no people like show people

I wish I’d been around when Pete Collins was presenting his “You’ll Never Believe It” shows. Luckily Don Stacey was and he wrote about it here

I saw it at the Croydon Empire theatre but cannot tell you what the bill comprised of since my father did not buy the show’s printed programme. Instead, he bought me a signed photograph of the show’s giant attraction, Lofty, a Dutchman born in 1897 whose real name was Albert Johan Kramer. He was nearly six feet tall by the time he was seven, and eventually grew to nine feet three and a half inches. He married the sister of the Swiss midget Seppetoni, who partnered Lofty in his stage appearances. 

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Lofty was quite a character. In his prime he weighed thirty-two stone and every item he wore had to be specially made for him. On tour in Britain, he liked nothing more than to stroll into the famous Thirty Shilling Tailors and order half a dozen suits and a couple of overcoats. A typical breakfast for him was six plates of Scotch porridge, followed by eight kippers, two pounds of grilled sausages and half a dozen tomatoes, topped off with a dozen bread rolls and eight cups of black coffee. During the deprivations of war in Nazi-occupied Holland, he shrunk to eleven stone. After the Liberation, it took one and a half years to regain his normal health. 

A visit to his town by Bostock and Wombwell’s Circus introduced Pete Collins to his first sideshow, with a Fat Lady, Tattooed Man, Indiarubber Man and other attractions of the time. Pete forged a career with what became billed as “The Strangest Show the World Has Ever Seen”. His telegraphic address was “Incredible, London”, and those two words summed up his link with some of the strangest acts the world has known.

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A chance meeting in a barber’s shop with a French robotic performer led him to form a show beginning with Lofty and Sepetoni, the 23 inch high midget, Madame Fifi the educated pig, Radiana, an electrical machine which performed conjuring tricks, Elroy the armless artist, and Rene Mazie, the Mechanical Man, Lemo the tame lioness trained by Prince Mercado, and other artistes like Professor Cheer, the Man with the Xylophone Skull

Radiana found here

Fifi the pig developed a hankering for greasepaint sticks and was eventually banished to a pen rather than her trainer’s dressing room. A theatre manager’s son was attacked by Lemo the lioness when the boy ventured into her dressing room, and endured 16 stitches in his scalp as a result of his injuries. 

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I have a programme in my collection for December 1948, when Collins presented Fredel (“Is he Man or is it a Wax Dummy?”); Elroy the armless artiste; Crotchet, the Mad Musician; Stuthard, “the Incredible Canadian”; the Man with the Xylophone Skull; the Bespalys with their Unbreakable Doll; Lofty and Pippi, “the famous midget from Olympia, London”; and Mushie, the forest-bred lion which ate a steak from Ellen’s forehead twice nightly

James Elroy filleting fish with his feet found here

In its 17th year of touring, Collins presented Katja, the tallest woman in the world (eight feet four and a half inches in her nylons, and weighing 33 stone) and The World’s Fattest Family (weighing in at half a ton); along with Radiana, the ‘machine that shaves a man with an ordinary razor’; Nemec and Violet’s frog contortion phantasy; Hans Vogelbein’s comedy brown bears; and a Fakir Show that included “The Living Fountain” (a man who could drink 30 glasses of water and spout plain and fancy fountains); “The Human Ostrich”, who swallowed a lighted neon tube containing 10,000 volts; and “The Painless Wonder”, who allowed flaming arrows to be shot at him and exploded a bomb on his chest.

Katja found here

Many were the fascinating acts shown or discovered by Pete Collins. There was Thea Alba, the “Woman with Ten Brains”, who could write ten different things at the same time, she was also able to converse in twenty-five different languages. Monteerrat Alberich could paint pictures, not with a paint brush, but with an ancient typewriter. He presented a genuine Flea Circus on stage, a Human Gasometer and a bed of nails fakir, Amir Rahvis, who had been a London income tax official before taking up his more “restful” occupation. And let’s not forget Rayo (Austrian Rudolf Schmid), a yoga who created a sensation by staying in a bottle for a year.

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