WHATEVER HAPPENED TO Ringmaster NORMAN BARRETT?
If you grew up in Great Britain during the 1970s and 80s, then chances are you will remember "The World's Greatest Ringmaster" Norman Barrett. He became popular during a time when circuses featured performing wild animals for their acts.
In 1966, Norman became a ringmaster at Blackpool Tower Circus, after Bertram Mills Circus closed down. Barrett worked at Tower Circus for 25 years. The public adored him, as did his fellow artistes, including the star clown, Charlie Cairoli - remember him?
During the 1970s, Norman created his legendary act with performing budgerigars, which he would show at the circus, as well as in carbaret venues across the UK, and also European nightclubs during the winter months. Barratt also became well-known for working with horses, ponies and elephants at Tower Circus. However, the budgie act gradually took prominence and the ringmaster discovered that he could earn an equally good living from it - the overheads were low, as the budgies didn't require much food, transportation or grooms to look after them, as with the larger animals.
From 1976 until 1981, Norman was also a ringmaster at Belle Vie International Circus in Manchester. He also became ringmaster for the Circus World Championships which aired on BBC, and then ITV between 1976 and 1986. Barratt also appeared in numerous televised circus specials and became a household name.
In 1986, Barratt witnessed the savage attack of lion trainer Luis Palacio, by one of the lions in his act. He went to his aid with two ring boys, and after nine hours of surgery Palacio survived. He returned to Tower Circus in 1988 and continued to perform with dangerous animals.
Norman spent his final season at Blackpool Tower Circus during 1990, before the use of animals was banned at the venue. In the same year, TV presenter Michael Aspel surprised him with the famous big red book during his last season, and This Is Your Life was broadcast from Tower Circus (see video clip above).
Barrett went to work at the Superdome Circus at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a brand new venue which was the idea of Peter Jay. Jay also lost his job as producer at Tower Circus. The Superdome continued to work with animals until its final year in 1997.
After the closure of Superdome, Norman took his ringmaster skills and his bird act overseas to the U.S., working with the Big Apple Circus, and was much-loved the his new American audience.
However, after just two years in the states, Barrett returned to his home country and became ringmaster for Zippos Circus, where he also performs his budgie act. Now in his 80s, Norman is still working at Zippos.
In 2010, Norman received an MBE.
During 2016, Zippos celebrated its 30th anniversary on the road.