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Tweedy the Clown from Giffords Circus

PUBLISHED: 01:34 29 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:26 20 February 2013

Tweedy the Clown from Giffords Circus

Tweedy the Clown from Giffords Circus

There's nothing Tweedy the Clown likes better than seeing three or four generations sitting together in the Giffords Circus audience and laughing. Words by Katie Jarvis; photography by Antony Thompson

Tweedy the Clown from Giffords Circus

Theres nothing Tweedy the Clown likes better than seeing three or four generations sitting together in the Giffords Circus audience and laughing

Words by Katie Jarvis; photography by Antony Thompson

Ask Tweedy his real name, and he probably wont tell you. The point is, hes a clown through and through. Tweedy is one of the stars of the Cotswolds own touring circus, Giffords but you wont find him sporting the traditional big shoes, red nose and squirty flower. Its difficult because the word clown has lost its meaning, he says. Id rather call what I do physical comedy. When Grimaldi performed, back in the Napoleonic times, his work was considered on the same level as ballet, and Id like to bring it back to that status.

When hes not at Giffords which tours from May to September Tweedy performs at private parties, in pantomime, and his own stage show. He and his wife, Sharon, have a 10-year-old daughter, Willow.

Where do you live and why?

I live in Cirencester, which is very nice because people are so friendly. My daughter goes to Powells School and there was a bit of a commotion when I went into the playground at first, but thats died down now. People I meet usually want to know what Im like in real life. I always say, If I get excited, then thats the same as my clown character. My daughter said to me yesterday, Having a dad like you is like having a little brother. My wife put it on Facebook.

How long have you livedin the Cotswolds?

Ive been working with Giffords since 2004 but it was only when I returned to the area in January last year after a break of two years in America that I started living here properly. I was born and brought up in Aberdeen, where my father was an electronics engineer and my mum worked at the local swimming pool. I was all set to go to art school to study animation when, one day, I suddenly realised that I didnt want to draw the cartoon I wanted to be it! That was a real moment for me; it made sense of my whole character.

Whats your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

Performing in the circus. I feel so much freer when Im performing; I can be who I want to be. I love the intimacy of Giffords. In America, I was playing arenas like Madison Square Garden, which is 10,000 people, and it was difficult to connect with the audience. You couldnt really gauge what was working because you were too far away to see the faces. Ive worked in lots of circuses but Giffords is unique. People feel it belongs to them when it arrives in their village, which is fantastic.

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

Id live on a hill, maybe over by the Five Valleys, and Id have a theatre where I could rehearse and invite people over. It would have a room that everyone would have to go through, which would be like Magicland that place in Cirencester with the ball-pits and all those foamy things with big slides. And thered have to be a firemans pole somewhere.

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

A cemetery.

Wheres the best pub in the area?

I dont often frequent pubs because I dont drink but Id say the Fox Inn at Barrington. We play Barrington with the circus and theyre very good to us there.

And the best place to eat?

Im not that into food but Ive had some fantastic evenings at Circus Sauce (Giffords travelling restaurant). You end up sitting next to artists from the show and meet some really interesting people. The circus world is very small: I can go to a circus in almost any country and the chances are therell be someone I know in it. If anything, the circus world is thriving more than ever, though. There are three new ones opening this year in this country, and circus arts are creeping in everywhere from the ballet to opera.

What would you do for a special occasion?

When Giffords is at Lechlade, well quite often hire a disco boat and all go down the river together. Theres such a strong community feel with the company. Everyone gets on and does everything, right from putting up the tent together, and I think that comes over to the audience. They can see that were genuinely having a great time.

Whats the best thing aboutthe Cotswolds?

Giffords is essentially a village-green circus and there are some great villages in the Cotswolds, which are still proper communities. You get quaint villages all over the country, but not all of them have the same feel to them; they dont all know their neighbours and have regular get-togethers like the Cotswold villagers do.

and the worst?

House prices. I do like to have a permanent base myself but some circus people spend their whole lives travelling the world, never settling down. This year, we have a fantastic dog act who are traditional circus; they live in a caravan and have probably never lived in a house. One of the great things about living in a circus is the fact that, any time of day or night, you can go and have a chat with someone.

