Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Life and Times of Charlie Cairoli…an extremely potted biography

A lot of people have a thing about clowns. Not in a good way. For reasons best known to psychoanalysts (and possibly not even them) the white-faced, bulbous-nosed, baggy-panted bas…er…buffoons are often regarded as the stuff of nightmares. There is a name for the condition – Coulrophobia, apparently. Many have been used in horror movies simply because, well, let’s be honest, they’re disgustingly ghastly.
However, not even the most psychotic of clown-o-phobics could possibly hate Charlie Cairoli, at one time, quite possibly, the most famous clown in the whole of Britain, if not the World. He was loved both in the ring (careful) and in everyday life.
Let’s have a photograph of him shall we?

There he is look, the famous Blackpool Tower Charlie-Chaplin look-a-like, accompanied by his substantially less well-known, morbidly made-up sidekick. Throughout his career Charlie had four white-faced companions, respectively Paul Freeman, Paul King, Paul Conner and Charlie Cairoli Junior, explaining why the adverts generally read: “Charlie Cairoli and Paul.”
Here’s another photograph of the great man himself, this time doing his bit for Women’s Lib.

Charlie was born Carletto Cairoli in Milan on February 15th 1910. He made his performing debut at the early age of seven. Following a stint with his father at the Cirque Medrano in Paris, followed by a short tour of Europe, the Cairoli family joined the Tower Circus in 1939.
Charlie remained there for thirty-nine years. He might not have been the first clown in the Tower, but he certainly stayed the longest.
I think. Somebody might have lasted longer than him actually, but I’m not in the mood for researching today. Whatever the case, he eventually died in 1980.
It’s time for a shot of the interior of the Tower Circus, just to set the scene, I reckon.

The Tower Circus wasn’t the earliest circus in Blackpool by any means (that honour goes to a big top that once stood on the site now occupied by the Grand Theatre) but it was certainly the most impressive, as the painting of it above illustrates.
Every show would end with a spectacular display of fountains in which the ring would fill with water.
Charlie Cairoli was also famous for his musical ability.

The clarinet (yes, I know he’s holding a trombone in the photograph, but I couldn’t find one of him holding the clarinet so it’ll have to do) was one of his favourite instruments, so much so in fact that he had a glass mouthpiece especially moulded for his own.
Years later, a friend of ours (who shall remain nameless for reasons which will become clear as this tale unfolds) was a budding, if not terribly enthusiastic, clarinettist herself. As a way of encouraging her to practice, her father bought the afore-mentioned mouthpiece. Unfortunately, one evening, following a drunken teenage binge, our anonymous friend collapsed onto the bed where she’d left her clarinet and, being a bit on the hefty side, shattered the mouthpiece into pieces.
Charlie Cairoli fans are no doubt reeling in horror round about now, so perhaps it’d best if we ended this article with one final photograph of the Tower Circus in full swing.

There’s nothing like a pack of small yappy dogs being mistreated to cheer people up, is there?


Anonymous said...

Charlie has never been truly recognised for his contribution to Blackpool Tower Circus.

Brian Hughes said...


I remember seeing Charlie Cairoli at the tower when I was a kid, and to my mind, he was the circus. Him and Norman Barrett, the ringmaster.

Anonymous said...

Great days Brian i still over 40 years later remember my visits to the Tower Circus.

Brian Hughes said...


Even though, of course, I'm only twenty-three I remember my own visits just as clearly.

Anonymous said...

We had change from ten shilling and a bag of chips on the way home.

Brian Hughes said...

I still had change from a doubloon.

Ro said...

Lovely post on your local history :)
So nice to know that Jimmy-on-the-throne didn't set the clown swinging from a giblet for witchcraft.
It's the mimes, no one likes mimes...

Brian Hughes said...

Thankyou thoughts exactly.

John said...

Nice. I'm not one for clowns myself, but yo have to admire someone who can stick by a job like that for so long.

T'aint easy. :0)

Brian Hughes said...

Cheers John...will be back in seven days time when I've got some more credit for my dongle.

Hels said...

I think the Tower Circus must have looked fantastic and appealed to a lot of families during their holiday period. Thank you for the link to your photo


james francis said...

I've never been to Blackpool Tower Circus,but I'm sure I saw Charlie and Paul at Bertram Mills at Olympia in late forties or early fifties. Yes, I can remember that far back !

Anthony Pilkington said...

I remember his exploding car. He was just side splitingly funny. Custard pies?

Anonymous said...

I was a huge fan of Charlie Cairoli as a child and I badgered my family to take me to see 'Holiday on Ice' purely because he was performing in the interval. I was nearly 7 and as the first half ended, one of my relatives (I can't remember which one as I'm now 44) asked me if I was enjoying the show. I said it was good, but not as good as Charlie Cairoli and I asked when I would see him. I felt a tap on my shoulder. He was sitting behind me. I was so excited :-) He bowed, kissed my hand, tweaked his hat and disappeared. I took my friend's children to the circus this evening and told them this story. I had no idea he was so famous and although he probably did the same thing for thousands of children, it meant the world to me and I never forgot him.

Lynette said...

When I was about five years old I went to the circus and Charlie took me to the centre of the ring and gave me a bucket of water and Paul told me to Chuck the water at Charlie .And when I was a teenager I had the greatest honour of meeting the great man and being introduced to him he was dressed in his street clothes and I had never met such a smart man he wore a trilby hat with a snake skin band round it. I later moved to Blackpool and I used to pass his son when I took my daughter to the beach and his son is just a gentle man like his Dad. So Charlie came into my life such a lot god bless him and Paul.

Margaret Watson said...

Amazing and very special memories of visits to the tower circus as a girl aged about eight (l am 55 now)visiting every summer for as long as l can remember, Charlie Caroli (with his buckets of water) & Paul (in his sky blue & silver outfit) stick in my mind the most, also the same ringmaster that was there for quite a few years. Seeing all the animals & for the grand finale at the end the floor was lowered & the water show was out of this world, will never forget it, an amazing circus with amazing fantastic performers. Mrs Margaret Watson