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Oral History of the Circus

Kayes, Jimmy, 1918-2004 (speaker, male; interviewee)


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  • Title:
    Oral History of the Circus
  • Contributor: Kayes, Jimmy, 1918-2004; GIbson, Barbara
  • Other Titles:
    Collection title: Oral History of the Circus

  • Place Name: Interviewee's home, West Midlands
  • Description:
    Tape 1, (F8992), Side A: Jimmy Kayes. Was known as Ranleigh Five for a particular solo act. Born Lidbrooke, Gloucestershire (formerly Monmouth) 17 June 1918 in a caravan in father's travelling circus. Earliest memory of Wembley Stadium to see show in which his family were appearing. All family musical. J drums. Taught to tumble. Ambition to be a bareback rider fulfilled. Reminiscences about grandparents. Mother and Father's background. Great grandfather non-circus background. Further memories of father William Kayes. Later known by locals as 'Buff Bill.' looked like Buffalo Bill. Circus in Ireland. J and his brother's act 'Kayes Brothers Buff Bill's Circus'. Maternal Grandfather related to Scots family 'Reeders'. Kelvin Hall, Glasgow where J ringmastere'd with Roberts Brothers' Circus. Retirement and coming out of. More memories of Kelvin Hall before the war. Remembers Frank Bostock ran it. Blackpool Tower Circus in summer, Belle Vue, Manchester. 1935-1937. Went abroad, 1937, Sweden, Norway with the German Circus Strassburger. Jewish family. Left for Netherlands. Dresden, Germany. 'Zaryzanis', director 'Anstor Zaryzani'. Explains about riding with his brother. Eldest brother Tommy was a lion trainer. Separate acts when father died. Johnny and J rode. Arthur was a clown. Johnny and J started own circus post-war. Recalls family and father's first marriage. Sylvester, uncle of Victor Sylvester. Three Ring Circus at Squire's Gate, Blackpool. Business bad but got better. 1933, describes how the Three Ring Circus operated. Remarks that paternal Grandparents worked on the fairground. Father a sharp shooter and knifethrower. J recalls some of his siblings were born in Ireland. Relatives in Scotland (pronounced surname 'Keys') Father's strokes and death. J's sons. Reminiscences of act in the early days. J played to European royalty and was presented to Queen, then a little girl. Schumanns circus. Brother married Cissie Schumann. Settled in Denmark. J's wife Russian. Maternal Grandparents. J's mother Elizabeth Baker. J explains about his parents' marriage. 'Baker Brothers'. Describes family set up and father's late first wife who J thinks was related to 'Reeders'.

    Tape 1, (F8992), Side B: Father's family from first marriage. Carrie Kayes married Tommy Baker J's mother brought up the Baker boys horse riders. Billy, Dickie and Pat. Steve's death. Description of Second World War and joining Air Ministry and Air Force with Pat. Became PT instructors. Ended up Repair and salvage unit. Patrol in desert. Met Eric Otsen, a sergeant, also named himself Eddie Molloy, formed an entertainment's group. RAF Commanders Group Captain Anthony Evans entertainment's unit. Recruited J and cousin in Cairo. 1944. Entertained the troops. Gang Shows under Ralph Reader. J joined the Gang Shows with Peter Sellers and others. No 6 RAF band: Jimmy Gibbs, Bert Hawkes, Bob Setchall?, Art Turner on saxophone, Collier, a woman in drag, Tony Frances Kayes and Baker crazy comedians. Describes sketches. Like Flannagan and Allen Further memories of Repair and Salvage Unit. J talks about his Arthritis. Broken ankle, Learning to Trick Ride. Becoming a Ringmaster.

    Tape 2, (F8993), side A: Maternal grandparents. Grandmother from Bristol area. Carey Grants. Mother part of stilt walking team on street before First World War. Her stepbrothers joined army. Father's menagerie that J's older brothers Tommy and Arthur performed with. J says he was skinny. Jokes it was because his mother only had one breast as a result of lion attack. Mother's early day in fairground which became a circus. Stepbrothers Timmy Kayes, Dickie Kayes and Billy Kayes. Army and performance. J's oldest boy Tommy, a clown. J finished with circus and got job driving for St Ivel. Lived in caravan just outside Battersea dogs' home. Ringmaster's job with Roberts Brothers in 1983. Anecdote about Zarizani's circus in Dresden before the War. J talks about hand injury and hospital. Robert's brothers and Calvin Hall, Glasgow. Retired again. Zarizani's, Dresden 1938. Joining Strasburgers in Sweden. Toured the Low Countries. War declared, go to Belgium by train. Machine-gunned way to Ghent, Fled on horse. Then drove to Ostend to get boat back. J went to sisters who was lion trainer with Bertram Mills. Their trains were taken over by the army and so they finished. Driving job for Air Ministry at Quedgely. J and cousin signed up for Air Force. Discharge and starting again. Borrowing horses until bought Allemayne.

