Thursday 18 February 2010

Mr Kite

It wasn’t Bishopsgate, it was Rochdale!

That’s right – when Mr Kite was immortalised by John Winston Lennon on the Sergeant Pepper long player, he was indeed ‘on the tightrope’ as the now famous poster proclaims. But on the night in question, February 14, 1843, the circus was 150 miles away: Town Meadows, Rochdale to be precise.

When Lennon wrote Being For The Benefit he lifted the characters from a Victorian circus flyer he’d bought in January 1967 from an antique shop in Sevenoaks: The Beatles were passing through while filming The Magical Mystery Tour. But who was Mr Kite?

Henry Kite was the son of James Kite a circus luminary of the day. He set up Wells’ Circus Troupe in 1810 and later moved to Kite’s Pavilion Circus. He worked for Pablo Fanques (the name at the top of the bill) between 1843 and 1845: the flamboyant Fanques was born William Darby in Norwich in 1796. A multitalented circus performer, he was the first black circus owner in Britain and developed a reputation up and down the country for putting on ‘splendid productions.’

What of the other performers? Well, The Hendersons weren’t all there, actually: only John Henderson, the wire-walker, and his wife Agnes, daughter of circus owner Harry Hengler, were in attendance that night. Did they ‘dance and sing?’ I’d like to think so. And if it's horses you were looking for, Henry wasn’t there but Zanthus was – ‘well known to be one of the best broke horses IN THE WORLD!’

So there you have it. To quote the poster: ‘Messrs. Kite and Henderson assure the public that this night’s production will be one of the most splendid ever seen in the town, having been some days in preparation.’

You can’t say fairer than that.

BTW - George Martin can play a mean harmonium, can’t he?


  1. I didn't know any of that (and the bit about the harmonium was a bonus fact!), so thanks.

  2. How did you track all this down - excellent stuff..

    I've been to Sevenoaks (Knowle Park if you're ever that way)to visit the site of the tree-hopping and candelabra dining scene as seen in the Strawberry Fields vid'. Then across to West Malling for two Mystery Tour sites..

    I'll get me Beatles Anorak

  3. Great stuff John... some excellent research there.

    Did you see that odd Beatles film\musical type thing a couple of years back "Across the Universe"?? (somehow void of any actual Beatles footage!) I found it odd, as Mr Kite is portrayed as a ringmaster in it!! (played by none other than Eddie Izzard).


  4. Love your blog. Interesting stuff. George Martin was always my fave fab.

    Speaking of beatles anorak...wouldn't he have picked up the poster whilst filming for the strawberry fields vid? Magical Mystery Tour started filming at the end of summer '67 no?