Saturday, November 26, 2011

Bertram Mills--1963

Bertram Mills Winter Quarters 1963

Pyllis Allan - Arabs and Pony Sulkies
Mills Elephants
Mills Chimps - Rudi Lenz

Unusual idea for a "liberty act." Allen Pogue would take
issue with drivers in the sulkies, most likely. John Cooper
would then, most likely, take issue with Allen taking issue
with anything "John's gal Phyllis" did. :)

Phyllis Allan, Circus performer

Born: 18 July, 1920, in Keith, Banffshire.

Died: 3 February, 2005, in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, aged 84.

AT ITS post-war heights, Bertram Mills Circus had many Scottish-born employees and artistes, among them Phyllis Allan, a farmer’s daughter who joined the Mills establishment during the war as a groom. She quickly rose through the ranks to become one of its most enduring performers in a career that spanned 50 years.

She was born in Keith, Banffshire, the eldest daughter of a farmer who later moved to Fraserburgh, and then to Peterborough.

In her childhood, Phyllis and her siblings had plenty of opportunity to bond with the horses and cattle of the farm, and she would often ride her horse to school in the small village school of St Combs, where she was also regularly in trouble for being late, having helped her father herd cattle to market. During the Second World War Phyllis at first stayed at home to help on the farm, but later joined the Women’s Land Army. While working at a farm in Kent, she sustained a broken knee after being kicked by a horse. This ended her tractor-driving days and a local vet suggested she become a horse groom.

Phyllis applied for a job looking after the animals of Bertram Mills’s circus, which was off the road for the duration of the war, and became the circus’s first female groom. She remembered later taking animals through dark streets during the blackout to theatres in London and elsewhere. Phyllis had never seen a circus before she joined Mills but soon fell under its spell of its danger, excitement, laughter and tears. In Blackpool, she joined the show for the first time, as lead girl in the elephant ballet.

She yearned to ride again, despite her shattered knee, and spent gruelling sessions with the circus’s horse trainer. Her determination paid off, and she found success in dressage riding, appearing before the Queen and Prince Philip at Olympia, London, in December 1952. She also became one of very few women in the world to master the difficult and dangerous stunt known as "the courier of St Petersburg", in which she straddled two horses, catching the reins of seven more as they passed through, until she was driving the whole team, at the gallop.

When the Mills Circus reopened after the war, Phyllis was one of its first artistes.

In 1957 she was showing horses, riding a high-school number and assisting the other equine turns. One night the regular presenter, Kurt Dubrow, did not turn up for the presentation of the zebras, Palominos and ponies, a hallmark of the Mills show. Phyllis had previously presented the group but protocol demanded she did not intervene. She merely kept the animals circling the ring for several minutes as a search party set out to find the trainer. He had the flu, and was so affected that he misjudged the distance between himself and two powerful Palomino horses, which charged into him and knocked him out. Phyllis was left to present the remainder of the act.

During her 21 years in Mills’s employment, Phyllis travelled with the tenting circus, appearing at its prestigious Olympia winter seasons before 6,000 spectators at each performance, and working in other circuses presenting the Mills animal acts. Although a shy person, she gained confidence each year to become one of the show’s most reliable trainers. Her proudest moment was in June 1953, when she entered the ring at Edinburgh with the Mills pony act, which she presented in the tartan of her Macfarlane ancestors.

In 1956, Bernard Mills sent her to show animals at the Billy Russell’s Circus at the Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth, and there Mr Russell presented her with a black miniature poodle as a birthday present. She began teaching it simple tricks and when a sea lion act left the show suddenly the following season, Mills asked her to take on a dog act. Within a week or two she had made her ring debut with this,

and by the end of the tour in October, she had her own act, one she took back to Yarmouth with pride a few years later.

The act earned Phyllis an international reputation as a dog trainer. and she went on to appear in circuses in Germany, Denmark and South Africa, where she went after playing from 1966 to 1971 with Billy Smart’s Circus, following the demise of the Mills Circus in 1964.

She ended her career with several years at Paulo’s Circus in Britain, run by close friends Clara Paulo and her husband Ken MacManus, who had worked with her in the Mills circus for years.

Phyllis Allan devoted her life to animals and never married.

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