Boys' & Girls' Circus Book
First edition: 1939
Publisher: News Chronicle
Illustrator: Hilda McGavin
Category: One-off Novels
Publisher: News Chronicle
Illustrator: Hilda McGavin
Category: One-off Novels
On This Page...
Colour plates from the 1st edition, illustrated by Hilda McGavin
Spine and front cover from the 1942 Newnes reprint which was issued with a dustwrapper,
illustrated by Hilda McGavin
It could well be but in this particular case the passage is in Enid Blyton's Circus Book and I can't think of any other of her works that would contain such a description although there are several that have gun-toting men in them.
This story has as its stars a boy and a girl around the ten year mark, maybe a little older, and they're in a sad position. Their mother is dead and their father is going to Australia so the two kids are due to enter children's homes. Unfortunately this means that Susy-Ann and her brother, Pip, will be separated because the Homes are single sex. That is the unhappy situation and makes it a little similar in its own way to Three Boys and a Circus which is another Enid Blyton tale.
It's Mr. Phillipino's Circus that comes to camp in the field next to where the children live and they are naturally interested in the exciting spectacle of the Big Top and the activity around it. They befriend Jerry who is the 'most important person in the circus' — that's according to Jerry because he runs around fetching things, grooming the elephants, feeding the chimps, scattering the sawdust down in the ring and generally making himself as useful as he can He invites Susy-Ann and Pip to visit him in the evening which they do and they really enjoy themselves because they see the camp at close quarters and even meet up with Madame Clara the parrot woman who would be the equivalent of Madame Prunella, the character with the parrot-act in the Galliano series of books by the same author.
It needs to be mentioned that Pip is yet another Blyton individual who likes animals to such an extent that he possesses a little white mouse called Snowball who has the freedom to run anywhere it likes inside his owner's clothing. Pip and his sister are accompanied to the circus camp by Mr. Binks. Mr. Binks belongs to Susy and he is a snow-white goat with a long beard and a penchant for eating simply anything and by that I mean 'Anything!' Another point of note is that Pip has a talent rather favoured by the author — he cam imitate the noise made by anything and by that I mean 'Anything!'
The children visit Jerry each day and eventually the circus boy arranges to get them into the show for free. They attend and naturally there is a description of the spectacle which has a trumpeted beginning and ranges through the various acts featuring Mr. Phillipino with his beautiful daughter Annabella, and their wonderful horses and then there are acrobats, Madame Clara's parrots, a sword-swallower, a dancing bear, chimpanzees, and of course, the hilarious clowns — three of them. What a display and it's two very tired children that make their way home.
In the 1930s and 1940s it seems to have been pretty untrammelled as far as government regulations are concerned. Father leaves the children and heads for Australia to make some money with the idea in mind, presumably, that when he's amassed a little he'll send for his children. The children? They'll catch a bus next day to where they will meet someone who'll register them into their institutions. It's all very matter-of-fact but the kids are dreading it because they want to be together and how about Mr. Binks? He won't be allowed to go with them and that's something which can't be countenanced. A solution is found however and the day before the circus packs up and the children have to part from each other, Jerry comes up with a plan. Why can't he smuggle Pip and Susy-Ann into a storage caravan and take them away when the circus leaves? The plan is followed through and even Mr. Binks is catered to because Jerry can simply state that the goat was given to him by the departed Pip & Susy-Ann. You can imagine the cramped quarters which the refugees have to endure but they can manage because they're together with their goat and that makes life easier. Jerry looks after them and brings them food which they consume after sneaking out and concealing themselves in the bushes on the nearby common.
"I do feel happy," said Pip, leaning back against a birch tree and eating a large piece of ginger cake.
"So do I," said Susy-Ann, sucking barley sugar. "This is the nicest part of today. Oh. Jerry, we've really escaped haven't we?"
They have but despite the easy-going atmosphere of the period there is always a little bit of Authority in the background which must justify its presence — where are the children? A couple of men accompanied by a policeman descend on the circus naturally because it was encamped right next to the Pip and Susy-Ann's house at one stage. You might well wonder where they can hide. They can't nip off to the surrounding fields because everyone is on the lookout for them and — quote: 'The searchers went into caravan after caravan and even peeped into the animals' cages.' As for the caravan where Susy-Ann and her brother are residing — it's entered by the searchers of course and ' ... every pole and every bit of tent-canvas was lifted up!' Where can the runaways be?
