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Topic: Genuine Flea Circus
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 17, 2007 01:57PM)
After after lots of research and some frustrating experimentation, I've just posted my first preview of 'Professor Cockerill's Flea Circus' on YouTube. There is more to come but I couldn't resist putting up this taster!


I'm still trying to collect information and ephemera about genuine flea circuses (especially first-hand accounts) so would love to hear from anyone who saw or worked on the original shows or can put me in touch with people who did. Cheers!
Message: Posted by: Doug Higley (Dec 17, 2007 02:59PM)
Do a search on the Café Tim...I remmember some discussions about the one in Hubert's Museum Times Square NY that I saw many times. Prof Heckler's was excellent.

Looks like you're coming along fine with yours!
Message: Posted by: gaddy (Dec 17, 2007 09:15PM)
Hehe. funny! I like the Juggling flea best...
Message: Posted by: Todd Robbins (Dec 17, 2007 10:34PM)
This is one of the greatest things that I have ever seen. It is so great to know someone is keeping this tradition alive. Beautiful. This made my year.
Message: Posted by: Parson Smith (Dec 18, 2007 02:01AM)
Absolutely beautiful.
You have caused me to consider whether or not I should use an overhead type projector to help our spectators see.
To date, I have only used my invention, the Visual Recombobulator, to aid in vision.
But now......????????

Great work.
Great work.

Message: Posted by: Kondini (Dec 18, 2007 06:11AM)
Think I posted on this before!!
The last real Flea show I saw was around twenty five years ago at Marlborough back end Mop Fair.
After putting wanted adds in the Worlds Fair I made contact with the decendants of Testo`s Flea Circus, (This was performed inside of a Roundun with the sides sheeted in stripe canvas giveing the look of a mini big top.)
The complete show with harnesses etc was offered to me for £3000,,,and at the time I was prepared to take the gamble.
So being me,,,,and wishing to cover my outlay,,,prior to making it !! I advertised my show !!! and got seven pre-season gaffs lined up.
The following weeks were like a nightmare,,,with letters comeing from Councils owning the booked gaffs, vermin control and even a letter from the misguided animal rights people,,,so I was to be shut down before I even purchased.

So no sale as a result,,,,but not to be detered (My back was up with the paper pushing parasites)I took a cod version out for two seasons working under the name of Proff Frisko and his Performing Fleas,,,The first set made by myself and presented as a lecure with me dressed in a white coat complete with stethoscope (God knows why !)Was recieved pretty well but the income was not enough to cover the ground rents,,,,so this went in the bin.
Next option worked well with the purchase of Bob Lunns Flea Circus and presented his way dressed in Leotard, Pith Helmet and controlling the Fleas with a bullwhip !!!
I used this version for over fifteen years on and off,,,mainly kids shows,,it just didn`t work on the Showgrounds in the UK.

So that`s a breakdown of my experiences of working performing Fleas.

I hope the Powers that be in the US are of a more humane vintage than the pratts here in the UK.

Message: Posted by: Doug Higley (Dec 18, 2007 08:27AM)

Check that link for some info from Todd and others...

and good grief!!!!!!! I put Heckler's instead of Steckler's in previous post...the typos are taking over...
Message: Posted by: ssucahyo (Dec 18, 2007 09:46AM)
This is much better than the battery version....
But the fleas looks not happy with that :o( try to give them bigger sharing. hua..hua..hua....

Message: Posted by: Father Photius (Dec 18, 2007 11:39AM)
Oh I can see the PETA protests now! That's the kind of flea circus that leaves you just itching to see it. Great video!
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 20, 2007 04:50PM)
Thanks everyone for the comments!

Todd, it really means a lot to hear that - I've still got a fair way to go, but have managed to collect some great accounts from original flea proprietors, so all will be documented! It's amazing (or perhaps not, considering the business) how much the real techniques stray from the consistently similar accounts found all the way through the 19th and 20th century.

Thanks for the links Doug, and great to see some of Slim's posts in the original flea circus thread. It was great to hear your description of the original props you saw in Hubert's; I've attached a photo I took of the retired Testo props earlier this year. The one act that I really want to know about from Heckler's circus (and John C. Ruhl before them) is the act of a flea carrying a flag and jumping through a hoop. I've managed to recreate it to some extent, but would love to hear if you remember seeing it.

