Jimmy Kayes

Circus jockey rider and ringmaster
Click to follow

The circus performer Jimmy Kayes was born in a travelling wagon under a cherry tree at Lidbrook, Monmouthshire, and made his début in the sawdust ring at the tender age of six, dancing in the ring and drumming in his father's show, Buff Bill's Circus, in Ireland.

James Kayes, circus performer: born Lidbrook, Monmouthshire 17 June 1918; married 1947 Yolanda Truzzi (one son); died Cradley Heath, West Midlands 9 December 2004.

The circus performer Jimmy Kayes was born in a travelling wagon under a cherry tree at Lidbrook, Monmouthshire, and made his début in the sawdust ring at the tender age of six, dancing in the ring and drumming in his father's show, Buff Bill's Circus, in Ireland.

Bill Kayes had four sons, Tommy, Arthur, Johnny and Jimmy, and a daughter, Betty. Arthur became known as a clown and Tommy became famous for his remarkable lion act. When Buff Bill closed his show, Tommy and Arthur went to Bostock's Circus, and Johnny joined the Great Carmo as a daring jockey rider.

After leaving school, Jimmy joined his three brothers at Jim Morton's stage circus in England. Johnny and Jimmy formed a double jockey riding act for which they were to become celebrated, and first performed it with Alf Testo's Circus in the north of England. From this tiny show they moved on to the biggest in England, Sylvester's Three Ring Circus in Blackpool, where they worked alongside the best British riding acts of the era, the Baker Brothers, Fossetts and Ottos.

This competition between riders sharpened Jimmy and Johnny's determination to be pre-eminent in their chosen field. They were later joined by their brother Arthur and went to appear in the Stadium Circus at Liverpool. Then, Arthur Joel presented them at the Winter Gardens, Skegness, and it was here that their success really took off.

Top British bookings were accorded them at Belle Vue, Manchester, and three seasons at the famous Blackpool Tower Circus. Billed as Ranelaghs, they topped the bill for Theophilus Claude Read at the Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth, in 1936 before returning to Blackpool, and then going to Paris for their first continental booking, the first British jockey riders seen there for many years.

Next they were booked for the Kelvin Hall Circus and Carnival in Glasgow, where Johnny met his wife to be, Cissie Schumann, daughter of Oscar Schumann, from one of Europe's leading equestrian families. The brothers went to Sweden for Cirkus Schumann the following summer, then joined Bertram Mills' Circus for the following winter season in London, and for a tour with Mills they joined the Baker Brothers in the large equestrian team the Cumberlands. Prestigious continental bookings were to follow, with engagements at Schumann in Vienna, Sarrasani in Germany and then with the Circus Strassburger.

Jimmy and Johnny were with Circus Strassburger when the Second World War broke out, remaining with it until the time of German invasion of Belgium. All the Czechoslovakian tentmen had gone home, and priceless animals were being slaughtered. Johnny parked their horses in a knackers' yard, which he mistook for stabling. But when they left Ostend on just about the last available boat, they had to abandon their prized horses.

Jimmy joined the Royal Air Force, serving in the Western Desert, Palestine, Crete, Italy and Greece. After the war, Jimmy teamed up with Johnny again at Bert Loman's Circus and, when their brother Tommy died, they took over his famous "fighting" lion act. They bought some more horses and soon found they had more animals than work.

Edward Graves, Circus Editor of the weekly showman's newspaper The World's Fair, suggested they might as well put on their own show, and they took to the road as Kayes Brothers' Circus. It was rated as one of the best of the smaller tenting outfits of its day and in the winter months played in theatres.

In 1952 and 1953 they travelled in Ireland, reviving the title of Buff Bill's Circus and playing at the King's Hall, Belfast, for the winter of 1952/53 before returning to England. In the winter of 1953/54, they put out a novelty stage show with circus content, under the title of Tarzan Comes to Town. The bill included the elegant Borzois dog act of the famous Madame Emmie Truzzi from Russia, who had become Jimmy Kayes's mother-in-law.

Emmie Truzzi first came to England in 1925 to appear at Olympia for Bertram Mills' Circus with her husband Signor William Franconi Truzzi. After his death, she stayed on in Britian, where her horses became a feature of the Blackpool Tower Circus, and later devised a dog act. Her daughter Yolanda, a footjuggler, married Jimmy Kayes in 1947, and the birth of their son soon after coincided with the start-up of Kayes Brothers' Circus, of which Jimmy became both producer and ringmaster.

Jimmy and Johnny Kayes continued to run this show successfully until the late 1950s, when Jimmy went into the fairground world. He made brief returns to the sawdust ring nearly three decades later in the 1980s, appearing as ringmaster for Robert Brothers' circus at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow and for Bobby Roberts' Super Circus at the new Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow.

In 2001 Jimmy Kayes was given a special Lifetime Achievement Award by The World's Fair. He was the last member of this well-known circus family and in November that year took part in the Remembrance Day Parade in London, as a representative of one of Britain's oldest showland families.

D. Nevil

Comments