The History of a Circus Family

At the Circus there are people from all over the world; Hungary, Italy, France, Russia, Romania and California to name a few. Many Circus troupes involve all generations of a family, children will work with their parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents and as a result each part of the act will have Circus running through their veins.

Pat Bradford is part of a Circus dynasty stretching back four generations and he was telling me the other day about this extraordinary family. The Bradford’s have worked in all the world’s major Circuses including Knie, Bouglione (built by Napoleon) and Caroli. Pat’s Circus ancestry began with the infamous “Globe de la Mort” act. His great Grandpa, Grandma and her brother would ride a motorbike each inside a circular metal cage, continually criss-crossing and weaving around one another at breakneck speeds. It is known as the most dangerous Circus act of all and the Bradford family started touring in the fairgrounds of Belgium soon performing further and further a field as news of this daring act spread.

During the war the Bradford’s popularity continued to increase. They toured to entertain soldiers, in Belgium they began with performing for the Germans and then the Americans. Pat told me that during the war they were paid in everything from food to white mink coats. On one occasion, they were paid with pink diamonds which Pat’s Grandma would wear in the act, looking exquisite with Pat’s Grandpa wearing a bowler hat with all the dapper elegance of Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”. Pat’s Grandmother, born in 1900 started hand balancing with her brother when she was just eight years old. They would jointly perform double one-arm handstands and flying trapeze acts. The Bradford troupe also did a Spring Board act and headstands 3 men high while Pat’s father did double somersaults which were very rare at the time and astonished audiences.

Pat’s Grandma also developed a perch act where she would balance her husband on a 7 metre high pole. They would move seamlessly between hand and head stands and the main attraction of their act was when Pat’s Grandfather would perform a head stand on the perch while also playing a mandolin. The level of balance and consistent concentration this would take is truly astounding. The involvement of music with hand-balancing is continued by Pat and Kate’s act this year, integrating the balancing skills into the quick beats of tap dancing.

At fifteen Pat’s brother broke his knee and rather than continuing veterinary studies, Pat began touring in his parent’s swing act. He learnt in 3 months what would usually take a year. The reasoning for this was his experience in trampolining that taught him to “know where his body was in the air” giving him the fearlessness the best acrobatic technique requires. The creation of this act was an amazing piece of foresight as only Russian troupes performed it previously and the swing act grew to be one the most popular acts in Circus. They worked in South Africa, Australia and European Circuses including the illustrious Franz Althoff Circus which dates back to 1660. Pat told me that it looked astoundingly impressive with 3 rings in the Big Top.

Pat and Kate met while working in the Moulin Rouge. Kate was a dancer and choreographer and by this time, Pat had been performing his act for 15 years. He told me that when Kate joined his act, the whole of Paris was wildly impressed, all asking him “where did you get this girl?”. She had toured with him during his solo performances but Pat saw that Kate’s “feet were itching to create” and so they choreographed an act at the Tiger Palace Theatre in Frankfurt. Since then their act has proudly upheld the world renown name of the Bradford family and all that it entails. Through the audience’s amazement in Circuses all over, we can see that still it endures.

For more information about Circus history and to see some beautiful Circus photographs visit http://terenceruffle.co.uk/20090223-terence-solo-blog-bostock-and-wombwells-circus.

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