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Barry, Thomas (c. 1810–1857), clown, was born in Ireland about 1810. He was noted with Samwell's circus in Swansea in 1842, and as a white-faced ring clown at Astley's circus for long periods between 1843 and 1856. In 1844 he sailed the Thames...

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Cairoli, (Humbert Jean) Charles [performing name Charlie Cairoli] (1910–1980), clown, was born in Affori, near Milan, Italy, on 15 February 1910, the son of Jean Marie Cairoli, who was Italian, and his wife, Eugenie Ricono, who was French. His parents, who were circus performers, were descendants of circus families with a solid background in circus skills and music. As the youngest child (he had a brother ten years his senior) ...

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Croueste [formerly Crowhurst], Edwin (1841–1914), clown and circus proprietor, was the son of Alexander Crowhurst, a shoemaker, and his wife, Mary, née Finch, and was born at Bromley, Kent, on 23 May 1841. His first visit to the circus was in 1851, when he saw ...

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G. C. Boase

revised by Brenda Assael

Flexmore, Richard (1824–1860), clown, whose real name was Richard Flexmore Geatter, was born on 15 September 1824, at Kennington, London, the son of Richard Flexmore Geatter (d. in or before 1849), a comic dancer, and his wife, Ann (1781–1869). He commenced his theatrical career in 1832 when he danced at the ...

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

Article

Joseph Knight

revised by Brenda Assael

Matthews, (John) Thomas [Tom] (1805–1889), clown, was born on 17 October 1805. As a boy he entered the office of the Independent Whig (later known, after other changes, as the Sunday Times). The stage was popular with those associated with the paper, and after working on it for four years ...

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

Article

G. C. Boase

revised by Brenda Assael

Usher, Richard (1785–1843), clown and theatre designer, was the son of the owner of a ‘mechanical exhibition’ who travelled in the north of England and in Ireland. From an early age he shared in the management of this exhibition. He inherited his father's talent for constructing curious contrivances, and a spirit of adventure soon led him to set up business on his own account. With a friend he gave exhibitions in ...

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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 ...