproduce this article below. Since the article was written my father has uncovered a photograph my Uncle Dicki performing his version of the Bounce in South Africa. As you may gather from the piece I wrote there was a degree of debate as to whether or not what my uncle performed could be considered to be a Bounce act. Dad argues that this particular photograph proves undeniably that my Uncle Dicki performed the Bounce.

Towards the end of the 19th century European circus saw the gradual decline of wild animal acts being presented inside "beastwagons" (mobile caged containers, now used on circuses just as sleeping quarters) in favour of the new caged arena style acts. However, there would be one last innovative and exciting twist in the history of the beastwagon act. This came in the form of the “Bouncer Wagon Act”, often known as the “Bouncing Lions” or, quite simply, as the “Bounce”. The act is remarkable for a few reasons. Firstly it seems to be a uniquely British invention that was never adopted outside the United Kingdom. Secondly it saw a
young Dicki Chipperfield, my uncle, work it aged just 15. Thirdly only a few trainers ever worked it. Finally it finished very abruptly, for no apparent reason, and despite three failed attempts to resurrect it, the bouncer wagon has not been seen worldwide since 1966. 
10 years later Edward “Eddie” Campbell, the amateur wild animal trainer and professional journalist, wrote an article for the “Kingpole”, entitled “The Bounce”, describing this fascinating part of circus history. Eddie had the extra advantage over most writers and historians of having actually trained and performed the Bounce. When I first started writing about the Bounce for my blog I was unaware of the article’s existence and gained my main source material from my father, a well-respected wild animal trainer and circus/zoo historian. He was also involved with three attempts to resurrect the Bounce. The original posts on my blog came about as a result of an email conversation my father had with my cousin, Jim Stockley. This is not the first time this has happened. My book, “The Legend of Salt and Sauce”, began in a similar way through my father’s correspondence and subsequent research. However, this time a previously published article has not been my starting point to correct myths and mistakes but has provided further information which I feel is worth repeating in “The Kingpole”, the publication where it first appeared.
When I first began posting information on the internet about the Bounce there seemed a little confusion over my father’s assertion that the act was uniquely English and that “Captain” Tommy Purchase, father-in-law of my great uncle Jimmy Chipperfield, was its “accidental” inventor. The confusion came from what actually constituted the Bounce. Eddie Campbell claimed he also came across similar confusion in Europe
“When you describe the stunt to Continentals they offer ‘wilde Arbeit’ or ‘en ferocite’. When you explain that both these terms are for what we would call a fairground roust and not the Bounce at all, they tend to give you a raised eyebrow and imply that you are quite clearly inventing the whole thing, which would be impossible anyway”.
Eddie then goes on to describe an anecdote where a continental trainer admitted to being “unashamedly terrified” by the act when shown it by his new English employer and stated with certainty that “he was not, repeat not, going in there”. 
Eddie may have had problems trying to explain to others the difference between a Rousting Act and the Bounce, but Dad’s problem, which I may have inherited with the publication of my posts on the blog, came from people confusing the Bounce with the standard original beastwagon acts. To make a distinction, Dad has always called the latter “Posing Acts”. It is important to note that these acts did continue alongside and even outlived the Bounce. 
Prior to the posing acts, animal “trainers” of the 19th century wore armour and virtually fought with the wild animals. In many respects the Bounce harked back to these days albeit in a far safer and more humane fashion. Nevertheless, the anticipation of the danger for audiences was increased to fever pitch, according to Eddie, as the lionesses would jump at the bars of the beastwagon in fury as soon as the trainer appeared. This anticipation would be built as the trainer would rush backwards and forwards outside the cage in a seemingly desperate attempt to draw the animals away from the safety cage, a small self-contained cage hung over the entry gate. Finally, upon a set cue, the lionesses would move away from the safety cage bars and the trainer would be able to make his entrance. Eddie says that this build-up to the act proper could take up to three quarters of the performance running time. The actual Bounce was a highly trained and energetic routine, where lionesses raced around, up the sides and even on the ceiling of the wagon. Eddie describes the lionesses as “like wall of death riders surging to the top of the bowl”. 
My grandfather, Dick Chipperfield, saw what Eddie considered most likely to be the first ever proper Bounce. He also rescued its most probable inventor, the aforementioned Captain Tommy Purchase. Considering the speed, ferocity and very apparent danger of the Bounce, it seems ironic that it was during the slower paced posing act that Purchase was tragically attacked. This act consisted of two male lions that posed while Rosie, Purchase’s daughter, dancing between them. The act preceded the Bounce, which was performed with a single lioness called “Old Vic” and was presented in just a quarter of the beastwagon. Purchase’s rescue made front page news at the time. Sadly Purchase, an amputee, who presented the act with a wooden leg, died soon after from a gangrenous infection caused by the wounds sustained in the attack. My grandfather would take over Purchase’s acts and then go on to train another Bounce over two decades later. 