    Tape 2, (F8993), Side B: J recalls his brother Tommy's accident and later death from TB. Teaming up with Johnny and Lowman after the war in Bert Lowman's Stage Circus. Good time for circus. Rosaires Circus: J's sister Betty was married to Derek Rosaire. Nancy Reeder, Buff Bills first wife. Stepfamily: William, Richard Timothy, Lena, Carrie, and Nellie. Another died. Mother Elizabeth Baker. Siblings: Georgie died young, in Durham. J talks about getting measles Siblings: Tommy, Arthur, then Johnny Jimmy youngest. Females: Priscilla (Cilla), Violetta, Betty, Patricia (Pattie) Started own small circuses. Talks of first home, a 14 foot horse-drawn caravan. Organisation of family, cooking arrangements. J praises his mother. Maternal grandfather: Tom Baker. Taught J's mother to walk the wire. Description of her wire-walking across harbour in Yorkshire. Mother a lion handler and ran business during war. J describes various transactions his father made. Father's horse which ran in the Grand National. J describes discipline: strict but never cruel. The names his father called them. J's fall off a horse. Children encouraged to look after animals and J trained dog. J laments the lack of animals in the modern circus. He describes going Minnesota to see family, Describes case for keeping dogs and horses. Royal Tournament. J talks of Circus origins.

    Tape 3, (F8994), Side A: J talks more about Roman times, chariot racing, roman riding. Mentions Astley in 1850's. J talks about his Ringmaster comeback in Glasgow. J Gives examples of downs and how traditions have gone. Remarks that he was on Television in 1937 in Olympia in a show run by Bertram Mills. Talks of Koringa, a French fakir, 1937-38. More about Bertram Mills. J & Johnnie rode as 'The Cumberlands.' J's riding accident in Arbroath. J and BM dispute over money. Riding again at Circus Schumann in Vienna Circus Renze. Jackie Williams joined them. Talks about agents Stanley Wakeham then later Pauline Marks, Joan Collins' aunt. Discussion about Theatres: Theatre Royal, Dublin. Post War lack of money. Started own circus in second hand tent bought from Chipperfields and stayed in ex RAF aerodrome.

    Tape 3, (F8994), Side B: Talks more about Kayes Brothers Circus. Son born on opening night: J explains contract at Theatre Royal, Dublin. End of show celebration, people from Irish government were there as well as Bishop, Irish film stars. J recalls his wife's faux pas. Reflects that he found out how to run circus by trial and error. J explains how he planned the routes. J talks about managers. Wally Gibson, booked sites. Ronnie Kearsley did publicity ahead. Discusses the cost and insurance. J describes a erroneous litigious case against him in Northern Ireland. J remarks that the Education was overlooked in the past. Different with his sons. How J coped with lack of schooling. J tells of his first appearance in the ring and mentions the laws about circus children today.

    Tape 4, (F8995), Side A: Break. Speaks of his Paris riding engagement at 15. J talks more about ring master work. J describes how they put together their riding act. J describes how to break/train the horse. J mentions some of his tough times. Session end 8.30pm. J says he has enjoyed the interview so far - explains.

    Tape 4, (F8995), Side B: Session 21 December 2000, 10.35am. J talks about people who live in Cradley Heath. A lot are showmen. Fairground people have a lot in common with circus people. Happy to be here. J talks about his present home with son Thomas. J talks about grandsons. Wife Yolande brings coffee. More reminiscences about childhood and travelling in horsedrawn caravans. Description of father's Menagerie circus. Amusing tale about Bear in pub. Comments on the relative cheapness of animal food then compared to today. J says Bostocks had big touring menageries. Memories of Buff Bills Circus, Kayes Brothers Riding Act, music and the family's other skills. There were few conflicts. Talks of how money was merely pocket money. Further description of acts.

    Tape 5, (F8996), Side A: Father was a good illusionist, shooter and snake handler. Mother did costumes after the children were born. J describes the performance. His relationship with father was 'wonderful'. Mother was good with advice. J. talks about differences in families today. As J got older he went to Theatre and wanted to be a dancer or singer or in musical comedy like Morecambe and Wise. Howevesr, strong loyalty with circus. J's partner Pat Baker went to Bertram Mills, Artists met at Cafe Anglais, Leicester Square. J describes. Before that met at Old Express Dairy cafe in Charing X Rd. Artists waited for agents to come in and book them. 'Goon Show' started. Opportunities. Went back to circus. Parents expectations were that he should stay in circus. Thought J may branch out and go into acting. Father's death in 1933 Buff Bill's Circus contd. J says it finished 1926/8 when he was about 10. Baker Boys, J's cousins, branched out on own too. Ringlin Brothers- settled in Sarrasota, America. Parents first settled in Manchester, winter quarters, fairground. Circus work abroad at 15, Man with elephants BUGLIONE? French gypsies. booked them into many circuses throughout Europe: ZARAZANE?, Strasberger, BUSH? Schumann. Discussion of how J. worked for most of permanent circuses here. Kelvin Hall Glasgow, Tower Circus Blackpool, Belle Vue Manchester, Olympia London, In Gammages store, The ??Stage Liverpool. Later worked Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France. Abroad in summer, back in England for permanent circus in winter. Did not always work continuously. Tough - no holidays. Close family - especially close to Johnnie. Talks about a photo taken in early 30's in Skegness. J recalls incident feeding cubs and clawed J.

