All the Fun of the Fair
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All the Fun of the Fair

Funfairs used to be a showman's paradise where crowds flocked to enjoy the excitement of the rides,the noise and the music,the freak shows and the burlesque.But the onset of theme parks has killed off these large attractions and all that is left are a few Easter Fairs mostly geared to kids.

The David Essex musical All the Fun of the Fair evokes memories of the funfairs of yesteryear before the arrival of theme parks.Although David Essex plays Levi Lee,the widowed owner of a failing funfair struggling to survive,all the ingredients are there,the dodgem cars,the carousel horses and the wall of death where the motor bike comes out over the audience.

Funfairs have always been popular themes for shows including Rogers and Hammerstein's famous musical Carousel because there is still something exciting about the smell and the noise,the music and laughter when you walk on to the fairground.

But modern fairs are now largely a collection of expensive sideshows,hot dog stands and candy floss stalls.There are a few rides adults can go on,but most of the rides are geared to children.The dodgem cars are still there but you hardly ever find a carousel with the brightly colored horses as they are too expensive to maintain.

Elaborate theme parks have killed off the spectacular fairs which were huge in the 18th Century.There were a number of unusual attractions for people to pay to go and see,the genuine bearded lady,the smallest man in the world and for the men there were burlesque shows and boxing booths.

One of the most famous fairs was the Bartholomew Fair at Smithfield where they staged melodramas using actors from the London theatres which closed for the duration of the fair so the actors could forego their West End roles to appear in a specially-constructed booth at Smithfield.

This was a time before zoos so fairs contained menageries bringing exotic animals for people to see and it was also a time before Political Correctness so Freak Shows were very popular.There were midgets and dwarfs,Siamese twins and deformed people like the Elephant Man that queues formed long before they opened ready to hand over their pennies to crowd into the often tiny tents.

There were carousels,ferris wheels,helter skelters and the Ghost Train where skeletons and cobwebs would hit you in the face as your tiny car sped through dark corridors until you emerged once more into daylight thoroughly frightened by the eerie experience.

One of the most spectacular attractions was the infamous Wall of Death where motorcyclists careered round a globe,riding at all angles including precariously hanging upside down.That is the theme of David Essex's musical,his wayward son Jack wants to reinstate the attraction which killed his mother to save the funfair but Levi is wracked with guilt about the fatal accident and will not give in to his son's wishes.

With the arrival of theme parks all over the world funfairs were no longer spectacular and exciting places to visit.By the end of the 1970s,just like in the show, the major funfairs had all disappeared.Now a few Easter Fairs visit small villages and funfair attractions, mostly geared to the kids,are additions to other events like Christmas Shopping Extrvaganzas and dog shows.

Just like the ban on animals in the UK has killed off a lot of famous circuses the heyday of the spectacular funfairs is over.

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