Ken, it still shocks me how small minded councils and the animal rights lot can be. I've come across so much just trying to get hold of fleas (although perhaps the questions and strange looks are understandable in this case). It's incredible how much they can spend thousands on 'preserving' such things in museums but are scared of the thought of having a real working show on their plot. Have you seen the photos of the Testo show at the NFA? At least there's one institution that tries to keep some of the old acts working rather than keeping everything behind glass. http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/db/fairground/gjpg.jsp?id=00450811
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 20, 2007 04:53PM)
Here are the Testo props...
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 20, 2007 04:56PM)
And one for scale...
Message: Posted by: Harley Newman (Dec 20, 2007 06:19PM)
More! More!

Message: Posted by: fishwasher (Dec 21, 2007 04:43AM)
Those pictures look amazing!

I second Harleys request :)
Message: Posted by: Kondini (Dec 21, 2007 09:10AM)
If I mention Dingles to you,,,, that is the direction I would take if I wanted to work this type of show live,,,Alan Ford (Wall of Death) Put me in their direction,,,,pur gold !!!

Message: Posted by: Doug Higley (Dec 21, 2007 10:21AM)
Those Testo Props are BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!!!!!

One thing that's interesting to me is the performance area photos and the position of the punters so close to the action...couldn't have that today! Or maybe they were staged...all shows I ever saw were behind a glass shield.
Message: Posted by: T-RAY (Dec 21, 2007 11:38PM)
The FLEA CIRCUS LIVES!!! Right on Tim! :)
Message: Posted by: Kondini (Dec 22, 2007 06:37AM)
Have seen only a handfull of shows and they were presented all the same way. The worker sits at a table (Card table size) The punters all stand around the table even behind the worker looking over his shoulder. This is what killed the shows, minimal punters = minimal income up against huge rents,,,ie our rent for a ten foot pitch at Bridgend show (Wales) Last week cost £600 for four days plus parkup of £78, so imagine how many punters at a pound per head (If you could get it)Would be required at approx 15 to 20 per performance in order just to cut even !!!

Like it or not, the fact is that such shows are not viable in todays Fair Tobers,,,If the Riding Masters who control the Tobers had foresight,,,,then maybe they could permit such shows to free rent,,,,in the name of preservation.

I have been fighting for years to keep unusual entertainment on the shows and found only negativity from the showmen who are only interested in how many XXXXXXX`s they can get from a pitch !!!

As my flyer states,,,we specialise in the preservation of unusual entertainment and it`s a bloody hard struggle !!!

Message: Posted by: Harley Newman (Dec 22, 2007 09:05AM)
In all the years I've been doing this, I still don't understand how rides can be called a "show", or how their owners can be called "showmen". WE are showmen.

May all your holidays, be everything you desire!
Message: Posted by: Doug Higley (Dec 22, 2007 10:31AM)
Can be done with a small bleachers and a Large Vid Screen to increase the tip.
Message: Posted by: The Feegee Mermaid (Dec 22, 2007 08:49PM)
Its cool to see things like this are still around today. Ive allways wanted to see a Flea Circus, Thanks.
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 23, 2007 07:11PM)
Here's my set of props - by no means finished - some are still prototypes and others are working. It didn't take me long to discover that half the challenge of trying to start a flea circus is building these buggers!

Cheers for the Dingles tip Ken, I reckon you're right about that being the way to go. How do you feel about updating old ideas for use on showgrounds - like Dr. Fryte's Freak Show has done over the past few years here? It wasn't at Hull Fair this year but has done really well previously.

Doug - was the Heckler show behind glass? I haven't heard it mentioned in any accounts I've read of it. I know Cardoso used a video screen to increase the tip in her circus - I read that when she was in museums the demand was so high that you had to win a ticket to get into the proper show. The Mathes Flea Circus at the Oktoberfest in Munich has the audience really close - the first row (usually kids) have their noses almost touching the props.
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 23, 2007 07:13PM)
Some more...
Message: Posted by: tim_mantis (Dec 23, 2007 07:14PM)
Last set...
Message: Posted by: The Feegee Mermaid (Dec 28, 2007 04:17AM)
Those props are amazing. :)
Message: Posted by: Prof. Pabodie (Dec 29, 2007 01:23PM)
I have a question. This thread is fascinating, but could someone please explain the difference between a flea circus and a 'genuine' flea circus? Is it true that fleas were actually used, as the video illustrates? Where is there more reading material on this? I know a lot about mechanical flea circuses, but not much about this. Or am I being gullible? Thanks for any information you can provide.
Message: Posted by: Todd Robbins (Dec 29, 2007 01:45PM)
Yes, real fleas were used at one time. It is a practice that has all but vanished.

Click on the thread listed earlier and you will find a whole discussion about the subject.