THERE was something missing from the merry-making this Christmas as the circus world lost one of its broadest, brightest smiles.
Hobo the Clown passed away peacefully in his sleep on Christmas Eve at his Bournemouth home. He was 83.
Born Russ Adams on March 1, 1923 in Yeovil, he was best known locally as Ross Sanger having promoted countless touring circus shows across the south of England, including Gerry Cottle’s, the Moscow State Circus and Chinese State Circus.
As a teenager Russ delighted in staging variety and music hall shows in local venues. Among his many and inventively varied acts he would appear on an empty stage holding only a pair of drum sticks with which he’d proceed to “play” the stage, the walls, the curtains – even the heads of the front row of the audience!
Having decided to join the circus, his first incarnation was as Clown Ross who made his professional stage debut, aged 21, at the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. He toured for two years before joining the legendary Bertram Mills Circus, playing all over the country including Christmas seasons and a Royal Command Performance at London’s Olympia in front of King George VI and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. He was given the gig by Bertram Mills himself who saw Clown Ross’ act and offered him a spot in the 1948 Christmas Show.
In an Echo interview in 2001, Russ recalled he was appearing with a young comedy duo called Morecambe and Wise in a circus show in Weymouth sporting a glittering, diamante-encrusted, swallow-tail jacket. “Mr Mills was very impressed by smart dressers,” he remembered.
He toured with Billy Smart’s Circus and also appeared for many years at the renowned Belle Vue Winter Circus in Manchester. Famed for its international bill, the Belle Vue had the longest run of all Britain’s winter circuses and was staged for two months at a time in a purpose-built arena under the watchful eye of ringmaster George Lockhart. The 1959 bill included Clown Ross alongside such acts as Captain Sydney Howes and his lions, Jacko Fossett’s boxing kangaroos and Donatha’s bears.
Also an accomplished drummer, during the 1950s he played regularly with the Pete Riley Big Band at the Embassy Club in Piccadilly Circus.
Russ moved to Bournemouth where he created his most famous clown incarnation, Hobo. Noted for his giant boots – Russ said they were the biggest in the business – Hobo the Clown was a regular guest on Billy Smart’s televised circus shows where his act would include eating “goldfish” made from pieces of carrot and stumbling around the ring to the endless delight of the young audiences.
Hobo continued to work freelance until the late 1990s, but although Russ regularly announced his retirement, it only took a little persuasion for him to don the red nose and mighty boots for one last appearance. It’s thought Hobo was last seen in public just over two years ago when he welcomed fans to Mr Kyps in Ashley Cross for a night billed as Club Hobo headlined by cult Irish singer-songwriter Andy White and locally-based band The Bewley Brothers.
“Russ was a one-off, a true original and a huge inspiration to so many people,” says his nephew, Lance.
“In later years he spent a lot of time writing. He wrote pieces for The Stage and had been compiling his memoirs.
“He was absolutely thrilled last summer to go to the Moscow State Circus and be able to take his three-year-old great-nephew Milo to his first circus. That made them both very happy.”
Russ is survived by wife of 40 years, Mitzi and his sister Val.
• First published in Bournemouth Echo