They're around — but they cannot be found!
Two children can't really exist under cover in a circus for long without being discovered and the obvious thing to do is to try and legitimize it so Jerry's mother, Mrs. Ronald, who is the spouse of Juana the sword-swallower, is let in on the secret with an accompanying plea for help. The two stowaways are brought in and Mrs. Ronald's heart melts at the sight of them. A decision has to be made — Phillipino must be told of course and in the meantime let's clean 'em up. I guess she has one of those tin baths with handles which people had in the old days because she takes both the kids and scrubs them clean in her caravan then gives them some gear. Pip has an old jersey and some shorts of Jerry's and Susy-Ann has to settle for a vest and a shawl until the meagre ration of clothes they've brought with them can be laundered. The circus owner is confronted and persuaded to let the children stay for the meantime but the police must be told so that their father can be cabled and informed of the arrangement. This is welcome news indeed and now then there is much work to be done because the old caravan that had been used as a hiding place needs to be cleaned up and painted and turned into accommodation for Pip and his sister and also Jerry who will join them. The circus folk chip in — Mrs. Ronald makes some curtains for the window, Madame Clara the parrot woman, cleans the windows and gives Susy-Ann a little clock. Mr. Jummy, the elephant trainer, fashions some bed-bunks which he nails to three sides of the caravan and Mr. Hola, owner of the two chimpanzees, gives Pip a shilling to buy some biscuits to put on the shelf. Jinks and Jenks, the trapeze artists, supply some apples and bananas so altogether it's a very happy time for the three children.
Having settled in, there follows a period of circus-life education for the two additions to the camp. They meet the performers and become familiar with the animals and watch them all practising in the Big-Top. It's an outdoor type of life and the children love it together with all the little quirks and surprises their environment offers such as watching Mr. Ronald choke over a bread-crumb that went down the wrong way. Well, that's quite a normal thing to happen on the odd occasion but consider this — Mr. Ronald, you might remember, is a sword and dagger swallower! Madame Clara is just like her counterpart Madame Prunella who works in the famous Galliano's Circus which most of us have read about. She's a lovely warm person most of the time but she can change very rapidly if someone or something upsets her and then she turns into a tornado which expresses itself very physically so make sure don't offend her and if you do then don your running shoes and make like a blue-streak!
Every now and again Pip demonstrates his amazing ability to imitate the cries of the parrots or the trumpeting of the elephants and even speaking to the chimps, Yanky and Doodle, in their own language. This makes him a favourite with all the creatures and he is marvelled at by anyone who watches him exhibit his talent. The circus goes on the road and stops at various places where it sets up shop and earns money so that it can be spent on replacing attire and other possessions that have disappeared down Mr. Binks' gullet. That goat can be considered as a nuisance because you have to guard your possessions so carefully in case they end up as food for the incorrigible creature. He'll have a go at anything so the circus props and the performers' clothing needs to be monitored and even Mr. Phillipino's coat-tails need guarding. The circus folk are very clean and tidy in the best Enid Blyton tradition so they collect up all the bits of paper, cigarette packets, sweet bags and other odds and ends that litter the field after the circus has packed up and I had a time-saving thought about this — why not let Mr. Binks loose on the field when they're ready to depart so that he can eat up all the rubbish?
The camp settles down by the sea at one stage so there's swimming and walks along the beach in sunny weather. The days are brightened up by various incidents such as Mr. Binks falling over a cliff at one stage! It's fairly reasonable to assume that a few of the untoward happenings that took place in the Galliano books will also occur in this saga — and they do. A storm blows up and Madame Clara, as Prunella did, experiences a calamity — but one a little more destructive and potentially deadly. Everybody rallies around however and the children play their part. Pip becomes a very handy person to have in the circus with his noise-imitation ability. Another incident that happened at Galliano's circus is repeated here:- Who is the thief sneaking round the camp? He or she needs to be apprehended and it's rather depressing to think that a member of the close-knit group is betraying his or her fellow-performers. Then another dramatic episode takes place and the picture of Tag smashing up a caravan gives us an inkling of what's going on. What happens is that the circus is camped near a castle in Johnstown where soldiers are housed. A V.I.P, namely a Duke, is visiting so the cannon is fired three times as a welcome. Tag, who is an elephant, goes berserk when he hears the enormous bangs and he attacks the caravan containing Grizzle the bear. That's no good at all because we all know what happened when Dobby and Grizel (different spelling), the Galliano bears, received a severe shock — yes, they bolted ... so Phillipino's Circus is temporarily without a bear. Poor Delia. She's the animal's owner and worried sick because the soldiers in the castle have been ordered to hunt down Grizzle and (to put it diplomatically) see that he is attended to!
