I was brought up in Clydebank in a tenement and I developed an interest in Scottish music at a very early age. At the age of three I learned to operate the gramophone and with a kidney shaped pouffe for a stage and a shadeless standard lamp for a microphone would spend hours belting out Andy Stewart’s "Scottish Soldier" and "Donald where’s yer troosers", not forgetting Tom and Jack’s "These are my mountains", much to the neighbours’ annoyance.
Christmas always meant a trip to the Kelvin Hall Circus and to the Pantomimes at the Pavilion and King’s theatres. Other shows followed at various venues including the Alhambra and Jimmy Logan’s Metropole. This was my first taste of variety theatre. In my youth I took part in many church concerts and caught the performing ‘bug’. At the tender age of fifteen I decided that I was going to become a clown, having spent numerous summers on holiday in Blackpool, where the Tower Circus was always a must and Charlie Cairoli became my idol. I left school at sixteen and worked in the mail room at Weir Pumps in Yoker. During this time Perzo the Clown was born. I was always trying to perfect my clowning skills and was asked to be the entertainment at the odd children’s party. I also auditioned as one of the juniors in the Pavilion Panto "Mother MacGlasgow" which starred Glen Daly and Denny Willis. The manager of the theatre at the time was Billy Dunlop who was eager to use my knock about skills throughout the show and would bill me as a prodigy of Denny’s. Unfortunately that role didn’t materialise.
In my eagerness to secure work as a clown, at the age of 17 I wrote to Charlie at the Tower Circus asking him for work. The work wasn’t forthcoming but I did get an invite to meet him in his dressing room, a day I will never forget. In the hour or so that I spent with him, watching him make up, and talking with him, I learnt so much. Also during that holiday in Blackpool I was to meet and begin a lifelong friendship with multi-instrumentalist and unicyclist Roy Rivers. I was fortunate enough to look 18 and was able to get into the Ocean Room bar in the Tower where Roy was performing. In desperation to have a go on his unicycle I volunteered for his audience participation spot. With Roy’s guidance and my eccentric dance we hit it off, and for the rest of my holiday I appeared at the Tower Ocean room as comedy feed for Roy.
Back in Glasgow I met up with the Patchell Brothers two-man circus and was invited to do the occasional guest spot on their show whenever I could get the time off work. It was after one of these shows that we visited the winter quarters of Circus Markus, near Kirk O’ Shotts, and I was introduced to Rodney Mac, the owner, who offered me my first professional engagement as a clown touring small towns and villages around central Scotland with his show for the 1977 season. So I left my job at Weir Pumps with a salary of Ł45 a week and joined the circus for the princely sum of Ł25 a week. My mother was certainly not amused and assured me that it was a phase I was going through, and that I would be home within the month. Circus life was hard but fun and it wasn’t until the end of the season that I returned home to Clydebank.
Having signed up with a casting agency I started to get occasional TV extra work. It was during one of these jobs that someone suggested that the Holiday Camps were always looking for children’s entertainers and that maybe I should apply. I duly did so and in February of 1978 found myself at the Plaza Ballroom Eglington Toll auditioning for Jimmy Kennedy and Pontin’s Holidays. In those days Pontin’s was split into two regions and although Jimmy didn’t have anywhere for me he passed my name on to Bridie Reid and I was booked for the season at their Broadreeds Camp down at Selsey Bill. Here started a long and happy time which lasted all of thirteen years at various Pontin’s camps around the UK and abroad. My years at Pontin’s saw me develop into an all-round entertainer, presenting not just my clown act but also dancing and singing in the resident shows, acting as compere and doing a late night cabaret spot singing Scottish classics. Wanting to advance to the cabaret circuit I worked on my comedy unicycle, rola rola balancing act and created a new character called Rossini, an eccentric old man in the style of Mr Pastry.
During this time I got involved with the International Circus Clowns Club which is better known today as Clowns International. I appeared in many of the Gala Shows with my Rossini act and had the pleasure of working a short routine, featuring my Exploding Bagpipes, with Sir Norman Wisdom for a lunch time TV Show from BBC Pebble Mill. It was at their tenth convention, the final one to take place in Bognor Regis, that I was asked to produce both the Gala and Sunday International Shows. At the end of the1990 summer season I decided to leave Pontin’s and try pastures new. I found accommodation in Brighton and started doing Galas, Fetes, promotional work and special guest appearances with Zippo’s Circus, Paulo’s Circus and Circus Harlequin. More TV Extra work followed on programmes such as "The Bill", "Darling Buds of May", "Waiting for God" and "House of Elliot" to name just a few.
