Salvo is a familiar face around town, and I thought it would be interesting to find out how and why he became a clown.
On a hot Friday afternoon, Salvo arrived at Hadleigh Old Fire Station on his trusty bike. I took him through the Appliance Bay to the Archive office and put the kettle on. With tea in hand, Salvo began his tale:
He joined the circus in September 1968 and became an elephant groom. One evening the boss said that he was a clown short and Salvo, although he protested, was chosen as the “willing” replacement. Having watched the act Salvo knew the routines and despite initial doubts has enjoyed being a clown ever since.
So why was Salvo in the circus? It’s the old story, he ran away from home.
Where was his home and was there any history of circus performers in the family?
Home was in Cambridgeshire and none of his family were involved with the circus; Salvo describes himself as “the black sheep of the family.” His parents are no longer alive and he is not in contact with his siblings.
In 1973 Salvo joined Circus Americano. Soon after, unfortunately, he had a serious road accident; he has suffered memory loss since that time and confesses that he relishes the “question and answer sessions” at the end of talks he gives to community groups, as they challenge his powers of recollection and happily “unlock little doors” into the past.
So how did Salvo find his way to Thundersley, his home for 40 years?
In 1974 he was back with Circus Americano and his first job, in the May, was at the Salvation Army Farm in Hadleigh. Dick Saunders, who ran the “Way to Life” Ministries, had brought the Big Top to Hadleigh, and with it Salvo!
This is where and when Salvo “gave his life to the Lord.” Discovering that his accident had left him too weak to perform in the circus, Salvo’s situation was desperate. With nothing but the clothes he stood up in, he was taken under the wing of Gwyn Jordan of Thundersley Community Church, who gave him supper, counselled him in his Christian faith and gave him three weeks work as a night watchman, guarding equipment inside the Big Top. Forty years on, the pair remain friends!
Salvo has made his home in Thundersley. He lives alone in a mobile home in Hart Road. A free spirit, he enjoys being close to green spaces and dreads the thought of any development around the Daws Heath Road area. His mission is to bring happiness and adds: “A child’s smile is reward enough.” Since 1997 Salvo has been busking in Southend High Street, and his balloon animals have delighted generations of children.
During our chat, Salvo, who will not reveal his real name or age, told me that on the 10th July, he would once again be part of the Southend welcome for the annual London Taxi Drivers Outing for Under-privileged children. The event can be seen on YouTube – click the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tE5LOaEhJQU&feature=youtu.be
After a short break, Salvo told me how he had started The Annual Clowns Directory. It did not survive for long as a printed publication, because Clowns International [the oldest established organisation for clowns in the world] brought out their own Membership Book, where Clowns could register for free (Salvo’s directory had made a charge). However, there is now a dedicated website: http://www.annualclownsdirectory.com/
Salvo is very knowledgeable about clown history. He explained that he should really be called Salvo the Auguste. The Auguste is the member of a clown troop who receives the custard pies; the white-faced clown generally delivers them. It is said that: One day a chap put his jacket on back to front and covered his lips with red jam. He began “mucking about” just outside the circus ring when he fell over the little wall into the ring – the delighted audience cried “auguste”, a German word for fool, or buffoon, and so the character was created.
Individual clowns have their own “clown face”; the only example Salvo could think of where two clowns had identical make-up was the father and son in the Rastellis – see below:
As we brought the interview to a close, I thanked Salvo for sharing his story with me, and asked one final question:
Salvo, you have entertained children at home and abroad – is there something more you would like to achieve?
“Yes, I would like to perform for the Queen.”
Let’s hope an invitation to the Palace will be heading Salvo’s way soon! He can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org