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Friday, 26 August 2011

The Pride of Larry Lamb

Archie MitchellImage via WikipediaIt's not even a year on from the Welsh TV show, "Coming Home" revealing the wild animal training ancestry of actor Michael Sheen and the nationwide equivalent, "Who Do You Think You Are?" has established another celebrity circus connection. Larry Lamb, who used to play "Eastenders" soap opera villain "evil" Archie Mitchell and as Mick Shipman in the hit comedy series "Gavin and Stacey", told The Mirror and Daily Mail newspapers that he didn't know much about his heritage due to his mother being adopted. Press reports of the show reveal that Lamb's great-great uncle was Thomas Day known as "Martini Bartlett the Lion King". What they don't expand - and hopefully the show will - is that Day was married to Pauline "Kit" Chipperfield. Chipperfield, a relation of mine on my maternal side, and therefore part of another circus family famed for wild animal training and presenting. Day was also the brother of James "Wild Beast" Day of the once famous Day's Menagerie.

Lamb's reaction was very similar to Michael Sheen's when he discovered the truth about his cultural heritage. He told "The Mirror", a paper that is usually found criticizing traditional circuses and especially wild animal training, the following: 

“To be related to these people, the same clan – wow. My mum always nursed this dream that she would meet her mum again so when this programme was offered I thought this would be a good thing for her. It was all surprises. The whole female side and the male side were a complete surprise.

"I had always figured I was a kind of a Johnny-come-lately who had tumbled into the entertainment ­business by accident, when in fact I was probably at least part-way genetically programmed to be in it.
“This travelling instinct is in the family and the showman element is the answer to a lot of questions. I love it. It’s wonderful.”

The truth is that plenty of actors of the past had deep roots in the world of circus and variety, but such as is the nature over-taking showbusiness trends (and not mention a bit of British cultural snobbery that often marginalizes traditional circus) that this all-too-often becomes forgotten. The "Time Shift" TV shows "When the Circus Comes to Town" and "All the Fun at the Fair" have recently done a small amount to address this balance, reminding older generations and educating new ones just how much circuses and fairs used to mean to the population of the UK.

The circus world are no doubt shaking their heads at the irony of The Mirror and The Daily Mail being the two tabloids who have chosen to take up this story and both of them showcasing it in a positive light. Both papers, along with The Independent that wrote positively about the two "Time Shift" shows, have waged a history of aggressive and poorly researched campaigns targeting animal training in circuses.  

However, it is little surprise to those who support circus culture that the creative team behind the programme would find the story so appealing. According to press reports  show producer Tom McDonald, "singled out Larry's episode as the one of which he is most proud":

“It could stand as a documentary in its own right. It is just a downright wonderful story. I don’t think you can watch it without being moved.”

Link to Prime Unreality TV's report.
Link to The Mirror's report
Link to The Daily Mail's
Link to The Independent's report on "When the Circus Comes to Town".

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