After marrying into a circus family, Ken MacManus, with no previous experience as an entertainer, quickly established himself as a bareback rider, clown, animal trainer and master of ceremonies.
His elder brother, Henry, once a professional boxer, joined Paulo’s Circus as a stud groom, looking after the welfare of horses, and married Grace Paulo, a daughter of the couple who ran the circus. Ken, while still a teenager, also joined the circus as a groom, and fell in love with Grace’s younger sister, Clara. They married in November 1943, a month before Ken was conscripted into the army.
Paulo’s Circus began just before the First World War. It started out as Frisco Frank’s Western Circus in Ireland, and increased in size until it commanded 14 wagons and 75 horses and ponies. Immediately after the Second World War, circus work became hard to find. So, in 1949, Paulo’s disbanded. Six years later, Ken and Clara, having bought new horses, relaunched themselves as the Mohawks – Red Indian braves, with Ken wearing a spectacular feathered headdress as leader of the clan, and Clara dressed as a ballerina as she circled the ring, with her horse jumping through paper hoops.
From 1956 to 1960, they performed with Britain’s most famous circus, Bertram Mills, although in 1959 they developed a new show in which they were known as the Ascots, introducing a strong element of comedy into their work. MacManus and his wife retired in 1978, but revived Paulo’s Circus as a smaller show in 1983. Ten years later, they gave up for good.
In 1999, the Circus Friends Association of Great Britain presented the couple with a lifetime achievement award. In retirement, MacManus, already experienced at making his own gun belts, turned his attention to producing miniature Western saddles.
Ken MacManus, who was born in Plymouth on February 18, 1925, died in Boston, Lincolnshire, on August 24, aged 87.