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Obituaries: Guido Muntwyler

GUIDO MUNTWYLER was the gentle and much-loved founder of Switzerland's little Circus Monti. In the relatively short space of time that he operated a circus, 14 years, he had established it as one of Switzerland's most charming forms of entertainment and its appearance in the smaller towns was an eagerly awaited event.

He created a small circus full of atmosphere, charm and originality. Yet he spent his early working days as a schoolteacher in Wohlen, where he had been born in 1932. His love of children and of the circus combined to change the direction of his life when, in 1980, with his wife Hildegard, he went full-time into the circus world, quitting teaching to become a clown. For three years they worked as a clown family, the Montis, at the Circus Olympia, followed by a year at the Circus Medrano.

Switzerland had several long- established circuses run by dynasties going back for generations, among them the Knies, Gassers and Nocks. But, working at Medrano, Muntwyler found that its owners Urs and Romina Strasser were first-generation circus proprietors, the first "private" people in Switzerland who in 1978 had started up their own circus. Muntwyler was thus inspired to start his own travelling circus in 1985.

Each year, Muntwyler himself appeared in the ring as its principal clown, a friendly character with long-flowing grey hair, loved by the children. He and his wife presided over the company as benign benefactors, but also controlled the business side as their children gradually took over more of the running of the show. Their three sons, Johannes, Nikolaus and Andi, also became talented performers, developing skills as animal trainers, jugglers, acrobats, aerialists and wire walkers.

Despite the ever-growing popularity of his circus, Muntwyler remained a simple and lovable man. He was a popular attender at the annual Festival du Cirque de Demain in Paris, where he established his own award for promising young acts, and where he always could find fresh talent to feature in his own show. Thus, although the show was considered small, its quality was never in doubt and it was presented with a showman's flair stronger than any of its rivals.

Circus Monti began to feature some of the circus world's top acts, among them the Zoppi-Laribles Troops; the Galaxys aerial act from Czechoslovakia; the Korean trapeze star Nguyen Qyang Minh; Duo Mazotti from Hungary; the Chinese cycling star Guo Ping; the aerial duo Robinson; the 4 Kings' bar act; the Casablanca Troupe; the diabolo star Hans Joachim Schell; the wire-walker Samoa; the Jemiola Troupe of trampolinists; Britain's BMX champion Rob Alton; the outstanding Russian comedy team Legostaev and Bougaitsov; Pascal Angelier's trapeze act; and a number of leading Russian and Chinese attractions. The Taekinis' aerial act is now being featured by Circus Knie; the Popovs' trampoline act is now one of the big successes in the "Eclipse" circballet at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach; the remarkable slackwire comedian Ivachenko is now a top star with Circus Roncalli in Germany; and the juggler Eddy Carello is now with the rival Circus Royal in Switzerland. Many young artistes were given their first break in show business by Muntwyler.

In 1998, Circus Monti reached a new artistic high when Muntwyler teamed up with the famous Swiss mime artiste Dimitri, who came from the mime school of Etienne Decroux and the great Marcel Marceau, and who had himself become a big star at the Circus Knie, where he was featured three times.

Dimitri had founded his own circus and mime school in 1978 and last year brought his talented group to Circus Monti to create a totally new style of travelling circus entertainment which proved so successful that it was retained by Muntwyler for the 1999 season.

Guido Muntwyler, circus director: born Wohlen, Switzerland 1932; married Hildegard Wulser (three sons, one daughter); died Schaan, Switzerland 19 June 1999.