The lights of Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia by Vern Orton, 1955. Courtesy of Doug Price.
Bertram Wagstaff Mills was born in 1873 in Paddington, London. His father, Halford Mills, was an undertaker – a “pioneer of embalming” and one of the first undertakers in England to offer cremation.
Bertram, a very keen horse rider, fought in WW1 rising to the rank of Captain. After leaving the Army he had a bet with a friend that he could form a circus company within a year. He did, and the Bertram Mills International Circus was formed.
It didn’t take long for the circus to become a household name especially for its annual Christmas event at Olympia. Mills always invited hundreds of orphans to come and see the show for free. The Royal Family and Winston Churchill were also regular annual guests.
When Bertram Mills died in April 1938 his sons took over the business maintaining its popularity until the early 1960s when it failed to compete with television.
Poster for Bertram Mills Circus and Menagerie – “Koringa” from 1938.
Circus days are here once again at Olympia, London on December 22 the famous Bertram Mill’s circus commenced its 1938-39 season. The smell of saw-bust, antics of the clowns, and the colourful pageant of talent once more enthralled the audience which included Mr. Winston Churchill, the famous statesman, and his daughter Mary, who had “the time of her life.” The Hon. Mr. Winston Churchill, and his daughter, Mary, who is thoroughly appreciating the show, as her laugh depicts, at Olympia, London on Dec. 22, 1938.
Poster from 1938
Twiggy with fifty orphaned children from the Lambeth Mission in 1967.
Poster designed by Leon Crossley featuring the Hungarian juggler Ferroni, 1936.
Policeman outside the tent during rehearsals in Luton of the circus in April 1938.
Poster featuring the Burmese long-necked ‘ladies’. c.1938.
The “giraffe-necked Burmese ladies”, 25th August 1936. Photo by A.J. O’Brien.
Poster from 1955/1956.
Poster from 1952.
Bertram Mills Circus at Olympia Grand Hall December 21st 1933 to Jan 25th 1934.
Undated photograph of a lion-tamer at Bertram Mills Circus.
Bertram Mills Circus programme 1949
Main Entrance, Lancaster, 1952 Bertram Mills Circus. Photo by Vern Orton, 1953. Courtesy of Doug Price.
Bertram Mills Circus, Cambridge. Photo by Vern Orton, 1953. Courtesy of Doug Price.