Gerry Cottle was brought up in South London during the post-war years. The highlight of his year was the annual trip to see Bertram Mills circus at Olympia. It was this show which inspired him to devote his life to the circus. He spent most of his free time and holidays learning the basic skills at Gilbert’s circus at Chessington Zoo.
At the age of 15 Gerry ran away to join Gandey’s travelling circus, members of which he had met whilst they had been performing at Chessington. The circus owners sent him back home in order to gain his parents’ permission. Bowing to the inevitable, this was duly given and Gerry returned taking the stage name ‘Gerry Melville – the Boy Wonder’.
By the time he was 25 Gerry Cottle had his own circus. The ‘Gerry Cottle’s Circus’ shot to fame around the world and was featured on BBC1’s weekly ‘Seaside Special’. During the 1970’s he led the field with his big wild animal shows. However, in the following decade, public opinion about the use of animals for entertainment changed dramatically and Gerry had to alter his show accordingly. During the 1980’s, Cottle also set up his student circus, based in Addlestone Moor.
Cottle married into one of the best known British circus families, the Fossetts. The couple had 3 daughters and a son, all of whom became involved in the “family business”. By the 1990’s the show was changed again, this time with the new generation of Cottles topping the bill.
Cottle’s adaptability has ensured his survival and success. The challenge for the future now comes from the ever more sophisticated forms of entertainment available in the leisure market.