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Smart, Billy (William), 1894 - 1966

 Person

Biography

William 'Billy' Smart was one of twenty-three children born into a fairground family from London. Born in 1894, Smart worked with his family on the fairgrounds of London and the South East from an early age up until his marriage to Dolly in 1925, after which he branched out with his brothers to set up his own fair. Billy and Dolly had thirteen children.

By the 1930s he was an established member of the fairground community in the South East and London area and travelled with up to ten rides, with some of his rides featuring alongside Bertram Mills' Circus at Olympia in 1939. More success followed in the war years when he operated some of London's largest morale-boosting Holiday at Home Fairs, supplying entertainment to a war-weary public.

Although always interested in horses, and interested in circuses for some time, it was not until 1946 that Smart came across Cody's Circus and bought the big top. By the time he opened his New World Circus in 1946 he was fifty-two years old, following P.T. Barnum's example in taking on a second career as a circus proprietor.

Billy Smart's New World Circus made its debut at Southall Park, Middlesex, on 5 April 1946, for the first full season after the end of the war. The circus which he had purchased from Cody was run in conjunction with a travelling fun fair and at first he was seen as an interloper by other more established circus showmen. By 1952, the fun fair, which had been increasingly overshadowed by the circus, disappeared to leave room for a bona fide menagerie. Three years later, the two-poler was replaced by a giant 6,000 seat, four-pole round big top with a hippodrome track around the ring, and a vast entrance tent, thus enabling the staging of spectacular parades, which became a Billy Smart's Circus trademark.

His greatest innovation was his relationship with the newly established television networks when he agreed for Billy Smart's Circus to be broadcast live by the BBC in 1947. Over the years, Billy Smart's Christmas Spectacular became a BBC holiday tradition, which ITV took over in 1979 and carried on until 1982. The BBC's first-ever colour broadcast was a 'Tribute to Billy Smart'. Royal Performances took place in London, raising thousands of pounds for charity.

A large part of the success of the circus was the showmanship that Billy brought to the operation of the circus, the large family he could draw upon to run the shows and his ability as a showman to market and capture opportunities to advertise. Whilst other circus proprietors were threatened by the rise in popularity of television and shunned the cameras, Billy Smart embraced them. Smart's Circus grew to be one of the largest in the world, touring every part of the British Isles, and with permanent quarters and an associated zoo at Winkfield, Berkshire, not far from where Smart began his fairground career. His success took the circus through twenty-six tenting tours, winter seasons, frequent TV appearances and the provision of animal acts to other circuses.

Billy died in his caravan on 25 September 1966, shortly after conducting the Romford Boys' Band in front of his mammoth circus tent at Ipswich, which had been set up that morning for a two-week stand. With his large Stetson hat, inevitable cigar and unique flair for self-promotion and publicity, Billy Smart was a showman of the highest order. One of his greatest stunts was when he rode an elephant through the streets of Mayfair and parked it at a meter before inserting a shilling.

Billy Smart was such a colourful character that on his death his lifelong friend Sir Billy Butlin described him as the greatest showman of our time and probably the last of the great showmen.

In the 1990s, the Smart circus toured again with Billy Smart's Quality Big Top Show and most recently Billy Smart's Circus has been presented by Tony Hopkins and is frequently on tour across the UK.

Found in 837 Collections and/or Records:

2 Black and White Negatives of Billy Smart, Hand Written Notes, Typescript Note 'Circus Days Gone By', 1993

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 48: Series 178K44; Series 178Z46
Reference code: 178Z46.46
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Various items of ephemera.

Dates: 1993

2 Colour Photos, Pen and Ink poster Designs, Black and White Transparencies and Colour Proof Prints, 2002

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 52: Series 178V12; Series 178Z46
Reference code: 178V12.4
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Works of art collected by the Smart family.

Dates: 2002

17E Festival du Cirque International Monte-Carlo Programme, 1993

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 43: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.31
Scope and Contents

Front cover: cartoon clown and cartoon tiger. Inside: programmes for the various days of the festival, pictures of the acts, commercial advertisement, index of names. Back cover: cigarette advertisement . 24 pages.

Dates: 1993

17e Festival International du Cirque Poster, 1993

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 51: Series 178H21; Series 178M17; Series 178R7
Reference code: 178R7.4
Scope and Contents

Monte Carlo, 28 January - 4 February 1993. Colour illustration of leaping tiger on a black circle background and clown's torson on top left over a red background and green, blue and black type.

Dates: 1993

17e Festival International du Cirque Poster, 1993

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 51: Series 178H21; Series 178M17; Series 178R7
Reference code: 178R7.5
Scope and Contents

Monte Carlo, 28 January - 4 February 1993. Colour illustration of leaping tiger on a black circle background and clown's torson on top left over a red background and green, blue and black type, some text along the bottom edge.

