Gerry Cottle

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Gerry Cottle
Gerald Ward Cottle

(1945-04-07)7 April 1945
Carshalton, Surrey, England
Died13 January 2021(2021-01-13) (aged 75)
Occupation(s)Businessman, circus owner, owner of Wookey Hole Caves

Gerald Ward Cottle (7 April 1945 – 13 January 2021)[1][2] was a British circus owner and the owner of the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset. He presented the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus in Britain, founded Gerry Cottle's Circus, and co-founded The Circus of Horrors.

Early life[edit]

Gerry Cottle was born in Carshalton, Surrey.[3] His father was a stockbroker and grand-master in the Freemasons.[4] Gerry Cottle was educated at Rutlish School, Merton Park, south London and left home in 1961 at the age of 16 to join the Robert Brothers Circus.[5]

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,[6] and then to own his own show,[7] which opened in July 1970, with just five performers.[8] He established his Big Top in 1974 and ran it until 2003.[9] By the mid-1970s the Gerry Cottle Circus was touring Britain with three shows.[10] In 1975 he purchased a unimproved plot in Surrey for £40,000 and lived there for 30 years, eventually selling it for £3m.[11] He also presented the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus in Britain.[8] In 1995, he co-created The Circus of Horrors with Doktor Haze which debuted at the Glastonbury Festival and has toured the world since then.[12] This was a collaborative venture with Archaos, a French contemporary circus.[13]

In 2003 he auctioned off much of his circus paraphernalia in order to concentrate on running Wookey Hole Caves, a tourist attraction in Somerset.[7] In 2012 he celebrated fifty years in the business with a new show, Turbo Circus: 50 Acts In 100 Minutes, on a 31-week tour.[14] Cottle and his Magic Circus undertook another months-long tour in 2017.[15]

Animal acts[edit]

Gerry Cottle's Circus originally toured with a variety of animals including horses, zebras, elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, and llamas.[16][17] The 1980s saw an increase in public opinion against animal acts. Cottle sold his last elephant and by the end of 1993 had a non-animal circus. 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.[16]

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 were trained in a wide range of circus skills, and performed at the theatre and in Cottle's touring show Turbo Circus.[18]

Personal life[edit]

He married Betty Fossett, youngest daughter of circus showman Jim Fossett, in 1968. The couple had three daughters and a son.[6] In the 1980s he became addicted to cocaine and was jailed.[5] His daughters set up Cottle Sisters Circus.[19] He was separated from Betty and had another partner, Anna Carter of Carters Steam Fair.[when?] They had also separated.[20][21]

Cottle was the guest for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs on 15 September 1984. His choices included the "Radetzky March" by Johann Strauss Sr., and Help! by the Beatles. His favourite was "American Pie" by Don McLean.[22]


Cottle died in hospital in Bath, Somerset, in January 2021, aged 75, after contracting COVID-19 during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United Kingdom.[23]


  1. ^ Gerald Ward Cottle, CompanyCheck. Retrieved 14 January 2021
  2. ^ "Birthdays", The Guardian, p. 31, 7 April 2014
  3. ^ "Gerry Cottle, circus showman and Wookey Hole Caves owner, dies of Covid aged 75". The Guardian. 14 January 2021.
  4. ^ Obituaries, Telegraph (14 January 2021). "Gerry Cottle, celebrated circus impresario who brought drama and razzmatazz to his shows – obituary". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  5. ^ a b Stroud, Clover (17 September 2006). "Big top, bigger life". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 January 2021.(subscription required)
  6. ^ a b "Gerry Cottle: Showman Supreme". National Fairground and Circus Archive. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  7. ^ a b "Cottle leaves big top behind". BBC News website. 4 October 2003. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  8. ^ 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". 27 September 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  9. ^ "Gerry Cottle's Circus returns - in pictures". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  10. ^ "A high-wire act". The Times. 22 August 2007. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  11. ^ Wright, John (20 September 2020). "Gerry Cottle: 'I've been a millionaire and I've been bankrupt'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ Childs, Peter (13 May 2013). Encyclopaedia of Contemporary British Culture. Routledge. ISBN 9781134755547.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Dodd, Rachael (12 September 2017). "Gerry Cottle's circus cancels on Exeter to stay in Plymouth". PlymouthLive. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Circus master Gerry Cottle now supports a ban". Animal Defenders International. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  17. ^ Hobart, Angela (2006). Aesthetics in Performance: Formations of Symbolic Construction and Experience. Berghahn Books. p. 220. ISBN 9781845453152.
  18. ^ "Turbo-charged entertainment for lovers of circus". Western Daily Press. 20 December 2013. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  19. ^ "5 days in the life of ... Gerry Cottle". The Independent. 5 April 1998. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  20. ^ Tyzack, Anna (2 April 2012). "My perfect weekend: Gerry Cottle, circus owner". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  21. ^ Salter, Jessica (24 August 2012). "World of Gerry Cottle, circus owner". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  22. ^ "Herry Cottle, Desert Island Discs - BBC Radio 4". BBC. 15 September 1984. Retrieved 14 January 2021.
  23. ^ "Gerry Cottle: Somerset circus star dies with coronavirus", BBC News. Retrieved 14 January 2021

External links[edit]