Mary Chipperfield

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Mary Chipperfield (1938–2014[1]) was a 1970s British circus entertainer who specialised in a chimpanzee act. She was also known as an animal trainer, providing numerous animals for various BBC productions and the 1967 movie Doctor Dolittle.[2]


She was born in a circus caravan in Kentish Town, London.[1] Her father was Jimmy Chipperfield and his wife Rose (née Purchase; 1912–2006). The Purchase family had a long history of travelling menageries, and Rose had a lion act herself. The two shows amalgamated about two years after the couple married (around 1930). Chipperfield's Circus was managed by Jimmy's father at the time and control later passed to his older brother.

Early career[edit]

In 1955 her father broke away from the family circus and, after a brief spell at farming and managing other shows, he and Mary began providing animals for film work.

Southampton Zoo[edit]

In 1961 Jimmy founded Southampton Zoological Gardens on Southampton Common and Mary used this as a base for taming a variety of wild animals for roles in films and Chipperfield's Circus.[3]


In the 1960s her father began to develop drive-through safari parks.[4] Mary and her husband Richard Cawley were actively involved in the creation of the Longleat Safari Park. Mary wrote about its creation and first year of public operation in Lions on the Lawn (1971).[5]

Christmas shows in the 1970s[edit]

Just as the BBC showed Billy Smart's Circus shows on Christmas Day for several years during the 1970s, ITV would show Chipperfield's Circus in competition. This brought Mary even more into the public eye and she was featured in magazine articles and features such as a photospread in Princess Tina Annual 1971.[6]

Conviction for animal cruelty[edit]

In 1999, Mary Chipperfield was accused of cruel treatment of some animals in her circus. In April 1998 a infant chimpanzee named Trudy had been seized by police and taken to the 'Monkey World' sanctuary after being repeatedly kicked, beaten and made to sleep in a tiny box.[7] Chipperfield was found guilty of twelve counts of cruelty to animals and fined £8,500.[8]


  1. ^ a b "'You Ask The Questions'". The Independent. 9 June 1999. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  2. ^ Mary Chipperfield, Lions on the Lawn (1971)
  3. ^ Helen Kitley. Did You Know: Southampton Used to Have a Zoo?. Wessex Scene. March 2013.
  4. ^ Jimmy Chipperfield. My Wild Life. London: Putnam, 1975.
  5. ^ Mary Chipperfield. Lions on the Lawn. London: Fontana, 1971. ISBN 0340148934
  6. ^ 'A swimming lesson for Suki'. Princess Tina Annual 1971. London: IPC Magazines, 1970.
  7. ^ "Abused chimp's new life". BBC News. 27 January 1999. Retrieved 13 April 2013.
  8. ^ "Circus trainers fined for cruelty". BBC News. April 1999. Retrieved 13 April 2013.

External links[edit]