Dates: 1993

18E Festival du Cirque International Monte Carlo Programme, 1994

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 44: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.52
Scope and Contents

Front cover: drawing of a female circus performer riding a white horse. Inside: programme in the centre, commercial advertisements, information about the festival and the acts. Back cover: advertising. 22 pages.

Dates: 1994

19E Festival du Cirque International Monte Carlo Programme, 1995

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 44: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.51
Scope and Contents

Front cover: drawing of a circus clown blowing a tuba and two white horses. Inside: programme in the centre, commercial advertisements, information about the festival and the acts. Back cover: commercial advertising. 22 pages.

Dates: 1995

19E Festival du Cirque International Monte Carlo Programme, 1995

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 44: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.58
Scope and Contents

Front cover: drawing of a circus clown blowing a tuba and two white horses. Inside: programme in the centre, commercial advertisements, information about the festival and the acts. Back cover: advertisement. 22 pages.

Dates: 1995

20E Anniversaire Festival du International Cirque Monte Carlo Programme, 1996

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 47: Series 178K44; Series 178T42
Reference code: 178K44.146
Scope and Contents

Programme for circus run 1 - 8 February 1996. Front cover features large text and a sketch of a clown head. Includes a handwritten note of name of circus performers on a separate document.

Dates: 1996

30' - 15' - 5' - Overtures + Halftime Audio Recording, 1992

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 40: Series 178E9
Reference code: 178E9.9
Scope and Contents

Audio casette tape sent from V. M. Mason & Co. Sticker on the original envelope stated 'Richard O'Sullivan Tapes Story Smart'. Audio recordings of 30 minute, 15 minute and 5 minute staff and act calls which would be broadcast to circus staff and acts ready for their performances. Also includes audio recording announcing a half time 15 minute interval which would be broadcast to audience members. Audio recording created for the 1992 run.

Dates: 1992

A Harold Fielding Concert Programme, 26 July 1959

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 46: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.130
Scope and Contents

Front page: blue background with a white spiral and the title. Inside: programme, information on Shirley Bassey and Kenny Baker. Back page: information on Ronnie Carroll and Ronald Chesney. 2 pages.

Dates: 26 July 1959

Alaskan Dogs Film, c1980 - 2000

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 32: Series 178D14
Reference code: 178D14.112
Scope and Contents

VHS. Label reads Sally Chipperfield's Eskimo Dogs presented by Alixia.

Dates: c1980 - 2000

Ancienne Belgique Programme, 26 March 1949

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 45: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.95
Scope and Contents

Front page: picture of Gaston Ouvrard, the comic. Inside: pictures of acts and information. Back page: picture of an act. 2 page.

Dates: 26 March 1949

Anna Carter, Steam Fair Film, c1900 - 2000

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 33: Series 178D14
Reference code: 178D14.40
Scope and Contents

VHS. Media Nations Inc. Ltd.

Dates: c1900 - 2000

Annotated Contract with Comments in Red Ink, 27 April 1993

 File — Box Smart Family Collection Box 6: Series 178H21
Reference code: 178H21.38
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Business records related to the Smart family and Smart circus.

Dates: 27 April 1993

Apollo Theater Dusseldorf Programme, c1950

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 46: Series 178K44
Reference code: 178K44.127
Scope and Contents

Front cover: drawing of the outside of the Apollo theatre. Inside: programme in the center, commercial advertisement, information on the shows and future shows. Back cover: advertisement. 8 pages.

Dates: c1950

Appointment Certificate to Mrs Kay Smart for Being Initiated as a Grand Knight of the Horse Rangers Association, 6 February 1973

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 41: Series 178I24; Series 178N6; Series 178Z46
Reference code: 178Z46.60
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Various items of ephemera.

Dates: 6 February 1973

Argus Miniature Catalogue of Circus Miniature Vehicles, 1997

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 1: Series 178B34; Series 178F34; Series 178J10; Series 178Q9
Reference code: 178J10.2
Scope and Contents

Catalogue of miniature circus vehicles available to purchase.

Dates: 1997

Artiste Contracts Between Billy Smart's Circus Limited and Various Artists, 1977 - 1982

 File — Box Smart Family Collection Box 7: Series 178H21
Reference code: 178H21.42
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Business records related to the Smart family and Smart circus.

Dates: 1977 - 1982

Arundel Circus Poster, c1900 - 2019

 Item — Box Smart Family Collection Box 51: Series 178H21; Series 178M17; Series 178R7
Reference code: 178R7.25
Scope and Contents

Evening Argus, Arundel Circus back on the move pictures. White type on red background around the border and black type on white background in the center.

Dates: c1900 - 2019