Monday, January 29th 2007

10:27 AM

Don Stacey -Circus Journalist – Archivist – Historian

Don wrote to me on 5th January commenting on some serious errors in my article in the then latest issue of World’s Fair, concerning the ‘Billy Russsell’s Great Yarmouth Hippodrome Circus’ family.  I replied that I had not written for the World’s Fair for some years and that perhaps someone had stolen my identity!  My database does contain an entry for Billy Russell which, for the record, reads as follows; –

RUSSELL, Billy.  Circus proprietor.  William Alfred Russell, born in 1905, at Belton, Gt. Yarmouth, the son of William Russell.  Brother of Oliver.  Nephew of Jenny O’Brien (married George Gilbert) and John O’Brien (married Jeanette Lush, later Mrs Power).  In 1934 his father turned over his Brittania Pier business to Billy, who thus became an amusement caterer of Gt. Yarmouth.  Married Eva in 1938.  A member of the Showmen’s Guild until 1939.  Before and after the war he had a dodgem track, next to the Hippodrome.  Purchased the by then dilapidated Hippodrome circus, in March 1951, from T.C. Read, and ran “Billy Russell’s Family Circus” for its first season in the summer of 1951.  The dodgem park was converted to a miniature zoo, more in keeping with his new interest.  Chris Christian was zoo manager.  Mr Russell in a very short time established himself as a man dedicated to the circus as well as a generous and thoghtful employer.  Billy Russell together with his lifelong friend Ben Dean, working full-time from 1954, and Roberto Germains, guided the destiny of the circus until his death.  Died in June 1957, at Norwich, aged 51 years after a short illness.  The funeral was held at St. Peter’s church, Gt. Yarmouth, on 18th June.  Survived by his widow Eva and son John, brother Oliver and his wife Molly.  Remembered as a stickler for perfection, insisting on “nothing but the best” in his programmes.  His brother Oliver and Ben Dean, later his son John ran ‘Russell’s Hippodrome circus for some years after his death, under the terms of the executors.  The directors later were Oliver Russell, Harry Nutkins, Ben Dean, Walter Marius, Roberto Germains and Bert Galey.  Not to be confused with the character comedian Billy Russell (Albert George Brown).

I can, as usual supply the sources of my information, which include Don Stacey’s own excellent book  “The Hippodrome Great Yarmouth; a Pictorial History” (Jay UK Ltd., Great Yarmouth, 2003).  Perhaps whoever wrote the World’s Fair article had seen an earlier draft of my entry, not the current one, and passed it off as his own work.  A little mystery!  Incidentally, Don pointed out that Oliver Russell was Billy’s brother and not his son (John) and that Mrs Eva Russell was specifically barred from managing the show by the terms of her husband’s will!  I wonder if Don Stacey would care to look over the 12,000 odd other entries in my database to detect possible errors.  I’m sure there are many but these are continually corrrected as soon as I become aware of them.  All my published work is prefaced by the warning that the information is only as accurate as my sources and invites additions and corrections.  But thanks for your interest anyway Don., whover wrote the article it was certainly not me!  John.