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Bertram Mills Circus (1920 - 1967)

 Organisation

Dates

  • Existence: 1920 - 1967

Biography

Bertram Wagstaff Mills was born in London on August 11, 1873, the son of Halford Lewis Mills of Smarden, the proprietor of a coach building firm and funerary company.

Bertram became part of the family business as a carriage builder and only became involved in the circus through a wager in 1919 of £100 from Sir Gilbert Greenhall, a fellow coaching enthusiast, who was encouraged by R.G. Heaton, the Managing Director of Olympia to put on a first class circus after watching what was in his eyes a very disappointing show at Olympia.

Mills has originally planned to win the wager by engaging Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey to come to London for the 1920-1921 season but cancellation of the contract resulted in Mills decided to put on his own show. He rose to the challenge and the following year he presented a circus which would become an annual highlight for London audiences and introduced world class performers to the British public.

Between 1930 and 1964, and alongside his annual shows at Olympia, Bertram Mills Circus toured the country under the management of his sons Cyril and Bernard. Following the lines of excellence, production and performance standard set by the Olympia shows, according to Bertram Mills, ‘The Mills Circus will perform like professionals and live like gentlemen."

After approximately nine years of exhibiting in London, he created a tenting show which was said to have cost £40,000 to launch and £2500 to run weekly. With the crème de la crème of circus performers forming part of his touring repertoire, regional audiences thrilled to some of the leading artists of the day appearing in the specially designed German big top which travelled by their town by rail, the first British showmen to do so.

Bertram Mills’ status as an innovator and re-invigorator of the circus was heralded on both sides of the Channel. He only selected the best and most polished performers in the world and one of his major impacts as a producer was his ruthless ability to select the best five minutes of a twenty minute act. Circus historian Don Stacey lists these as part of his five principles the others being the ability to attract and convert influential people to the cause of the circus, using individual acts to promote as the star of the show with his treatment of Koringa being a case in point, and finally his ability in using publicity and marketing for the benefit of the show. As one contemporary commentator observed, 'It is not an exaggeration to say that he brought back the circus to England at a time when it seemed that it was about to quietly expire, killed by the War and mechanical entertainment'.

Mills believed in attracting and encouraging the attentions of the great and the good and following on a tradition laid out in the nineteenth century when circus was patronised greatly by the Royal Family, he aimed to make the Quality Show part of the establishment. From 1926 onwards following a visit of the then Prince of Wales to Olympia, the association between the Bertram Mills Circus and the Royal Family resulted in over sixty visits to the shows during its time in Olympia and other venues.

Bertram Mills became President of the Showmen’s Guild of Great in 1935, only the second circus showmen to hold such a position and the first and only time in its history that the position was occupied by someone not born into the business. He proved to be a successful and capable President, often travelling thousands of miles on Guild business including attending the First International Showmen’s Congress in Paris in 1937. Also this year Bertram Mills was the first circus in the world to be televised.

Mills died at the age of sixty-four of cardiac syncope and bronchial pneumonia on 16 April 1938 at his home, Pollards Wood, Chalfont St Giles, the day the tenting circus opened, at Luton, but the circus opened that evening. His death was greeted by the public and industry alike with shock as tributes to Britain’s No 1 Showman and King of the Circus appearing on the newsstands. However, the legacy he built was second to none, the principals laid down by the Quality Show with its attention to detail, model professionalism and quality of acts would be continued by both his sons and provided a template for the industry to follow.

By 1965 Bertram Mills Circus was in decline due to raising costs and the new way of competition the advent of television brought to the entertainment sector. The last winter season at Olympia was delivered by catering and hotel magnate Maxwell Joseph who leased the business for the 1966-1967 season, which will be the last one. Bertram Mills Circus closed 1967.

Found in 199 Collections and/or Records:

Bertram Mills Circus and Christmas Fair Programme, 16 December 1921 - 21 January 1922

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.489
Scope and Contents

Olympia. Colour illustration of clown in blue outfit with green duck on it, holding a whip on a yellow background and holding a white circle behind his head on the front cover, inside introduction, floor plan of circus and fair, black and white illustrations and photographs of scenes, performers and acts with text, short articles on rides and games and commercial advertising, 11p.p.

Dates: 16 December 1921 - 21 January 1922

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Gouache, 1950

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.31
Scope and Contents Gouache on card, poster design. Olympia Grand Hall, 19 December to 1 February. The 5 Meteors flying trapeze, Adolf Fischer's elephants, Jenny Piccolo and Baby, The Fredonas risley act, The Lorandos comedy wire-walkers, The Phantom Horses, Margot Edwards horseback juggling, The Katyanas and Rondellis with Anita aerial pot pourri, Wacker's jockey dogs, The Schaller Brothers trampoline, La Tosca, Johnny's Teddy bears, The Hollywood Sky ballet, The Percelly's balacing act, The Baker's comedy pas...
Dates: 1950

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.32
Scope and Contents

Gouache on card, poster design. Circus at Olympia, 18th December to 1st February. Colour illustration of two clowns, one in green holding the truck of an elephant, the other in red answering a telephone, background blue and pink, type multicoloured.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.33
Scope and Contents

Gouache on card, poster design signed by 'L C', probably Leon Chossley. Circus at Olympia Grand Hall, 17th December to 1st February. Colour illustration of many circus acts including elephants, two chimpanzees, on on stilts, one on a top horse, horses, six performing poodles led by a woman in a pink dress, acrobats and a clown, background image of circus ring with night sky above, type yellow and white.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Gouache, 1962 - 1963

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.45
Scope and Contents Gouache on card mounted on a wooden board, paper cover on top, poster design. Olympia Grand Hall, 18 December to 2 February. Colour illustration of many circus acts including horses, elephants with a female trainer, a man carrying a cheetah on his shoulders, a tiger, lion, panther and polar bear, three chimpanzees riding a bicycle, three sea lions playing with a ball, a woman balancing on one leg on a bicycle, acrobats and a clown, background image of circus ring with night sky above, type...
Dates: 1962 - 1963

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Gouache, 1966

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.35
Scope and Contents

Gouache on card, paper covering on top poster design. Colour illustration of a leaping acrobat and a single white star, type white, yellow and orange, background blue, 17 December to 29 January.

