A LEADING British circus performer for many years, who featured at Billy Russell’s Circus at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth on several occasions has died at the age of 87.

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Ken MacManus retired from the sawdust ring with his wife Clara Paulo in the early 1990s, swapping a touring living trailer for a bungalow at Gosperton near Spalding.

Kenneth Gordon MacManus was born in Plymouth in February 1925 into a naval family. As a teenager, he followed his elder brother Henry “Lightning” MacManus, formerly a professional boxer, into the world of circus.

Henry had joined Paulo’s Circus as a stud groom, and Ken became a horse groom in the 1940s.

Henry married Madge Paulo and in 1943, ken married another of the eight siblings, Clara. They were inseparable until April 2001 when Clare died aged 79.

Paulo’s Circus before the first world war by Frisco Frank Paulo and his wife Madame Clara Paulo became one of Britain’s most appealing medium-sozed circuses in which the principals and their eight children blossomed to perform a variety of skills, filling the programme with their riding, animal acts, acrobatics and aerial stunts.

The show toured even during the lean years of the second world war and Ken MacManus became an accomplished rider and performer despite having had no training in the circus arts.

In 1949, the Paulo Circus closed and the family went off to Finland to present eight of their acts with the Cirkus Sarriola. Other European engagements followed including visits to Norway, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. In Holland they worked with Circus Mikkenie, in which the headline star was celebrated Hollywood film star Sabu, the Elephant Boy, who presented a group of trained elephants.

The family riding set dispersed and in 1955, Ken and Clara’s own troupe of riders first appeared as The Mohawks at the Hippodrome in Yarmouth. They returned as the Gordinis in the summer of 1962 for Russell’s successors, Ben Dean, and in 1969 again as the Mohawks, this time the troupe included Ken and Clara’s only child, Evelyn.

It was while appearing in Yarmouth that Evelyn met and fell in love with a young ringboy, John Darnell, who lived In the Camperdown area. John and Evelyn had three children who all followed into the circus industry, their grandchildren now representing the sixth generation of circus artistes.

Ken and Clara’s various riding troupes appeared in all the leading circuses in Britain postwar and the family also featured in the circus scenes of Dickens’ Hard Times, filmed in Manchester by Granada.

Retiring from riding in 1978, Ken and Clara and their children started their own travelling circus in 1983 to revive the revered Paulo’s Circus title, running it successfully for a decade.

In 2000, the Paulo’s Circus title was revived yet again, by the son of John and Evelyn Darnell, Kenny and other members of the family, a show which can be seen travelling throughout the country to continue the traditions of a proud family in which Ken and Clara MacManus were the leading players.

Ken died on August 24 at Boston Hospital.

By Don Stacey

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