Moving on, there comes the time when Mr. Binks unexpectedly becomes a circus performer and that's a turn for the books considering his destructive behaviour. Pip is practising his wonderful noises each day. The letter sent to his father for permission concerning their current accommodation is taking quite a time to be answered although that's not mysterious because Australia is a long way away and in the 1930s much of the mail went by sea — however, the head of the Children's Homes is getting impatient because he feels that circus life is not right for youngsters. Various other problems spring up and are reported upon by Enid Blyton who likes to keep her readers interested and one heart-breaking episode involves that perennial mischief-maker ... Mr. Binks. He's very naughty; in fact, he's so naughty that he must go! Susy-Ann, in particular, is distraught and things look very grim but then the goat redeems himself by doing the circus a big favour and when I say big I mean 'Big!' There's clown trouble, and some astonishing action by two of the elephants — Rag and Tag. Then a couple of performers are indisposed so things seem, to be going down ... the children will have to leave because they aren't receiving schooling ... and down ... and then with Annabella's assistance, things start going upwards a little bit. There's a pleasant interlude when a performer leaves and a party is given in his honour the night before the circus moves to another venue:—
An enormous campfire was lighted and the circus folk gathered round it. Annabella brought out a guitar and played gay little tunes on it. Madame Clara sang wild songs in a strange language that nobody understood. Delia's bear came and danced for the company. The flames of the bonfire threw big black dancing shadows. Susy-Ann was cuddled on Uncle (she and Pip calls him that) Juana's knee, listening dreamily to Annabella's guitar. She was very happy. Pip and Jerry were playing with Yankee and Doodle who had been allowed to join the party. It was all very gay and exciting. Everyone sang songs, some sad, some merry, till the bonfire died down, and the big moon came up in the sky and hung like a lantern there.
Towards the end there is some wonderful news for Pip who, as we know, can imitate any noise — so put two and two together. The tale ends on an extremely positive note and it involves a bizarre twist which could be classed as one of the strangest that has occurred in any of the author's countless books.
Question: Who's the most notable character?
Answer: Mr. Binks — I think.
The children's father is faded out — never to return, it seems.
Good book to read but without the impact of the Galliano tales. This could be due to the latter having the advantage of continuing on in two more books (plus) so we get to know the circus and its performers a little better.
According to the bibliography, the book originally came out in 1939 entitled as Boys' and Girls' Circus Book.
The pictures are open to opinion — at least the ones in the 1949 edition. Hilda McGavin's art which graced the pages of the original edition would be worth an airing.
The reference copy contains 160 pages which makes it a good-sized read — much longer than your average Secret Seven, about the same as a Find-Outers book, less than the Gallianos, and about half of a Bill Smugs book but if the pages were compared as to word content I wouldn't be at all surprised if the final count didn't equal or exceed that of the third and fourth-mentioned.
Tony adds: I have always been intrigued by the unanswered questions and mystery that surround the initial publication of this book. It was published by the News Chronicle and all the other books that they published simply contained recycled short stories, previously published by Newnes. Yet this book was a novel and had never been published before. Enid never liked to waste anything, and my theory is that this is a resurrected version of her unsuccessful adult novel, The Caravan Goes On, that had been rejected by Newnes several years earlier. At the time of its publication, Enid was in the middle of the Galliano series for Newnes, and this adds weight to my theory that the book had been written some time before, as Enid is unlikely to have written another circus novel in the middle of a popular series. This might further explain the somewhat bizarre title, Boys' and Girls' Circus Book, as anyone glancing at it from the cover would probably take it as a non-fiction book, and Newnes may have insisted on this title so as not to detract from the Galliano novels.
Both this title and the one adopted in a Latimer House reprint, Enid Blyton's Circus Book, also had the effect of misleading potential publishers many years later, as it is the only full-length Blyton novel never to have been issued as a paperback. The original book, which was illustrated by Hilda McGavin, also has the distinction of being the only Enid Blyton novel to contain over 100 illustrations.