Carnival of the animals

Shunning Edinburgh District Council’s ban on circus animals, Gerry Cottle erects his Big Top by the privately-owned Murrayfield Ice Rink. Jo Roe investigates.

Gerry Cottle talks nineteen to the dozen. Fearless of the unforgiving scribe. he leaps in where others fear to tread. Touching on subjects ranging from pop music to politics. his engaging openness is both attractive and mildly offensive. ‘I‘m not

against gay people.‘ he announces. ‘I mean halfmy employees are gay. Ijust don‘t want to see a pair of

lesbians on the trapeze.‘ Cottle is referring to the wild antics of the new breed of animal-free circus. led by Archaos. It‘s not that he‘s anti-Archaos. indeed he finds their work interesting. but they are not. according to (.‘ottle. suitable family entertainment.

As might be expected. Gerry Cottle ran away to join the circus. Not. as one might have added. from a repressive. poverty-stricken background. ‘I‘m not sure whether or not to be proud of the fact. but I went to the same school as John Major.

; His father was a trapeze artist and mine was a stock

broker.’ laughs Cottle. From an early age. the budding impresario rode horses and juggled. Ever the entrepreneur. Cottle eventually opened up his own circus and became a juggler of finance rather than balls.

Gerry (‘ottle is sick ofanimal rights campaigners. He refers to them as rent-a-mob. Yet. strangely. his conversation constantly refers back to the very issue he adamantly tries to avoid. Always on the defensive. he talks ofanimal circuses as an endangered species. persecuted by ‘misguided councils'. The animals. (‘ottle insists. are fairly treated. ‘You are not going stick your

What a lot of Cattle: the ringmaster comesto Scotland

head inside a lion‘s mouth unless you know that animal is well treated.‘ he explains.

Conditions for animals have certainly improved.

‘Mv elephants have spent all afternoon wandering round a three-acre field eating grass and the lions

have been running around a large enclosure. They

don‘t sit in tiny little cages all day.‘ says circus director and tiger trainer Martin Lacy. ‘.'\ly animals are part of the family. I have a wile.

children. dogs. lions and tigers.’ he continues.

"I‘he circus is corny and fun. but its certainly not cruelf

Nevertheless. many councils have banned circuses with animals. That is to say they don't allow them on council-owned land. Instead. the Big Top has to be set up on private land. sometimes with cramped facilities. Would they. I wonder. rather the councils took them on board. and provided proper facilities. ‘Iirankly I don’t

. give a monkey's anymore.‘ replies (‘ottle

‘Though. yes I would welcome proper circus regulations and permanent grounds.‘

Judging by the regard (‘ottle and his employees show towards their animals. it is highly doubtful that any cruelty takes place. (‘onditions are obviously not ideal for a big cat or elephant. but they are not inhumane. Why is it then. that people get so upset about performing animals. causing

councils to ban animals in circuses while allowing their relations to be caged in Zoos“? As (‘ottlc

points out there are many people who vote against council regulations with their feet. A few years ago he decided to run a human-only circus in response

to the growing animal rights campaign. The result

was a £250,000 loss in box office takings. ‘Peoplc love watching man and animal working in perfect } harmony together.’ profers Lacy. i

In the final analysis it seems less a question of ' cruelty than a question of moral judgement and taste. (ierry (‘ottle would put it down to politics and age. Misquoting (‘hurchill he says. ‘If you‘re not a raving socialist when you're 20 then you’ve got no balls. If you're not a Tory by «10. you‘ve got no brains.’ I would contend that circuses. like every institution. must move with the times. Attitudes towards animals have. thankfully. changed. It is a question of degrees. There is something obscenely undignil‘ied about an animal not traditionally associated with man. like a lion or tiger. being made to perform tricks. yet horse riding stunts are more acceptable.

Whatever your feelings. (ierry (‘ottlc also offers traditional circus extravaganza without animal degradation. including (‘zechoslovak jugglers the I"altini 'I'roupe. Hungarian trapeze artists The ()scas. ('aptain Apollo the human cannonball and.

possibly. Miss Babette's I‘ootballing Dogs.

( ierry ( 'UII/e's‘ ( 'i'rt'us'. .llm'ruv/i'e/d /('(’ Rink ( 'ur l’urk. Edinburgh. 'liu' /8--.S'un 301ml.

The List l-l—Z7June 199155