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Thursday, 4 August 2011

Tom Norman on the BBC

Tom NormanImage via WikipediaTom Norman was a pioneer of the fairground industry in Victorian Britain. He was famed for his presentation of the freak-show. Norman was known for the way he would blend the accepted "science" of the era with outright fantasy to provide a back-story for the various "freaks" that were exhibited on his fairs.

The most famous of Norman's employees was Joseph Merrick "The Elephant Man". Contrary to popular belief, largely put across in David Lynch's* fictionalized account of Merrick's life, there is scant evidence that disabled people were especially abused or used like slaves. Often the opportunity to earn by exploiting one's condition - and Merrick was on 50/50 box office split with Norman - was a better alternative to begging, hawking goods or a life in the workhouse. Details of this and the bad representation that sideshows, circuses and their closely related forms of entertainment endure to this day were presented in my article "Circus and Other 'Low' Arts: A Defence"