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Zippos Circus (Established 1986)



Zippos Circus was established by Martin Burton (b.1954) in 1986. Martin, a qualified teacher with an interest in performance, started to work with a mime troupe in the 1970s and by 1976 he was pursuing a career in clowning. On the following three years Martin appeared many times at London’s Roundhouse with his clowning act, which was followed by a tour of Australia.

In 1980 Martin suffered a serious accident while performing a fire eating act and was hospitalised for a year while undergoing reconstructive surgery. Once he recovered he started training with veteran acrobat Johnny Hutch (1913-2006), who had famously won the Circus World Championships aged 64 years old. Martin never thought of establishing his own circus until he met Johnny, who eventually convinced him to become an impresario. Martin applied for a grant from British Petroleum for a unique and modern design of circus tent and started operating Zippos circus in 1986 on Highbury Fields. From the onset, Zippos Circus was a very modest, animal free show, which relayed heavily on the quality of the performers and the entertainment provided by the clowns. The initial cast was formed by four clowns, two jugglers and a pianist, over the years the cast grew to offer a range of performances and include equestrian acts as well as Sir Norman Barrett’s budgerigar act. Norman Barrett (b.1935) joined Zippo Circus’s as its Ringmaster in c.2004 and he still remained in this role in 2021.

Zippos Circus also presents Cirque Berserk, a theatre stage based circus show. Martin also set up the Academy of Circus Arts, a circus training programme running from May to September every year to train new talent.

Found in 7 Collections and/or Records:

Circus Friends Association Collection

Reference code: NFA0122
Scope and Contents

This collection consists of a large library of books and journals, as well as archival material including posters, programmes, photographs, films, handbills, research material, scrapbooks, original artwork and many other items of ephemera relating to British, Irish and European circuses

Dates: 1795 - 2020

John Anderson Collection

Reference code: NFA0152
Scope and Contents

Colour and black and white born digital photographs of Zippos Circus taken by John Anderson in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield

Dates: 2017

Photographs, 2017

Reference code: 178C115
Scope and Contents

Colour and black and white born digital photographs of Zippos Circus while performing in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, tken by John Anderson.

Dates: 2017

Posters, c1887 - 2010

Reference code: 178R27
Scope and Contents

Circus, variety, pantomime and magic posters including Argyle theatre, Liverpool Empire, Blackpool Tower Circus, Robert Brothers, Austen Brothers, Sorcar, Vesta Tilley, Ken Dodd, Dan Leno, Florrie Forde and others.

Dates: c1887 - 2010

Programmes, c1800 - 2019

Reference code: 178K43
Scope and Contents

A collection of mainly British and international circus programmes and some variety and music hall programmes containing circus acts.

Dates: c1800 - 2019

Zippos Circus Poster, c1990 - 1999

Reference code: 178R27.190
Scope and Contents

Peckham Rye. Featuring stars of the Chinese Circus. Contains colour illustration.

Dates: c1990 - 1999

Zippos Circus Programmes, 1995 - 2018

Reference code: 178K43.617
Scope and Contents

Zippos Circus programmes cotaining colour photographs of performers and acts with text and programme.

Dates: 1995 - 2018