Billy Smart, Jr.
Smart, whose real name was Stanley, was the tenth child and third son of Billy Smart, Sr. His father was a showman and fairground proprietor, who bought a circus in 1946. The first appearance of the Billy Smart circus was on 5 April at Southall Park in Middlesex. The circus toured alongside Smart's funfair; the tents blew down and the circus carried out its performances for two days in the open air. Smart made his circus debut with "Billy Smart’s New World Circus" as assistant ringmaster aged 12. He was soon performing with ponies and horses, but became best known later for his elephant acts. In one famous incident, he tamed a herd of performing elephants when they stampeded in the ring. At its peak, in the days before animal rights were a popular issue, Billy Smart's four-masted Big Top could hold over 6,000 people, with a show including hundreds of animals and performers.
Smart, together with his brothers, Ronald Smart and David Smart, took over management of the circus when their father died in 1966 at Ipswich. The circus ceased touring in 1971, but televised performances continued until 1983, drawing audiences of up to 22 million at its height. The Smart Brothers also developed Guernsey Zoo, selling it in 1972, and opened Windsor Safari Park in 1969 before selling it in 1977 (it is now the site of Legoland Windsor). He lost the sight in his right eye in 1978 after cosmetic surgery severed the optic nerve, ending his career as an animal trainer.
The "Billy Smart's" touring circus was revived by his brother Ronald and nephew Gary in 1993, but Smart concentrated on a second career as a property developer, based in Spain.
Smart was a familiar figure in the gossip columns of the 1950s and 1960s as a well-known performer and eligible bachelor: his publicised liaisons included celebrities such as Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors, and Shirley Bassey. Smart married Hannelore Nagel, a German Pan Am air stewardess in 1973, five weeks after they met en route from London to Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2004 and died the following year. He was survived by his wife and their son and daughter.
In popular culture
In the Netherlands, Billy Smart was famous for the annual "Billy Smart's Kinderkerstcircus" ("Billy Smart's Children Christmas Circus") TV broadcast. Dutch singer Fay Lovsky listed Billy Smart in her 1981 hit "Christmas Was A Friend of Mine" as one of her favourite Christmas traditions. His circus was used in the 1967 movie Berserk, starring. Joan Crawford and Diana Dors. In the movie the circus was called the Great Rivers Circus. In 1960, the cult classic "Circus of Horrors" directed by Sydney Hayers, was filmed in Billy Smarts Circus. In the picture, it was called the "Schuler" circus. Nice vintage film that shows the giant tent and the strong structural skeleton that it took to support it.
- Obituary (The Guardian, 24 May 2005)
- Obituary (The Telegraph, 24 May 2005)
- Obituary (The Times, 24 May 2005)