Circus & Sideshow

Tim is a seasoned performer specialising in the areas of sideshow and circus entertainment.

Sideshow is the name given to a genre of fairground and carnival attractions, once hugely popular but now largely extinct. So named because they would sometimes form a side attraction to a much larger circus show, sideshows were the home to strange and unusual forms of entertainment that were too obscure even for the circus. The range of attractions presented in sideshows was huge, and quite literally anything would be exhibited that could titillate the curiosity of people enough to persuade them to pay the price of entry. Typical exhibits and performers include the so-called Freak Shows, menageries of exotic animals, museum-style exhibitions of oddities, and working acts such as sword swallowers and fire eaters.

A rare sight today - a row of sideshows at Carter's Steam Fair, after closing.

A rare sight today – a row of sideshows at Carter’s Steam Fair, after closing.

After hundreds of years of success, fairground sideshows eventually declined in popularity in the 1960s and 70s, to the extent that they are now rarely seen. The term sideshow lives on though, and is now most often used to describe the acts and performers that keep the traditions of the strange and wonderful sideshow acts alive. Recently, some performers have realised the huge potential of the tried-and-tested appeal of the historic sideshow and so reincarnations of these classic fairground attractions are showing once more.

Tim Cockerill is the resident fire-eater in this re-incarnation of a traditional Ten-In-One sideshow

Tim is the resident fire-eater in this re-incarnation of a traditional Ten-In-One sideshow

Tim upholds one of the oldest sideshow traditions, that of the Outside Talker or Spieler. Sometimes known to the public as a Barker, the job of the Talker is to charm passers-by into buying a ticket and coming in to watch the show. It’s one of the hardest sideshow jobs that there is, requiring a special kind of persuasive verbal dexterity. An Outside Talker usually has only a few seconds to grab the attention of people walking by and to convince them that what’s inside is a show that they can afford to see, but cannot afford to miss!

Tim Cockerill as the Outside Talker for The Lizardman and Gary Stretch at the Sideshow Wonderground in London.

Tim as the Outside Talker for The Lizardman and Gary Stretch at the Sideshow Wonderground in London.

Fire Eating

Tim is an accomplished and experienced fire eater and has performed his dangerous act, on stage, screen and at outdoor festivals, all over the world. As an expert in the history of fire-eaters and other obscure performers Tim has been able to incorporate once extinct stunts – such as chewing molten lead and extinguishing a blow torch on his tongue – into his performances.

Tim Cockerill Fire Eater by Alex Smith

Photo by Alex Smith.

Egypt fire breathing 1

For his work with fire eating Tim has achieved one of the ultimate sideshow accolades and is featured in the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not cartoon, the world’s longest-running comic strip.

Tim featured in the world's longest-running cartoon strip.

Tim featured in the world’s longest-running cartoon strip. “Being in the Ripley cartoon would possibly be the most important thing that ever happened to somebody” Edward Meyer, Archivist.

Sideshow Illusions

Despite the decline of traditional sideshows by the 1970s, a small group of dedicated performers and historians keep these shows alive. One such group is Sideshow Illusions, a team headed by showman Jon Marshall. Performing with a unique collection of restored original 1950s English sideshows, Sideshow Illusions presents such mysteries as The Headless Lady, The Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, and the Living Half Lady. Tim is part of the original team that discovered and restored this treasure-trove of sideshow history, and now presents and performs in the shows for audiences around the UK. More information can be found on the Sideshow Illusions website.

Tim Cockerill as Outside Talker for the Headless Lady sideshow with Showman Jon Marshall

Tim as Outside Talker for the Headless Lady sideshow with Showman Jon Marshall

The Electric Act

Tim performs as Dr. Sparks, presenting his glamorous electrified wonder Miss Electra. Electra defies death by resisting 27,000 volts of genuine electricity coursing through her young and nubile body. She ignites a fire torch from a spark that jumps from her tongue, lights fluorescent tubes at her fingertips, lightbulbs in her mouth, and resists the amorous advances of audience members with her electrified aura. A grand explosive finale results from her electrical ignition.

Dr. Sparks (Tim Cockerill) and Miss Electra build a crowd outside the show in a traditional sideshow setting.

Dr. Sparks and Miss Electra build a crowd outside the show in a traditional sideshow setting.

A glimpse inside the show as Miss Electra illuminates genuine light bulbs and fluorescent tubes at her fingertips and in her mouth, resisting 27,000 volts of electricity.

A glimpse inside the show as Miss Electra illuminates genuine light bulbs and fluorescent tubes at her fingertips and in her mouth, resisting 27,000 volts of electricity.

Other sideshow acts

Tim performs many of the traditional sideshow acts such as walking on broken glass and The Human Blockhead – hammering a six-inch spike into the head! Like most things though, it’s not what you do but how you do it, and it’s the ability to use these stunts to entertain an audience that’s important.

Tim Cockerill performing as 'The Human Blockhead', with live musical accompaniment.

Performing as ‘The Human Blockhead’, with live musical accompaniment.

The cast of the historic Tom Norman show with Tim Cockerill as Dr Walford Bodie.

The new cast of the historic Tom Norman show with Tim as Dr Walford Bodie.

The Flea Circus

Tim is an expert on the Flea Circus, once one of the most popular fairground attractions. Up until recently the flea circus was a genuine exhibition of real, live fleas performing tricks on a miniature stage. Nowadays ‘flea circuses’ don’t contain real fleas but can be brilliantly entertaining shows. Tim is one of the few people in the world able to train real fleas to perform the stunts of the genuine flea circus. More about the flea circus on this page.

Engraving from life of a carriage pulled and driven by fleas, from an 1876 journal of natural history.

Engraving from life of a carriage pulled and driven by fleas, from an 1876 journal of natural history.

Tim Cockerill breathing fire - photo by Jonathan Pow

Fire breathing – photo by Jonathan Pow