Dates: 1966

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.36
Scope and Contents

Gouache on card, with type and illustrations glued on seperately, poster design. Olympia Grand Hall, 18 December to 30 January. Colour illustrations of a poodle, a clown and an elephant, background red and blue, type yellow, black and white.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.40
Scope and Contents Gouche on card, paper covering on top poster design. Olympia, 17 December to 1 February. Senorita Mara aerialist, Phyllis Allen's poodles, The Johns trampoline comedy, Rudi Lenz's chimpanzees, The Schumanns present grand carousel, Hermané balacing, fiesta in Valencia by the Schumann family liberty spectacle, Jarz trapeze, Danion's sea lions, Leonardo juggler, Tonito,wire walker, Coco and a host of clowns, Laribles springboard, here comes Robin Hood by the Schumanns high school act, Bertram...
Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.41
Scope and Contents

Gouache on card poster design. Colour illustration of a man carrying a cheetah on his shoulders and three orange tigers, background blue and red, type yellow and white, 19 December to 31 January.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.46
Scope and Contents

Gouache on card, paper cover on top, poster design. 17 December to 29 January, featuring Kossmayers unrideable Mule. Colour illustration of a man being kicked by a donkey, background red and turquoise, type multicoloured.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Transparency, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.49
Scope and Contents

Transparency, with paper type glued on, originally to be layered over a poster design to show possible type for poster, reading 'Bertram Mills Circus and Fun Fair Olympia Grand Hall', type yellow and white. Signed by 'L C', probably Leon Chossley.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills' Circus and Menagerie from Olympia Programme, 1934

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.506
Scope and Contents

Colour artist illustration of laughing Pierrot on a blue and white background with artist signature by Gilbert Holiday on front cover, inside black and white photographs of acts and performers, programme in the centre and commercial advertising, 10p.p.

Dates: 1934

Bertram Mills' Circus and Menagerie Programme, 1931

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.501
Scope and Contents

Olympia, London. Colour illustration of tiger riding a white horse on a blue background on the front cover, inside introduction to who is who in Bertram Mills circus, black and white photographs of performers and acts, programme in the centre and commercial advertising, 8p.p.

Dates: 1931

Bertram Mills' Circus and Menagerie Programme, 1932

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.502
Scope and Contents

Olympia, London. Colour illustration of tiger leaping over a man in traditional Inidan outfit on the foreground and other tigers on the background over blue on the front cover, inside introduction to who is who in Bertram Mills circus, black and white photographs of performers and acts, programme in the centre and commercial advertising, 8p.p.

Dates: 1932

Bertram Mills' Circus and Menagerie Programme, 10 - 14 April 1936

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.509
Scope and Contents

Chelmsford. Black and yellow illustration of cartoon clown's head on top right and black type on yellow background.

Dates: 10 - 14 April 1936

Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Gouache, c1920 - 1967

 Item
Reference code: 178V11.28
Scope and Contents

Gouache on panel painting of four elephants seating on platforms and a handler with his arms raised on brown background.

Dates: c1920 - 1967

Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Programme, Monday 21 December 1925 - Saturday 23 January 1926

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.493
Scope and Contents

Decorative cover containing a colour illustration of Mr Ducrow as the Courier of St. Petersburgh on card on the front cover and programme inside clown in a white outfit with red border ruffles holding a tray full of miniature lions and two black and white horses galloping underneath on a blue background on the front cover, inside introduction, black and white illustrations and photographs of scenes, performers and acts with text and articles and commercial advertising, 24p.p.

Dates: Monday 21 December 1925 - Saturday 23 January 1926

Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Programme, 20 December 1926 - 22 January 1927

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.494
Scope and Contents

Colour illustration of half clown, half white horse creature on a black background on the front cover, bound in black leather cover, inside introduction, black and white photographs of performers and acts with text pink insert with programme and commercial advertising, 33p.p.

Dates: 20 December 1926 - 22 January 1927

Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Programme, 21 December 1927 - 24 January 1928

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.495
Scope and Contents

Colour illustration of Astley performing an equestrian act in 1827 and black and white illlustration of a recreation act on bottom of page on decorative cover, inside elephant's head covered in Spanish head dress and net and holding a tamborin with its trunk on a yellow background on the front cover, inside black and white photographs and illustrations of performers and acts with text, various articles and commercial advertising, 24p.p

Dates: 21 December 1927 - 24 January 1928

Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia Programme, 22 December 1930 - 24 January 1931

 Item
Reference code: 178K43.500
Scope and Contents

Colour illustration of Astley's amphitheatre showing an equestrian act in 1808 on decorative cover, inside nine lions on a blue and orange background on the front cover, inside introduction, black and white photographs and illustrations of performers and acts, programme in the centre with road map, various articles and commercial advertising, 32p.p.

Dates: 22 December 1930 - 24 January 1931