RetroProgressive: Media circus of horrors

London Fashion Week seems positively staid compared with some of the events going on in our capital city. Last night I read about the nude ‘burlesque’ performances attended by Prince Harry and other well known public figures at a controversial new club in Soho. I also heard that the choreographers of circus acts for pop stars like Lady Gaga will be responsible for the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony.

Circus culture is part of our national heritage. In fact, this week in Blackpool, Showzam presents a week long festival of magic shows, circus style entertainment and ‘new variety’. The unique presentations are intended to be old fashioned family fun: collections of pinball machines, illusionists, an ‘Insect Circus Museum’ housed in a vintage mahogany lined, Bedford TK beetlebox lorry. There’s Cleo, the five inch tall girl-in-a-goldfish-bowl, the headless lady, The Monster Show… and even a ‘Blackpool Tower and Circus Heritage Trail.’

However, there’s also a fringe element that feeds off an extreme kind of voyeurism, popularized by the media and the likes of Channel 4’s Beauty and the Beast. This could largely explain why freak shows, especially popular in Victorian times, are now making something of a comeback.

On Sunday night in Blackpool, the Circus of Horrors will present their new show  – The Four Chapters from Hell.

The circus troupe, set up by Dr Haze around 15 years ago boasts a “sensational cast of freaks and oddities…Imagine if Quentin Tarantino had directed the Cirque du Soleil then you would only be half way there.” The circus also comes with a warning that it “contains nudity and language of an adult nature and is not suitable for children.”

The acts make for compelling, if cringe-worthy viewing. What happens when ‘mistress of the machete’ Anastasia meets the giant ceremonial circumcision sabre?  Or when Nicole the contortionist gets into her tiny ‘fertility’ bottle – as seen by millions on This Morning in 2008.

It’s positively painful watching some of the performances. Never mind Richard and Judy, rubber man Gary Stretch will have you writhing in revulsion.

And circus dwarf Captain Dan’s bizarre ER encounter with Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, when his “key prop” gets a broken nozzle, is simply too much to bear…

Whatever next?

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

5 thoughts on “RetroProgressive: Media circus of horrors

    February 19, 2011 at 13:27

    I remember there was a similar surge in interest in this kind of stuff approx 10 years ago with the jim Rose circus.I note prince Harry was at london’s the box club the other night having a walk on the wild side too. Everyone’s at it it seems

    February 19, 2011 at 16:21

    Thing is Susan, anyone deliberately turning off the M6 onto the M55 and following it to its end seriously needs to have their bumps felt.

    Hollywood had a love affair with the big top, such luminous beefcake as Lancaster, Burt and Curtis,Tony swinging thro’ the air with the greatest of ease, those men on the flying trapeze. I say men, Burt broke the heart’s of thousands of nineteen fifties women, broke them even more when he was discovered to be a raving pooftah. Gina Lollobrigida et al added the cleavage stuff. None of them could act their way out of a paper bag but hey, who cares.

    The advantage of all this celluloid malarky is the lack of smell, circus being what circus is, bears, effelant’s and stuff and therefore liable to poop at the least excuse, the real thing was eminently missable.

    As usual though, interesting post on a whacko subject. In the pursuit of political correctness I have used restraint and not included the link between circus and gypo.

    My god, did I say gypo, I meant travelling people, sorry, sorry.

    February 19, 2011 at 18:50

    I hadn’t thought of the pong factor, Malty, but now you mention it, my mother forbade me from seeing a circus because they smell so horrid. Didn’t put Princess Stephanie off though.

    An interesting point is that human circus performance is now seen as something of an art – as in the Cirque du Soleil and the Circus Oz. And why not if Olympic level gymnastic skills, combined with ballet style sado-masochistic discipline, are required? A hazardous occupation though – definitely not for dabblers…didn’t Tony (or Burt) fall rather dramatically and get a bloody imprint of the safety net on his back or chest?

    Anyways, seems that media fascination lies with the freakish elements rather than the cultural aspects of our identity. As with Big Brother and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which I haven’t watched, but have heard people talking about (and seen photos of the freakish fashions in magazines).

    Could the media’s general leaning towards the lowest common denominator have led to aspirational freakdom? Hence the number of piercings and tattoos.

  4. Brit
    February 20, 2011 at 19:03

    Yikes.. that was, that was….just horrible….it was…Richard Madeley!

    February 20, 2011 at 21:45

    Re: Hollywood’s love affair with the big top, Malty, Water for Elephants is coming soon…

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