Zippos circus has arrived in Scotland with a show that keeps alive the oldest traditions of the sawdust ring alongside one of the most dangerous stunts in the modern circus. At a time when many of Britain's circuses were dispensing with Animals and all-human shows such as Cirque du Soleil were rising on the world stage, Zippos went in the other direction and introduced horses, dogs and performing budgies to its ring by popular demand.

Circus owner Martin Burton set out in life to become a drama teacher, but after getting his degree found jobs were thin on the ground. In the meantime, he discovered he could make more money performing magic, fire-eating and escapology as a clown called Zippo, busking in London's Covent Garden.

As Zippo and Company he progressed to a theatre show that travelled widely in Australia and Malaysia before returning to the UK and setting up a travelling big top circus.


Seeing himself as a modern, progressive clown, Burton ran an all-human circus for the first ten years at a time when most travelling circuses still had lions and elephants. But even as attitudes to performing animals began to change and many circuses dropped them from their shows - not least because many local councils banned circuses with animals from municipal show grounds - he found many of his customers would ask why he didn't have them.

"After ten years of comments like 'It was very good but we would have liked to see a few animals,' I came to the conclusion that while there may be a lot of people who say they don't want to see animals in circuses they are not by and large the circus-going public," says Burton. "The circus-going public may not want to see bears on motorcycles and lions in cages but they do actually want to see some animals. Because of that, we introduced horses."


The circus, as a form of entertainment, was invented in London in 1768 by horse-rider Philip Astley who augmented equestrian displays with clowns, jugglers and acrobats. Zippos circus keeps that tradition alive in 2015 with horse displays, a dog who performs a comedy routine with clown Mr Nadler, and Norman Barrett MBE, the celebrated ringmaster, who presents his performing budgies.

Human acts include acrobatic Zulu warriors, contortionist Odka who uses her feet to fire a bow and arrow, and musical clowns the Rastellis, whose family have been clowns since the 17th century.


Also on the bill is one of the most dangerous acts in the modern circus, a Globe of Terror - a spherical metal cage inside which motorcyclists loop-the-loop missing each other by inches. A reminder of how dangerous the stunt is was provided in May when two riders were hospitalised after a collision inside the cage at Uncle Sam's Great American Circus in Ipswich. Zippos is touring Scotland throughout the summer, including appearances in Elgin, Loch Lomand and Ayr.