Within eighteen months I was on the move again and found myself settling in Bournemouth. I had also been introduced to Laci Endrez who was now producing The Blackpool Tower Circus and I was asked if I would be interested in appearing in the 1994 Christmas Circus. This was a dream come true, to follow in the footsteps of my idol Charlie Cairoli. More work followed which saw me travelling to work in Norway, Holland, Spain, Italy, Kuwait and Dubai. I had also become a member of the Bournemouth Caledonian Society and would go out with their Scottish Country Dance Team to entertain at old folks homes in the area. From this my Scottish cabaret act developed and it wasn’t long before I was performing at Burns suppers and using my piping skills at weddings and funerals. On one occasion the Caledonian society asked me if I would give them a talk on my career as a clown. This was something I had never thought of before but was a great success, so much so that invitations to talk at local Women’s Guilds and Institutes started rolling in.
It was at this time that one of my friends from the Caledonian Society thought it would be a good idea to set me up on a blind date. By now in my late 30s I was resigned to being single. The girl in question was Tracy; we fell in love and a year to the day we married. Thankfully Tracy accepted the work I do and the odd hours it involves. She has fallen madly in love with Scotland, its culture and its sense of humour, which meant that we always ensured our various trips up to Clydebank to see my mother coincided with a variety show at the Pavilion, for example "Pride of the Clyde". It was after one of these holidays when we had also booked into a hotel in Grantown-on-Spey where the Alexander Brothers were appearing, that Tracy persuaded me to make the move back to Scotland for the culture and the opportunity to see more of the shows we both adore. In December 2002 Tracy and I moved into our new home in Denny and the process of re-establishing myself has begun with work from children’s parties, corporate events, talks, cabaret and Extra work to being an all-singing all-dancing Santa at Asda Cumbernauld. Perzo the clown is happy to be back home in his native land and who knows where you may see him next?
Photographs by kind courtesy of Dave McIntyre and the Charlie Cairoli Appreciation Society.
Perzo the Clown
Many years ago as a young boy brought up in the Gorbals of Glasgow, I was taken by my mother and father, once a week on Friday evenings to the Metropole Theatre in Stockwell Street, Glasgow, for the first house of whatever variety show was playing at the time.
I remember going in to the foyer from the fog and cold outside and seeing the welcoming warmth of a real coal fire. Around the fire were large leather arm chairs and a couch where the patrons could wait for the first house to come out, so they could in turn go in for the second house. I remember how most of the shows, on those long-ago winter nights, featured the Logan Family - Jack Short, May Dalziel, Jimmy Logan with his catch phrase “Sausages is the boys”, brother Buddy and sister Heather.
I also remember popular performers like George Rex, Nicky Kidd, and Jimmy Neil., as well as dancers Benny Garcia, Danny Regan and Irene Campbell, and of course, the May Moxon Young Ladies. I have been going to live theatre, especially variety ever since.
I also remember popular performers like George Rex, Nicky Kidd, and Jimmy Neil., as well as dancers Benny Garcia, Danny Regan and Irene Campbell, and of course, the May Moxon Young Ladies. I have been going to live theatre, especially variety ever since.In later years after having to give up my work as a roofer due to arthritis I started to collect memorabilia from the great days of the variety theatre. Unbeknown to me at the time I did not know that my wife Eleanor’s grandfather Norman MacLeod had worked for some years on the Scottish Music Hall stage, I only found out when I was given some old posters from the 1890s with Norman MacLeod as one half of a hand balancing act, ‘The Two Normans’. One poster was from the Britannia in Argyle Street dated 1905 and another with Norman MacLeod on the same bill as Harry Lauder. Over the last 20 years my collection has been growing and today I have well over 1800 programmes, a similar number of photographs, 180 posters, and 500 books about the variety theatre and music-hall much of which is used in various exhibitions staged by the Society.
For a few years I had the part time job as stagedoor keeper in the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow and enjoyed meeting so many of the artistes that I had admired over the years. My favourite theatre has always been the Glasgow Empire where I saw artistes like Frankie Laine, Johnny Ray, Alma Cogan, David Whitfield, Billy Daniels and supporting acts Wilson , Keppel & Betty, Jimmy James, Rob Murray and many, many more.
I have an ongoing project on the Glasgow Empire Theatre which closed in 1963 and I have written and received replies from many of the top American stars and others who have appeared in this great theatre. I now have my own web site on the Glasgow Empire www.freewebs.com/glasgow-empire/ and have received over 1800 visitors with quite a few leaving messages with their memories of visiting or appearing at the Empire. As Secretary of the Society I am kept very busy but love every minute of it, especially when hearing from the many people who have a like interest in the great days of variety theatre.
