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James Henry Frowde (1831–1899) by unknown photographer, c. 1870 V&A Images, The Victoria and Albert Museum

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Frowde, James Henry (1831–1899), clown and evangelical preacher, was born on 17 April 1831 at Portsea, Hampshire, the first son of James Frowde (1800–1850) and his first wife, Georgiana Margaretta Hengler (1808–1837), an equestrian performer, the daughter of the circus rope-dancer Henry Michael Hengler...

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Nicholai Polakovs (1900?–1974) by Humphrey Spender, 1935 © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Polakovs [Poliakoff, Poliakov], Nicholai [performing name Coco] (1900?–1974), clown, was believed to have been born near Riga, in Latvia in the Russian empire, probably on 5 October 1900, the son of Peter Polakovs, a cobbler who eked out his meagre living by working as a property master in the local theatre, where his mother was a wardrobe mistress. Nothing more is known about her. As a youngster he persuaded his father to allow him to follow a circus career, and during a four-year apprenticeship with the circus of ...

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Richard Tarlton (d. 1588) by John Scottowe The British Library

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Tarlton, Richard (d. 1588), actor and clown, became a legend in his own lifetime and was constantly reinvented for two decades after his death. As a result, fictions about his life have become inextricably tangled with its facts. Thomas Fuller, who was at some pains to verify the facts that informed his ...

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Wettach, (Charles) Adrien [performing name Grock] (1880–1959), clown, was born at Reconvilier, in the Bernese Jura, Switzerland, on 10 January 1880, one of six children of Jean-Adolphe Wettach (1853–1921), watchmaker and café proprietor, and his wife, Cécile Fanny Péquegnat (1853–1941). After leaving school he was apprenticed as a watchmaker, but revealed comic and musical talents, and joined a travelling circus troupe. He took up with the ...