Another circus skill gets shot down

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An unlikely victim of the government's ban on handguns has come to light. The new legislation turns out to be a body blow to circus performers, and will end a tradition dating back to the kinds of acts made famous in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the last century. Leading big top proprietor Bobby Roberts Junior, whose current touring summer show involves him juggling and twirling revolvers, is calling for an exemption for performing artists in this week's issue of The Stage.

As things stand, all performers who use pistols and revolvers over .22 calibre in their acts must hand them in by the end of next month, or face prosecution for possessing prohibited weapons. So it's either a case of Parliament having to make a last minute exemption, or roll up, roll up for the fantastic Bobby Roberts Junior and his amazing twirling water pistols.

That other leading big top man Gerry Cottle will need a room to himself if he hands over his arms to the government. Cottle's latest show The Circus of Horrors includes flick knives, hand guns, a machine-gun and a flame-thrower. "It's not live ammunition," he exploded as I kept my eye warily on his holster. "This takes all the excitement out of circuses. First we have to lose our animals, now our guns. We're becoming a laughing stock with the rest of the world."

It all does seem rather ridiculous. Guns in the context of circuses and indeed stage plays are akin to starting pistols - a prop, dramatic but harmless. And it should not be beyond Home Office bureaucracy to exempt not only circuses but all performing arts from the new laws.

Only once can I recall a circus prop of this sort being remotely dangerous. It was actually in Gerry Cottle's own circus some years ago. A now deceased and much loved cowboy juggled guns, threw knives and had a drink problem. By the time of the evening show his aim would grow increasingly erratic. We shall not duck from his like again.

Surreal tales reach me of Andrew Lloyd Webber's annual jamboree at Sydmonton. Each summer, Lord Lloyd Webber throws open his Berkshire stately home to assorted friends for a preview of his latest opus. But this year there was more than a scene from Whistle Down the Wind on offer. Guests were surprised to be asked to take part in a mock-Parliamentary debate on the future of Europe. Well, not so mock actually. A room at Sydmonton was designed as a mini House of Commons; Norman Tebbit was one of the speakers, and the Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, was acting out her day job.

Outside, the guests sat on the lawn to listen to Rowan Atkinson give a talk on his passion, fast cars. Here, it turned out, smoking could be a hazard. Some of Lord Lloyd Webber's musical friends do have rather important voices to tend after all. David Frost lit up only to have a note passed to him which read: "Dave, put that cigarette out. Now! Love, Kiri."

Here's a job description to moisten the eye. "Practically no responsibilities. Just occasionally signing a letter or two that someone else has written for you. Honey-sweet relations with the dear, friendly trustees ... Above all, abundant opportunity to get on with your own work and no need to hide it under the blotting paper when you have callers."

That serene piece of nostalgia was uncovered by the Museums Journal. It was from an article written in the 1950s by Thomas Kendrick, then director of the British Museum. Worries over whether to charge, cuts in purchase grant and a host of other problems seem to make managing a major arts institution a little tricker these days. No leisure, no blotting paper, and are there honey-sweet trustees for tea?

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