Nelson Mandela puts Zippo the clown's nose out of joint


Martin Burton was narked with Nelson Mandela last week. "I've had three excellent press stories and I've lost them all to him," he said. On Friday, for example, it was the 790th anniversary of Mongolian unification - but did the British press care? Did they heck.

Mr Burton is a businessman with a difference. The most obvious one is that he wears a red nose to work. As one of the most traditional clowns in the country, he has to.

And why was he worried about Mongolia? Because Zippo's, the circus he owns, has a troupe of 18 Mongolian acrobats this season and the Mongolian ambassador was heading down to Wandsworth Common to watch the show. Not surprising that Mr Burton thought he could get a few column inches out of that.

Zippo is an unusual fellow. He went to public school in Abingdon, trained to be a teacher, then started doing a clown's act in Covent Garden when it was still a fruit market.

He kept on meaning to go into teaching, but never quite made it. Not that the training was a waste of time. "It is perfect - you have to stand in front of 30 unruly kids who would quite happily kill you."

Fortunately (because Bunhill is supposed to be vaguely about business) Mr Burton is a full-blooded businessman. The reason Zippo's is surviving while most circuses are struggling is, he says, "because we give customer care right through from beginning to end".

He is a great believer in training, and has his own school that travels around with the circus. He also has a sophisticated mobile data system, is an expert on personnel management (especially of contortionists and Mongolians), and his logistics are amazing - the performers get the the tent down and up in hardly any time at all. All this and, I'm told, he's a jolly good clown into the bargain.

A colleague has been ringing MPs this week. Specifically, three MPs who found themselves starring in the newspapers because they had gallantly been on a fact-finding mission to Malta GC.

Had they, he wondered, found out any facts about one of the more intriguing business stories of the week - viz, why the stock market flotation of Monsoon, which sells ladies' clothing, had been scuppered. Apparently, most of the Monsoon shares belong to a mysterious company called Sycamore, which refused to co-operate with the stockbroker BZW when it wanted to ask it a few questions. And Sycamore is based in Malta.

Gerald Kaufman, former Labour shadow foreign secretary, had little to say about the island's financial affairs. Sycamore, never heard of it.

Simon Coombs (Con, Swindon) was more forthcoming, but said the press knew every move he had made on Malta: not one included a meeting with Sycamore.

Finally to Lady Olga Maitland, who must be able to help out because she is a former diarist and must at least have popped down to Companies House in Valletta. I'm sure she went there (all this tittle-tattle about sunbathing is quite distressing), so if she would like to tell me the results of her research, I will be delighted to tell the world about her diligence.

Taking a gander

Newspaper corrections can be fun: just read this one! A couple of weeks ago we put a deliberate error in our cover story about pub-owning millionaires. We said that the first Firkin pub was the Phoenix and Firkin at Denmark Hill in south-east London. Wrong! It was of course the Goose and Firkin in Borough Road, near the Elephant & Castle. And - this is where we switch from apology to sensational news scoop - there are strong rumours that Allied Domecq, which now owns the Firkin chain, is thinking of closing it down because they judge it to be too small.

I rang David Bruce, founder of the Firkin pubs, to see if he had heard anything. He hadn't, but said he would be horrified if the story was true. The Goose should, he said, be preserved as a shrine to the whole "brew pub" concept. "If they closed it, it would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg," he said, before realising he had made rather a good joke.

It can indeed be argued that the Goose was the founder of a movement that is now hiccuping happily across America. A thousand brew pubs have been opened there and - another scoop - Mr Bruce has shares in three of them, including the biggest in the world, Wynkoop in Denver.

I was delighted to find that he has now decided that a trend for which he must take much responsibility - changing the names of pubs to the Eunuch and Carburettor, Carrot and Dildo, and so on - has gone too far.

"It's so boring and passive," he says. "The big companies do it because it's almost de rigueur." What does he think pubs should be called then? "The King's Head, things like that."

Which leads me on to an interesting thought - if Allied does sell the Goose and Firkin, perhaps he might like to go ahead and buy it and then give it back its original name.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Senior SEO Executive

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Online Customer Service Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Online customer Service Admi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This global, industry leading, ...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living