Which shop could you notlive without?

Im not really a shopper but recently its been Cotswold Outdoor at the water park. They sell all the rigging we need; and, because were outside all the time, the waterproof gear that they stock is essential.

Whats the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?

Everyone goes on about the views and the villages but its the people that I like so friendly and welcoming.

What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?

I forget to eat a lot of the time unless theres chocolate, but Im into desserts. So Id start with Winstones ice cream, followed by a roast chicken dinner, and then a banoffee pie.

Whats your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?

Either Bourton or Broadway; they have a unique character.

Whats your favourite viewin the Cotswolds?

I love seeing three or four generations sitting together in the audience and laughing. Thats what being a clown is about.

Name three basic elements ofthe Cotswolds

Ill name three basic elements of Giffords Circus: the horses; Brian the goose (who has his own waddle-on part); and the circuss (traditional, painted) wagons.

Whats your favourite Cotswolds building and why?

The Everyman: I love old theatres for their atmosphere and history, and the Everyman has a very good studio theatre, too.

What would you never do inthe Cotswolds?

Drop litter. I really hate it when people driving along just chuck itout of the window.

Starter homes or executive properties?

We need starter homes but they need to look right. Its great what theyve done in Cirencester where theyve built all these small houses in Cotswold stone. Its the same with our wagons. The circus looks beautiful when it turns up in a village; it looks like its from a different era, which is part of how it works. If we were to arrive with modern caravans and big American vehicles, it would be far easier but it just wouldnt be as good.

What are the four corners ofthe Cotswolds?

The four corners of the Cotswolds that the circus visits are: Broadway; Minchinhampton; Gloucester; Lechlade. (Along with lots of other places, too.)

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

Giffords Circus always used to take a year out, which was why I went to America in 2009. In fact, I was offered a two-year contract, so I missed a Giffords season, which was sad, but it was such a unique opportunity. We lived and travelled on a train that was over a mile long going up through the Rocky Mountains in your home was an amazing experience! As to what Id take if I went again: there is a tradition that you should pick up a handful of sawdust from the ring of whatever circus youve been working in and put it into the ring at the next one. So thats what Id do.

Whats the first piece of advice youd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

Get out, explore, and make sure you meet people. Im not one for reading up about where things are; I just like to go out in my red Mini and find them for myself.

And which book should they read?

Josser, Nells book (Josser: The Secret Life of a Circus Girl by Nell Stroud). I get a brief mention. Very brief!

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

Rodborough Common, where I like to get an ice cream at Winstones.

Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Giffords Circus. Its tailor-made for the Cotswolds; it fits in with the Cotswolds; Nell and Toti [Gifford, who founded the circus] are from the Cotswolds. When I was in New York, some Americans spotted me as Tweedy. I assumed theyd seen me in Madison Square Garden but they told me, No, we come to England and see Giffords Circus every year!

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

Id go on Penn & Teller (TV magic show) and fool them.

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

Brian the goose. As soon as he hears the music that plays before he goes on, he knows its time and hell start waddling towards the tent. It would be good to have his memorial in an obscure place: I love it when you just stumble across things.

The Cotswolds aspic or asphalt?

If its not broke, dont fix it. And if it is broke, fix it in a nicer way.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

Growing up, my heroes were Laurel and Hardy, Normal Wisdom and Buster Keaton. Its all about the character not necessarily what they do but how they do it. But the person Id most like to meet is a clown called Grock, who was famous from the 1920s up until the 50s. He was Swiss and the highest-paid variety artist of his time. There are various movie clips of him, which are great, but when people talk about him performing live, their eyes literally light up. He wrote about having to perform for Hitler and the Germans once, even though he was completely against what they were doing. Eva Braun opened up to him about how horrified she was at what was going on. Just fascinating.

Giffords Circus presents this years show The Saturday Box, a witty collection of vignettes, tableaux, stories and paintings around the Cotswolds from mid-May. For full details of locations, visit


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