    Tape 5, (F8996), Side B: Riding after accident. Difficult slippery costumes. Father's stroke and funeral. Newsreel broadcast. Had horses. Daisy, favourite pony was there too. Famous mule went too. Mother's death in the 50's. Brothers' deaths. J talks about photos. Reminiscences about Johnnie and Tommy. He talks of his first teenage romance. Yolande has been main serious relationship. Hero-worship from girls because of the glamour of the job. Describes the moral code in the circus and attitudes towards extra-martial sex, divorce and contraception. Yolande enters and they recall their first week together. Yolande describes their first meeting at the Tower Circus.

    Tape 6, (F8997), Side A: And together they recall Yolande's parents. Father director of all State Circuses in Russia. Y's family Russian. Their life during war. Y's mother's reaction towards J and Y's relationship. Discuss the circumstances that led to their marriage in Brixton. Talk juggling work and first son being born. J describes how he learnt German and remarks on language in general. J talks of his mother's opinion of Y. He comments on lack of prejudice in circus. He remarks on being a British rider abroad.

    Tape 6, (F8997), Side B:Further anecdote about riding in Paris and a description of the . ZARAZANIS's. in Dresden. Speaks of Kayes Brothers Circus with J, Johnny and later Arthur. Describes Arthur's background. Discussion on various acts and everyone's jobs. Remarks about programmes and posters made by 'Burys' from Leicester. J talks of his 3 sons. Describes the demise of Kayes Brothers' Circus and subsequent job on the fairgrounds. J disillusioned with circus. However, in later years J returns to Kelvin Hall.

    Tape 7, (F8998), Side A:Further discusses Fairgrounds Describes his feelings towards Animal Rights People: Comments on his sons' occupation and grandsons. Discusses his children's Education:. Remarks on his attitudes towards 'flatties' - non-circus folk. J explains how he brought up his children. He discusses the relative lack of accidents on fairground. Describes how he instilled respect into his children and his expectations for them. Talks about modern caravans compared to old. Anecdote about driving in his pyjamas and getting stopped by the police on the Edgeware Rd.

    Tape 7, (F8998), Side B:describes a converted bus he owned in 1948. Then saved up and got a car. Story about encouraging the children to start performing. Lists where the boys were born. Talks about driving when he was aged 14. His boys were 8. J remembers Lord Gosforth's castle in Co. Armagh, Ireland where they stayed for the winter. J describes the animals and their quirks. He remarks on the importance of building up trust. Discusses mobile phones and TVs and the changes they have had on 'community'. Discusses the circus schools and compares ringmasters from the past to those of today. Talks of the demise of Kayes circus in the 60's. Remarks on the differences of performing wild animals now and then.

    Tape 8, (F8998), Side A: J remarks the lack of authenticity in a circus without wild animals. And laments the lack of riders about. J mentions the amount of people who have gone to America or Russia where there are still animals. Talks about taking animals abroad. J talks about his animals' trainer licence and the way that the RSPCA would check up. He comments that Health and Safety was not really an issue in his day. Could not get public liability insurance because doing dangerous acts and difficult to get driving licence: Talks about riding on Fairground circuses from early seventies: Talks about getting old. Is currently doing stalls and shows in fairground. Pleasure derived from entertaining the public and meeting people in general. J says does not dwell on bad times, but still thinks of camp in Palestine during war when he had malaria and dysentery, and losing animals in Belgium at beginning of War. Reflects on the Strasburgers. When Germans invaded Belgium they were put in a concentration camp. J talks about his return to England. He describes his family's attitude towards religion and politics.

    Tape 8, (F8998), Side B: J describes his social class. Admires Churchill. Mentions his return from abroad after the war and meeting Yolande again. Lists other 'Best moments of life'. Speaks of the benefits of nerves before a performance and talks of nerves before this interview. J remarks that there is no such thing as bad audience. Describes retirement and starting work again at 69. He still works for his wife and sons. Discussion about 54 years of marriage and disputes they have had. Comments on what they did for their Golden Anniversary. J talks about accidents. Session wind down. J remarked that he was apprehensive about doing interview but that really enjoyed. Jokes that he hopes it's better than Norman Barrett's! J recites a song he often thinks about, they sung in the Gang Show in the War with Peter Sellers and Ralph Reader. ' It's been a lovely party, I'm very glad I came, I think it's time to go home.' Session Ending.

  • Notes:
    Recording: 2000-11-30;
    - Kayes, Jimmy, 1918-2004 (speaker, male; interviewee);
    - GIbson, Barbara, (speaker, female; interviewer)
    Recording Notes: The following sequence is the complete range of calls for this recording: F8992-F8999
    Recording Notes: Unavoidable background noise of banging for first half of hour of interview, from local iron foundry nearby.
    Duration: 8 sixty-minute cassettes
    Access restrictions: None

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