Nicolai Poliakoff OBE (1900 – 25 September 1974) (Latvian: Nikolajs Poļakovs) was the creator of Coco the Clown, arguably the most famous clown in the UK during the middle decades of the 20th century. Technically, Coco is not a clown but an auguste, the foolish character who is always on the receiving end of buckets of water and custard pies. The auguste often works with the cleverer white-faced clown, who always gets the better of him.
Poliakoff was born to a Jewish family in Daugavpils, Latvia in 1900. His parents worked in the theatre when Nicolai was born, but both lost their jobs a few years later, and to survive, Nicolai started busking from the age of five. He became apprenticed to the celebrated Russian clown Lazernko, and went on to manage his own circus. Escaping the hardships of the Russian Revolution to join Circus Busch in Berlin, he was spotted by Bertram Mills and persuaded to move to England, arriving with his young wife Valentina in 1929. He served with the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps of the British Army in WW2. He appeared with the Bertram Mills Circus for many years. His clown persona had two distinctive visual features that endeared him to television audiences: his boots, described as being size 58, and his trick hair with hinges in the centre parting, which allowed it to lift when he was surprised. He is a member of the Clown Hall of Fame.
During the Second World War Poliakoff entertained troops as a member of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association). In 1960 he was involved in a serious road accident prompting him to devote himself to the promotion of road safety awareness in children. He was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for this work by Queen Elizabeth II, one of the few foreigners ever to receive this honour. However, at the same time he continued to work in the circus in the mid-1960s, seated ringside while selling programmes dressed in his full auguste's costume.
Poliakoff died in Peterborough Hospital on 25 September 1974, after a short illness, and was buried in Woodnewton, in Northamptonshire, England. His eldest son, Michael, a longtime circus "Producing Clown", creator of a much imitated "soap gag" entree, and the Clown who designed the post 1960's Ronald McDonald, was by then already using the "Coco" moniker. Michael had made his debut in the ring at 17, as "Coconut" and his sister Helen as "Cocotina" ('cocos' being the Spanish word for grinning face and applied to the coconut because of the three marks on its shell).  Michael's Coco the Clown was inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame in 1991.
As well as Michael, Poliakoff had five other children with wife Valentina: Helen, Nadia, Sascha, Olga, and Tamara. Tamara was the founder, along with her husband Ali Hassani, of the first circus in the UK not to use performing animals.
In popular culture 
Coco is mentioned in an episode of the BBC television serial "As Time Goes By".