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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Belated Congratulations to Norman Barrett MBE

Norman Barrett, or Uncle Norman as my generation of circus children know him, made circus history in January 2010. He was awarded the MBE for his “services to entertainment”. Norman will go down in history as the first circus ringmaster to receive this award. Speaking to the World’s Fair newspaper Norman, who was born into the circus, recognized the significance of the award:

“As well as being over the moon personally, I am also delighted for the circus industry, and all my friends and colleagues within it. Awards of this nature are very rarely given to individuals in my profession, especially when compared to other forms of entertainment such as film and theatre. This is a real boost for circus and in my view gives the art form the recognition it truly deserves and, sadly, in modern times so rarely gets”.

These words echo the sentiments expressed in my article, “Circus and Other ‘Low’ Art”. Despite being celebrated by royalty at the annual Monte Carlo Circus Festival, the British circus tradition is often swept under the proverbial carpet for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, this is a significant moment in modern circus history as audiences start looking more towards live entertainment again and the fascism of political correctness starts to settle down.

Norman Barrett has several connections to my book “The Legend of Salt and Sauce”. He knew the elephant Sauce when she was Cody’s circus and I cite him as a witness source. Furthermore, he is acknowledged as the successor to the famous archetypical ringmaster George Lockhart Jnr, the son of the elephant trainer who was killed by Salt and Sauce, by being Blackpool’s ringmaster and also working at Belle Vue. Both venues had made Lockhart famous and Norman took the mantle on with style, becoming synonymous with the Blackpool Tower Circus.

My parents were among the guests on the celebrity documentary series, “This is Your Life” focusing on Norman Barrett. During the programme Norman was acknowledged for saving the life of one my parents’ trainers at the Blackpool Tower Circus. Louis Pallacio was attacked by a lion during his performance of my father’s lion act in 1986. It was Norman’s experience, pragmatism, quick wits and courage that enabled him to save Louis that day and the Mexican trained acknowledged this on “This is Your Life”. The show, filmed in 1989, was a very emotional experience as the extent of Norman’s influence and his involvement in the world of circus was revealed. Most of the main circus families were in attendance and Cyril Mills, then head of the famous Mills Circus family, was the last guest on the show to pay respect to Norman. Mills were the first family to promote Norman to senior ringmaster.

However, in addition to being a ringmaster Norman is an animal trainer and this was the career he began in. To this day he still presents his famous budgerigar act on Zippo’s Circus along with his ringmastering.

Belated congratulations, Uncle Norman!

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