According to my father, Tommy Day was another trainer who performed the Bounce at a similar time and might have even worked it before Purchase. After them there were relatively few trainers who attempted the act in circus and/or on the fairground. Eddie lists Jack Luck (Arthur Wigg) on Bostock and Wombwelle’s Menagerie, “Black” Albert Freeman (aka Macomo) and, of course, Eddie himself. Eddie also lists Sedgewick and Albert Mander, which my father contests. Furthermore Eddie completely disregards my family, the Chipperfields, who made up most of the original list that Dad reeled off the top of his head when we were posting up information on the history of the Bounce on my blog. 
Dad lists Dick Chipperfield Snr, Dick Chipperfield Jnr, John Chipperfield and Terry Duggan, adding that “all the acts from ‘Bostock and Wombwelle’s’, ‘Biddel’s’, ‘Sedgewick’s’, ‘Mander’s’, ‘Anderton and Roland’s’ only did posing acts with a few tricks, no running up the walls, which defines the true Bounce”. This is interesting as both Dad and Eddie knew what constituted the “true Bounce”. Perhaps Eddie saw Mander and Sedgewick perform Bounce acts my father wasn’t aware of, but it is very doubtful that Eddie wouldn’t have known about the Chipperfield family’s involvement with the act, seeing as they did so much to promote it in the ‘50s and ‘60s. However, as mentioned previously, Jack Luck did present a bouncing lion act and it is quite possible to assume that this act was taken over by Tommy Kayes as he worked for Bostock and Wombwelle’s Menagerie in its last two years.
Dad told me, and this seems to be also supported by Eddie Campbell, that “Tommy Kayes was undoubtedly the best [at the Bounce]”. 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 five foot higher than the beastwagon. This allowed him to bounce the animals very high. 
The opening trick consisted of a pyramid with the lion, Leo, and two lionesses, Lena and Jubilee, 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. Some of the promotional photographs for this act show Tommy performing the head-in-the-mouth trick with Leo. However, this was rarely done in the actual performance, as Tommy said it slowed the routine down. 
As Eddie Campbell confirms, all good Bounce acts had a great build-up before the trainer entered the cage. Tommy Kayes, it would seem, did this in spades. The big lioness, Jubilee, would stand up at the door with her paws through the bars not letting Tommy in. Sometimes the ringmaster would announce that Tommy couldn’t get in the cage because it was too dangerous. The lions would be sent out and another one or two acts would work until Tommy came back in again. This time Jubilee 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 two lionesses and the lion would make the pyramid instantaneously and then fly off. Jubilee and Lena going up the wall of the cage and Leo would stand stretched up at the side of the cage in the far corner. This would then be repeated at the other end of the cage. Finally the two lionesses would race round the top of the cage and Leo would circle the floor. 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. He would finish by firing his blank cartridge revolver in the air, as the lions charged around. Tommy would make his exit and Jubilee would stand at the bars of door, defiantly roaring. 
Interestingly Tommy Day, who of course worked sometime before Kayes, also had a lioness roaring at the end of the act, but with one significant difference. As Tommy leapt from the beastwagon to take his compliment he left the door open and his lioness roared out of it, directly at the audience. We don’t have any footage or even any photos of Day’s act, but it implies that he didn’t have a safety cage. Dad told me, “I actually achieved this as well when I attempted to train the act, but had a few mishaps, so thought I’d best leave it out".
Eddie says he guessed “provisionally” that the act was English, virtually unknown outside of Britain, but there were possible exceptions to the rule. One came in the form of a John Suki, described by the Williams circus family, who apparently performed quite possibly the greatest Bounce ever in the early part of the 20th century. According to the description of his act, Suki “bounced four lions in synchronised orbits, each leap taking one beast through a fire hoop in mid flight”. Eddie then adds that one of the best Bounces he ever saw – and perhaps the only bouncing male lion – was trained by Frances de Mao. Eddie draws a connection with de Mao and Suki through their periods spent with Harmston. 
After the death of Tommy Kayes, from pneumonia, on 19 March 1946 at a stableyard in Battersea, the Bounce seems to have also died for a period. This is apt, as Kayes seems to have had a furious unequalled dedication to this particular act, his whole career being based on its success, working it against doctor’s orders up until his death. According to John Turner’s unpublished third volume of his circus dictionary, “Twentieth Century Circus People”, Kayes sustained two significant attacks whilst working the Bounce. He was “Attacked by a lion when he slipped and fell, at Skegness, in 1934” and then was “badly mauled by a lion, at the 1937 Birmingham Onion Fair”. After his death Johnny Kayes briefly took the act over, adding another trainer to our short list. However, he ended up only working Jubilee singly and two male lions separately in a Posing Act. 
Nevertheless, there were some signs of the Bounce’s influence in other acts. Harder Johnsen and Sid Howes both had a lioness that bounced up the side of the ring cage in their arena cage acts. These groups of lions were owned by Robert Brothers. It must be noted that these acts were presented in the round caged arena and not the oblong type that Kayes used instead of the beastwagon. Sonya Allen, “The Lady of the Lions”, was the last of the fairground lion shows. At one time she presented three male lions trained by Hans Brick that performed what Eddie called a “Humsti Bumpsti” act, but this was in no way a true Bounce. She was better known for her act with three lionesses, which performed the traditional posing-type act. These animals were eventually sold to Sanger’s. She finished working the fairgrounds in 1955. It wasn’t until 1958, however, when we were to see the bouncer wagon emerge once again.
