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Government cock-up could kill off country circuses

Friday 15 July 2005

Our countryside commentator John Sheard despairs at the latest government cock-up which could kill off yet another rural tradition, the small travelling circus

OK I confess. I am, as I have been often accused in our Have Your Say pages, something of a cynic. I will go even further and admit that, when writing about politicians and civil servants interfering in country life, I am a total, dyed in the wool, set in stone cynic.

Yet this week, I was truly moved when I received a plea from an organisation I had never heard of, and one I do not particularly support, which is facing extinction as a result of yet another act on total incompetence by Whitehall legislators who, patently, have never stepped out of their ivory towers and spent a week or two in the countryside.

Condemned to death

Over the past few months, our news pages have carried many reports of the potential damage being caused by new licensing laws which would make it virtually impossible for rural events like agricultural shows, village hall fetes gymkhanas, or point-to-point races to survive.

These new laws will impose huge increases in the fees that have to be paid for licenses to stage such an event. I am quite convinced that these fees have nothing to do with ensuring public safety but are in fact yet another stealth tax from Chancellor Gordon Brown - why else would they propose 24-hour pub opening when drunken yobbos already make life intolerable for decent folk most weekends?

Then, out of the blue this week, an email popped up on my screen pleading for help in bringing to attention the sad plight of Circus Ricardo, one of those tiny little travelling circuses that have played on village greens in smaller rural communities for centuries.

Not for much longer, if the Iron Chancellor gets his way. For according to this 12-man circus, run by two clown brothers, they will need a £500 licence every time their pitch their big top (little top?) which means they will have to sack their staff and go into liquidation.

This is a very sad scene indeed but what really stunned my cynical sensibilities was that the PR company which is trying to raised public support for the circus is doing so for free because the clowns can't afford the fees. And when a PR company does owt for nowt, things are very bad indeed.

Now I don't particularly like circuses, particularly ones which keep large numbers of "wild" animals, but Circus Ricardo does not see to fit that category. The travelling circus has been a part of country life - like fox hunting - for centuries but it now faces the knacker's yard because some lazy lawyer in Whitehall couldn't be bothered to research any possible side effects of what he/she was proposing.

So yet another strand of country life could be torn from its delicate fabric and binned out of pure indifference. This is totally outrageous at a time when our law makers have a lot more to worry than a bit of fun on the village green.

If you agree with me, please email a message of support to Roger Haywood, Director of Marketing, Circus Ricardo at rhaywood@issuesmanagers.com

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