ASTLEY: Circus Genius
Philip Astley was a brilliant equestrian performer, one of the many riding masters who were plying their skills up and down the country throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. Many riders had gained their expertise while serving in the army, as indeed was the case with Astley. What marked Astley out from his contemporaries was his uncanny knack of developing and expanding current forms of equestrian entertainment and moulding them into something new and exciting.
It was this innate flair that inspired him to create the circus as we know it today. 250 years ago, in 1768, he created a new entertainment in a 42-feet diameter ring and shaped his programmes in such a way that fine horsemanship was combined with a blend of fun and laughter. He introduced clowns and performers of every persuasion to titillate his audiences. This mix became known as "circus".
Over the years, his innovative ideas and concepts were adapted by virtually every proprietor in the business and Astley’s original ideas formed the basis of the later extravaganzas created by many of the nineteenth century impresarios. Even today, his ideas can still be detected in circus scenarios, a tribute indeed to the foresight of Astley.
This is the story of a brilliant man whose legacy is acknowledged in the books of authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. This book acts as a preface to the fascinating history of the circus because, by the time he died, it had already become the most popular form of mass entertainment in the world. Philip Astley, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, is justly regarded as the Father of the Modern Circus.
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