TV Special – 1978 – The Chippenfield Circus – Host Robert Morely – Part 1


The Chipperfield Circus is a long-running English family show based on the 300-year-old Chipperfield dynasty….which started with James Chipperfield and his performing animals at the Thames Frost Fair of 1684….and continued through the 19th century….as the circus toured all of England….with a menagerie of animals, teams of acrobats and clowns.  After World War II, under the management of Jimmy Chipperfield….the show became one of the biggest circuses in Europe….with a tent that could hold 6000 people….as Jimmy Chipperfield then diversified into safari parks and fairgrounds supplies….and since his death in 1990, Chipperfield’s Circus has toured only intermittently….while sometimes featuring members of the extended Chipperfield family.

Tommy Chipperfield was born and raised in the Chipperfield’s Circus. He grew up on the road with a menagerie of animals, like chimps to giraffes…..who performed in the Circus as a young boy. Tommy became a big cat trainer, like his dad….and he also did elephants and horses shows in the 1970’s….as seen in this video herewith….and his son Thomas Chipperfield, like his grandpa and father, was a lion and tiger trainer….whereas Tommy’s cousin, Mary Chipperfield, specialized in chimpanzee acts in the 1970’s. She was also known as an animal trainer, providing numerous animals for various BBC productions and the 1967 movie Doctor Dolittle. Mary tamed wild animals for roles in films and shows in Chipperfield’s Circus….and worked with her father in creating the Longleat Safari Park. 

English actor and host of this program was Robert Morley was usually cast as a pompous English gentleman representing the Establishment, often in supporting roles. In Movie Encyclopedia, film critic Leonard Maltin describes Morley as “recognisable by his ungainly bulk, bushy eyebrows, thick lips and double chin, […] particularly effective when cast as a pompous windbag.”  More politely, Ephraim Katz in his International Film Encyclopaedia describes Morley as “a rotund, triple-chinned, delightful character player of the British and American stage and screen.”  In his autobiography, Responsible Gentleman, Morley said his stage career started with managements valuing his appearance for playing “substantial gentleman” roles….as a doctor, lawyer, accountant or other professional member of society.

Regardless, in this video, the “substantial gentleman” was the host for this televised special of The Chippenfield Circus….featuring “tight wire” acts….along lion and elephant acts….which makes it well worth watching…..especially if you love the circus.

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