Radio actuality recordings

A unique collection of original BBC and other radio actuality recordings brings to life the London of the 1920s to the 1950s. These sounds were captured at street markets, fairgrounds, skittle alleys, auction houses, hopfields and elsewhere.

Bertram Mills Circus 1946

THE 1946 BBC transcription disc (catalogue number 822556) features two performances from May 1946 by the Bertram Mills Circus. On one side, there’s a recording from Olympia in London, but unfortunately it’s overlaid with commentary throughout.

But a recording from a few days before of the same circus company at Wolverhampton appears on the other side, and there’s no commentary at all. That’s the side reproduced here and it’s reasonable to presume both events sounded very similar.

The catalogue entry describes the contents of the three Wolverhampton tracks:

Actuality recorded during a performance by Bertram Mills Touring Circus at Wolverhampton. Entry music: ‘Colonel Bogey’ (Alford). The Bakers’ Riding Act: Arrangement of Russian Folk tunes. The Cumberlands (bareback riding act): ‘Mona Lisa’. Atmosphere, background music, crack of whips, applause. No commentary.

The Olympia exhibition hall was opened in 1886 and from the outset was associated with visiting circuses, including the Paris Hippodrome in 1886, Barney and Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth in 1889, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1902. Bertram Mills began his career as an impresario there with his Great International Circus of 1920. From 1930 the Bertram Mills Circus travelled under canvas and continued to do so long after his death until its closure in 1967.

Newsreel footage of the Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia in 1947 can be seen on the British Pathé website here.

Recording © copyright BBC. Audio digitisation and restoration by the London Sound Survey. Many thanks to BBC Worldwide for granting permission to reproduce this recording here.

Bertram Mills Circus 3:12