Gerry Cottle

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Gerry Cottle, born 7 April 1945 in Carshalton, Surrey, England,[1] was a circus owner and the current owner of the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset.

His father was a stockbroker and grand-master in the Freemasons. Gerry Cottle was educated at Rutlish School, Merton Park, south London and left home in 1961 at age 16 to join the Robert Brothers Circus.[2]

Circus career[edit]

Cottle started by doing menial tasks, but worked his way up to have his own juggling act, billed as Gerry Melville the Teenage Juggler,[3] and then to own his own show,[4] which opened in July 1970, with just five performers.[5] He established his Big Top in 1974 and ran it until 2003.[3] By the mid-1970s the Gerry Cottle Circus was touring Britain with three shows.[6] In 1975 he purchased a farm in Surrey to use as a winter headquarters, and lived there for 30 years.[3] He has also presented the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus in Britain.[5] In her youth, the writer and scientist Carole Jahme was a performer in Cottle's circus.[7] In 1995 his Circus of Horrors debuted at the Glastonbury Festival and has toured the world since then.[8] This was a collaborative venture with Archaos, a French contemporary circus.[9]

In 2003 he auctioned off much of his circus paraphernalia in order to concentrate on running Wookey Hole caves, a tourist attraction in Somerset.[4] In 2012 he celebrated fifty years in the business with a new show, Turbo Circus: 50 Acts In 100 Minutes,[3] on a 31-week tour.[10] In 2017 after losing hundreds of thousands of pounds his circus finally closed its doors for the last time in October.

Animal acts[edit]

Gerry Cottle’s Circus originally toured with a variety of animals including horses, zebras, elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, and llamas.[11][12] The 1980s saw an increase in public opinion against animal acts. Cottle sold his last elephant and in 1993 had a non-animal circus.[3] In 2012 he said that he now reluctantly supports the ban on circus animal acts, which he says will improve the image of circuses in Britain.[11]

Wookey Hole[edit]

After purchasing Wookey Hole Caves, a tourist attraction that featured show caves, penny arcades and restaurants, he added a theatre, circus museum, hotel and circus school. At the latter, local youth train in a wide range of circus skills, and perform at the theatre and in Cottle's new touring show, Turbo Circus.[13]

Personal life[edit]

He married Betty Fossett, youngest daughter of circus showman Jim Fossett, in 1968,[3] and has three daughters and a son. In the 1980s he became addicted to cocaine and was jailed.[2] His daughters set up Cottle Sisters Circus.[14] He is separated from Betty and has another partner, Anna Carter of Carter's Steam Fair They have now separated .[15][16]

Further information[edit]


  1. ^ "Birthdays", The Guardian, p. 31, 7 April 2014
  2. ^ a b Stroud, Clover (17 Sep 2006). "Big top, bigger life". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Enoch, Nick (20 June 2012). "Gerry Cottle's Circus is brought back for the last time as legendary showman celebrates 50 years in entertainment". Daily Mail. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Cottle leaves big top behind". BBC News website. 4 October 2003. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Gerry Cottle, Circus Barry Walls was a great performer of his with his sons Anthony and Richard joining Cottles Circus at a young age Showman". September 27, 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  6. ^ "A high-wire act". The Times. August 22, 2007. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  7. ^ Carole Jahme - About
  8. ^ "Circus of Horrors — The Day of the Dead". The Mill Volvo Tyne Theatre. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  9. ^ Childs, Peter (May 13, 2013). Encyclopaedia of Contemporary British Culture. Routledge. ISBN 9781134755547.
  10. ^ McGill, Stewart. "UK'S FOREMOST CIRCUS SHOWMAN RETURNS WITH BIG NEW TOURING SHOW". An online journal of the circus arts. The International Spectacle. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  11. ^ a b "Circus master Gerry Cottle now supports a ban". Animal Defenders International. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  12. ^ Hobart, Angela (2006). Aesthetics in Performance: Formations of Symbolic Construction and Experience. Berghahn Books. p. 220. ISBN 9781845453152.
  13. ^ "Turbo-charged entertainment for lovers of circus". Western Daily Press. December 20, 2013. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  14. ^ "5 days in the life of ... Gerry Cottle". The Independent. 5 April 1998. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  15. ^ Tyzack, Anna (2 Apr 2012). "My perfect weekend: Gerry Cottle, circus owner". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  16. ^ Salter, Jessica (24 Aug 2012). "World of Gerry Cottle, circus owner". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014.

External links[edit]