Christopher Palmer Collection

Ref: NFA0105

Title: The Christopher Palmer Collection

Scope: This collection includes a number of circus programmes and VHS tapes from Billy Smart’s Circus and Chipperfields’s Circus collected during the 1970s and early 1980s by the TV producer, Christopher John Palmer. There are also a number of promotional photographs of artistes and other ephemera related to the circus.

Dates: 1973-1983
Level: Fonds
Extent: 1 box, 14 VHS tapes and 24 photographs
Name of creator: Christopher Palmer

Administrative / biographical history: Christopher John Palmer was born on 6th March 1930 in Ilford Essex. Between 1941 and 1946 he attended St. Dunstan’s College in Catford, London. Straight out of school in 1946 Christopher was employed as an Architectural Draftsman, until 1948 when, age 18 he was conscribed to the RAF to complete his National Service. In 1950 he resumed his employment as a draftsman, until 1955, when he started a very successful career in television ranging from filming to programming, production and direction.

Christopher joined the Associated Rediffusion Television, London on September 19th 1955 as a Trainee Cameraman. Three years later he was employed by Tyne Tees Television Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as a Senior Cameraman, where he was promoted to TV Producer/Director in 1964. Production involved all types of Outside Broadcasts including the 1966 and 1970 World Cups, classical and religious musical programme and a range of sporting events. In June 1968, still employed by Tyne Tees Television, Christopher was promoted to Assistant Programme Controller. In April 1972, he joined Thames Television London as a Senior Outside Broadcast Director. Between 1973 and 1990 his work involved all types of outside broadcasts including horse racing, football, Chipperfields and Billy Smart’s circuses, classical and religious programmes and the holiday programme series ‘Wish You were Here’. Christopher produced Christmas and Easter circus specials between 1973 and 1983. The first five years were performed by Chipperfield’s Circus and the next five years by the Billy Smart Circus. The circus specials were an important part of TV schedules of the day and a huge seasonal treat for viewers.

As part of the research for the TV programmes, Christopher travelled to see acts with his Musical Director, Alan Braden, and was able to make notes on their performance and talk about the musical arrangements. The music, which was mostly played by an organist, drummer and sometimes a saxophonist, would have to be played by an orchestra of twenty-six.

Christopher Palmer considered the music to be an important part of the presentation along with lighting, sound and other elements and writes:

‘The most gratifying moment for me was when the artistes heard their music being rehearsed in the Big Top by the big band the evening before the first camera rehearsal the following day. They would all sit there with all their families, probably having driven half way across Europe during the days before, listening entranced to those wonderful musicians…The Christmas and Easter programmes were recorded back to back, the schedule for each show being: day 1 evening band call, day 2 camera rehearsal with piano and drums only, day 3 afternoon dress rehearsal with full band and evening recording with audience. Hard going but very satisfying.’

In 1991, age 61, Christopher retired from mainstream production and a year later joined P&O Cruises as Film & TV Consultant until May 2003. He produced and directed all their promotional videos and filmed the building of the cruise ships Oriana and Aurora in Germany.

Related Collections: Smart Family Collection, Eyres Family Circus Collection, Gerry Cottle Collection, Circus Friends Association Collection

Source: Donated by Christopher Palmer
System of arrangement: Catalogued according to type
Subjects: Circus, Travelling Entertainment, Performers, Animal Acts, Speciality Acts
Conditions of access: Items are available to view by appointment in the National Fairground Archive reading room
Restrictions: None
Copyright: Copies may be supplied or produced at the discretion of National Fairground Archive, subject to copyright law and condition of the material
Finding aids: Online finding aid available here