This was when my uncle Dicki, aged just 15, performed the act. My grandfather, who trained the act, told my father that the original act consisted of three lionesses, but this was reduced to two when my grandfather thought it too slow. He was stopped working by the authorities after a televised performance. My grandfather took it over from Dicki before passing it onto his brother, John. It then went to Terry Duggan. Clem Merk, one of the “house” animal trainers, also attempted to work the act, but despite his impressive background presenting fast-paced lion acts he did not adapt to the bouncer style. He was knocked down a few times in rehearsal and he never worked the act in front of an audience. It would appear that the Bounce was an art all of its own. 
The act was performed in a classic beastwagon, measuring 16’ long x 6’6” wide x 6’6” tall. Dad said that the height varied from trainer to trainer, some preferred the wagon to be 7’ tall inside. He explained to me that “The length and width measurements were crucial for the ‘Bounce’ to be achieved correctly. The height didn’t matter and, in fact, as in the case with Tommy Kayes’ this was an advantage and made a better show”.
Dicki would work it again in 1964 and then when his family’s circus toured South Africa, 1964-67. The act wasn’t worked during ’67. These lions bounced up the side and in the same fashion as Kayes and Dicki’s father, Dick Chipperfield Snr., showing a huge step forward in my uncle’s work since he first worked the Bounce. After this, however, there are no records of anyone else working this type of act again. 
It should be noted here that the Chipperfield and Kayes presentation of the act differed from the early menagerie bouncing acts. Chipperfield and Kayes had bars all around whereas the menageries had three solid sides and only bars at the front. Dick Chipperfield Snr commented to my father that when the Chipperfields stopped travelling with the menagerie and started the circus they had two lion acts, one that appeared in the round arena cage and a second that featured Tommy Purchase’s Old Vic in the wagon. It took some time for the lioness to start working with bars all around, as she had only ever worked in the menagerie style wagon with the three solid sides. 
In 1972 my uncle Dicki and my father attempted to resurrect the bouncer wagon act for an American TV show. Work even began on building the wagon, but it was left unfinished when the contract fell through for financial reasons. Dad also began training his Tommy Day inspired routine, previously described, in 1983 when our circus, Sally Chipperfield’s ceased, but the act sadly would never see an audience.
In 1987 Ringling Brothers Barnum Bailey Circus asked my father to resurrect the Bounce again for their 1988 season as a prelude to his 14 lions in the caged arena, presented by Larry Alan Dean. The wagon was to be pulled around the track by an elephant. Dean would perform the act and then go straight into the main performance. However, it was deemed impractical and the act was substituted for Dean to stand in the wagon with a single lion posing, front paws on a pedestal. 
So, it would seem that the Bounce is destined to remain an exciting but brief part of the history of wild animal acts. However, as a fan of history I have learnt to be careful about ever accepting absolutes. As my father’s good friend Eddie discovered, there are always exceptions to the rule. Martin Lacey Jnr has justifiably won worldwide praise and acclaim for the way he has presented the hugely entertaining act sold to him by my uncle Dicki. It would appear that even in an apparently post-politically correct era, there still isn’t a place for a pistol-firing Tommy Kayes. We at least like to pretend to be more impressed by trainers who can demonstrate mutual affection between themselves and their non-human charges. But deep down we all know that despite the majesty and the undeniable beauty of these wonderful creatures, the root and heart of a wild animal act’s appeal is in the presence of danger. By their very nature lion acts are energetic, but for a brief moment this energy goes to another place in Martin’s act. Three lionesses do more than leap from pedestal to pedestal or even through a hoop, instead they race up the side of the cage and over the top of two other lionesses stretched at the bars. It may not have the same impact as the wagon bounce, but the motion closely resembles the exciting climax of Tommy Kayes’ act. The Bounce may be gone, but it could be argued its reverberation can be felt through the best trainers of today. 
Jamie Clubb is the author of “The Legend of Salt and Sauce: The Amazing Story of Britain’s Most Famous Elephants”, a book he researched with his father, the wild animal trainer and circus/zoo historian Jim Clubb. A completely revised second edition is available from Aardvark Publishing.
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Anonymous said...

Jim Stockley says:

Good article Jamie, well done. I guess I must be getting old ..... I've watched several of the people you mention actually work the bouncer "before my very eyes" ;-)

A snippet to add is that Tommy Day was married to Pauline 'Kit' Chipperfield (1877/1955). Kit was the daughter of Sophie Sarah Chipperfield (1846/1927)who was the sister of your GGreatGranfather, J Francis Chipperfield ....... Chipperfields everywhere in those days !!

Jamie Clubb said...

You do realize how lucky you were! For me, that's like knowing someone who met Lord Byron!