Magical Champion of Illusion in 1998 and a recognition award for the achievement in 2000.
Chris’s work has recently taken him to places as far a field as Hong Kong, San Francisco, Israel, Cyprus, Russia, and many other European locations. The most memorable was doing a one night performance in Hong Kong for the 38th Products Expo in Victoria Park. This involved a huge performance of spectacular illusions being backed by live music from The New Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and a cast of dancers, acrobats and jugglers. The show involved the disappearance of 12 cast members in a flash and told the story of the creation of the Chinese Zodiac. As well as his own illusions being flown out for the event, Chris, sent plans for some of the bigger effects to be built in China for this massive 45 minute production. The show was choreographed to end exactly at midnight for a New Year firework spectacular and laser light show.
Closer to home, Chris De Rosa has also worked as magical advisor for the Scottish Opera, Pavilion Theatre, STV’s Taggart, and numerous other theatrical productions and events. Chris is a member of The International Brotherhood of Magicians and in his spare time does Paranormal Investigations as an active member of the worlds oldest paranormal research organisation, The Ghost Club of Great Britain. This year he has plans to return to the competition side of things and to take his act back over to the States for a short time.
So watch this space………………..
June Don Murray was born in Scarborough. Her parents were both in show business, appearing in a local theatre in a show titled ‘On the Bounce’. Her father did a trampoline act and her mother was a dancer in the show.
June arrived six weeks earlier than planned, in the digs they had in Nelson Street, Scarborough. Returning to Edinburgh at the age of four years old, June was sent to dancing classes.
At the age of ten she joined the ‘Madam Ada’ Dance School and at fifteen went into one of Madam Ada’s dance troupes known as the "Calder Troupe". The troupe joined the Logan Family Show, with a young Jimmy Logan and dancer Billy Cameron. At this time she was known as June Parker until Jimmy Logan’s mum and dad asked her if she was Roy Don’s wee lassie as they had worked with her dad when he was manager/ producer at the Palladium Theatre, in Edinburgh. Thereafter she took the stage name of June Don.
June eventually joined the Hamish Turner Dancers, through the Galt Agency. The troupe included Doreen, Lena, who married Hector Nicol, Mildred, who married Ronnie Coburn, Nancy, who married Hugh McIlroy and Anna, who married Dickie Blair What a team they were! They worked with Hamish’s troupe for several years then most of them moved on to become "May Moxon’s Young Ladies" in the Tommy Morgan Show at the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow and also worked with many of Scotland’s top acts e.g. Johnny Victory, Bert Denver, Alex Finlay and Lex Mclean amongst others.
Looking forward to a two week break at home in Edinburgh, her father told her there had been a phone call from Dan Cambell, manager of the Palladium in Edinburgh, saying that, Australian illusionist The Great Levante had been in touch and that he needed a dancer for his show and that Dan had recommended her.
People may think that shows like Levante’s ‘How’s Trick’s’ did not have much dancing in them but Levante’s daughter Esme was ballet mistress and she made sure the dancers were in nearly every scene.
They travelled all day Sundays every week to different cities, in a very large coach complete with rocket on top looking rather like something from outer space !.Needless to say the two weeks break June had looked forward to was no more. With three days of rehearsals for "How’s Tricks" leading to the big climax, the illusion ‘Journey into Space’. She wished she was in space! June worked with Levante for two years and enjoyed every minute of it.Eventually she received a call from May Moxon saying she had a place at the Pavilion Theatre, Glasgow, in the Lex McLean Show for the summer season. June’s father was playing in pantomime in Newcastle. Jay Morrell, the producer, needed another girl in his troupe and June was asked. This fitted in fine, summer show with Lex Mclean followed by panto. In those days June and the other dancers were never out of work. June met and married a lovely man, George Murray. They had a daughter, Caroline followed by a son Gavin. At this time June lived about five minutes away from the Palladium in Edinburgh.
When Caroline was five years old, June answered a knock at her door to find Billy Dunlop ( Lex’s producer) standing there. Billy asked her if she could fill in for a couple of weeks with the Moxon’s and she ended up doing the whole season. The Head girl, Ginty McEwen told her to bring Caroline to the theatre during rehearsals and the whole cast helped to look after her. Fortunately her husband George, was always home at night and her mother – in - law lived just down the road so help was always at hand. When Gavin was born, June had to draw the line but still managed to do a panto season in the nearby Kings Theatre.
These days June is still very active. She ran a fitness class for "Scottish Keep Fit" for 25 years and now runs a class for over fifty year olds with Adult Education.
We wonder where June will go next ? !