Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Back in the Ring

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Back in the Ring

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

When the famous Billy Smart's Circus last hit the road in 1971, it boasted lions, tigers and a herd of 20 elephants.

It had a 5,000-seat Big Top, 400 employees and an assured place in entertainment history, having been the subject of the BBC's first broadcast in colour.

This week, after a dormant three decades, a leaner and animal-free Billy Smart's Circus makes a comeback in the North-East.

But marketing director Chris Barltrop is confident that Billy Smart's, having survived the UK campaign to ban animals and the rival attractions of the digital era, is now here to stay.

"The new Billy Smart's is about a quarter the scale of the old one but the lights, the music and the production values are as advanced now as they were when the old circus was in its heyday," he said.

"The new show is in accordance with current fashions. We have some of the best acts in the world and it is still great family entertainment."

But controversy is still in the mix with flamboyant costumes, make-up and candyfloss.

Mr Barltrop, also a councillor of the performers' union Equity, said that a new Licensing Act, due to come in next spring, could put circuses smaller than Billy Smart's out of business.

"The Government forgot about circuses when they were drawing up the legislation and so now they have to be treated the same as a theatre," he said.

"We say it is wrong for a circus, which might only be in a particular place for a week, to have to pay the same licence fee as, say, the Theatre Royal does for 12 months."

A statement from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said the new Act "will slash red tape, streamlining six regimes into one and cut costs, saving the industry nearly pounds 2bn in the first 10 years".

It said public entertainment was licensable because of safety issues and the Act simply introduced "a level playing field" for all venues.

It said the DCMS would encourage local authorities to licence common ground so circuses wouldn't need a separate licence.

Finally, it said it was working with the Arts Council and the circus sector "to identify ways in which we can help circuses make the transition to the new licensing arrangements". …

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