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South African Journal of Cultural History

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Sirkusbaas Frank Fillis (1857-1921): die Barnum van Suid-Afrika

FJG Van der Merwe

Abstract


Frank Fillis: The Barnum of South Africa
Frank Fillis was one of South Africa's greatest circus proprietors ever. In fact, the name Fillis was once synonymous with the circus. He was born in London in 1857 and died in Bangkok in 1921. He came to South Africa in 1880 and for 30 years he was the top circus proprietor in the country. He left South Africa in 1910 to take his circus to the East.
Frank Fillis' circus was considered the biggest and most important public entertainment in Africa. He was a creative genius and one of the most acclaimed creators of extensive entertainment of his time. Everybody enjoyed his entertainment, irrespective of their age, gender or race. The fact that Fillis offered different entry fee prices contributed to the accessibility of the circus. In addition, his realistic shows portrayed many incidents from Southern African history to the outside world. These shows were always culturally informative and fulfilled the role of documentary films. The fact that he often handed out presents to children and held competitions for the circus audience, in which they could win prices, boosted his popularity. From time to time, he also donated a percentage of his profit to charity. In spite of his pleasant personality, Fillis' poor business sense unfortunately caused his bankruptcy after 30 years.
This article deals with a number of new facts, as well as aspects such as his popularity, talent as entertainer, his kindness, poor business sense and the social impact of his circus.
Frank Fillis: Die Barnum van Suid-Afrika
Frank Fillis was Suid-Afrika se grootste sirkusbaas ooit. Trouens, die naam Fillis was vroeër sinoniem met die sirkus. Hy is in 1857 in Londen gebore en het in 1921 in Bangkok gesterf. Hy het in 1880 na Suid-Afrika gekom en was vir 30 jaar dié land se voorste sirkusbaas. Hy het Suid-Afrika in 1910 verlaat om sy sirkus na die Ooste te neem.
Fillis se sirkus is as die grootste en belangrikste publieke vermaaklikheid in Afrika bestempel. Hy was 'n kreatiewe genie en een van die beroemdste skeppers van grootskaalse vermaak van sy tyd. Sy sirkus is deur almal geniet, ongeag ouderdom, geslag, kleur of ras. Toegangskaartjies in verskillende prysklasse het die sirkus vir almal toeganklik gemaak. Sy realistiese skouspele het ook baie insidente uit die Suider-Afrikaanse geskiedenis aan die buitewêreld oorgedra. Dit was altyd kultureel informatief en het as't ware die rol van dokumentêre films vervul. Wat verder tot sy gewildheid bygedra het, is die feit dat hy gereeld geskenke aan kinders uitgedeel en kompetisies vir sirkusgangers gehou het, waarin hulle groot pryse kon wen. Hy het ook van tyd tot tyd 'n persentasie van sy opbrengs aan liefdadigheid geskenk. Ten spyte van sy innemende persoonlikheid, het Fillis se gebrek aan sakevernuf na 30 jaar ongelukkig tot sy bankrotskap gelei.
Hierdie artikel behandel enkele nuwe feite, asook aspekte soos sy gewildheid, talent as vermaker, goedhartigheid, gebrek aan sakevernuf en die sosiale impak van sy sirkus.
SA Journal of Cultural History Vol.16(2) 2002: 110-131



http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/sajch.v16i2.6343
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