Published:
6:00 PM August 4, 2022



Updated:
6:05 p.m. August 4, 2022

Having grown up with Great Yarmouth Racecourse as their “second home”, the Jay brothers are happy to carry on the family business, says DAVID CLAYTON.

“I guess I’m a problem solver,” Ben Jay tells me as we survey the empty circus ring at the famous Gt Yarmouth Racecourse.

That probably sums up the job description of an operations manager perfectly. Between conversations with me, he shouts instructions to his crew as the light fixtures are lowered and raised above the circus ring and work continues to prepare for the show.

He has known the place well since his father, Peter Jay, took over the iconic building in 1979. Ben’s earliest memories are in and around the family of circus performers who showed up every summer to entertain the public. with breathtaking numbers.

“As a youngster, after seeing the show a couple of times, I would spend time backstage talking to the artists and then they would try to teach me some of their skills. There was one act that was doing break- dance. They spun me on my head,” he laughs.


Director of Operations Ben Jay at work inside the iconic building.
– Credit: David Clayton

His parents Christine and Peter obviously didn’t care. The camaraderie of the circus family meant he was in good hands. Acts usually traveled with families, so it was not unusual to have children around.

Ben has always preferred the technical side of the business. “I followed the electricians everywhere. As soon as you were old enough, you’d be thrust into the spotlight – even if it meant standing on top of a box.

He then became part of the circus team that set up and dismantled the artists’ devices. “It was very physical work. You had to be strong,” Ben told me.

The animals hadn’t been part of the Cirque de l’Hippodrome for years, but back when they were, the cages for the tigers had to be quickly built and then taken down.

Then there is the unique aquatic final for which the Hippodrome is justly famous. It involves lowering the floor of the circus ring to create a stunning, choreographed climax to the performance. If you’ve seen the show before or are going this year, just watch Ben’s efficient crew, set it all up in a matter of minutes full blast and in full view of the audience.

“Above all, I like the lighting aspect,” he explains. “Dad and I are working on it together.”

Peter Jay is no stranger to directing and performing. With his band, The Jaywalkers, he toured the country in the early sixties with the Beatles and others. He even concocted a now rather dodgy stunt where his drumsticks had carbon tips and were hooked up to a battery. Every time he crushed the cymbals, sparks flew.

Ben’s younger brother, Jack, is the emcee and ringmaster. He is the public face of the Hippodrome Circus, along with regular comedy partner Johnny Mac. They both write the hilarious comedy sequences that are so much a part of the circus. Jack has been producing and directing the shows for 13 years.


Jack Jay, the face of the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth.

Jack Jay is today the face of the Cirque de l’Hippodrome.
– Credit: David Street (Streetview Marketing)

“It was an amazing experience,” as I ask her about the circus as her second home. “It’s an amazing thing to grow up hanging out with people all over the world.”

The Jays have always traveled the world to find different and spectacular numbers to perform in Yarmouth. For the past few years Jack has been flying to Peru to see performers and this year he traveled to the Budapest Circus Festival to book a number for this summer’s show.

While Ben was absorbed in the technical side of things, Jack turned to performance.

“I remember the Grumbleweeds were having a season at one of our theaters when I was about nine or ten. I stood backstage night after night and knew their act by heart,” he says.

Jack began to understand how they put together their show and when and why that subtly changed. It was valuable learning, just like watching circus shows closely.

“I was always aware that dangerous things happened in the ring and there was a good time to focus.”

His grandfather on his mother’s side was Gordon Edwards, himself a great showman, who was always on stage at the Garibaldi in Yarmouth and the Ocean Room in Gorleston, hosting an evening of entertainment. The dynasty continues because Ben’s 15-year-old son Billy now plays drums on the show.

The Jay brothers combine their talents well, as Jack explains: “We grew up in the same environment but see things from a different perspective. Ben agrees: “We see things from different angles, but we communicate and can be brutally honest with each other.”

Peter Jay still keeps a fatherly eye on things, although he’s taken a step back from the daily rush.

“You know all those years of experience,” says Jack. “So when he suggests something, we listen. Dad was a great thinker and was always innovating. The program that interests him is the following.

Remember boys are notorious for taking mickey from their old pop star dad. “We tell him we’ll put on one of his old records because it will help clear the audience at the end of the show.”

Hippodrome Circus, at St George’s Road, Gt Yarmouth, Norfolk NR30 2EU, runs until Sunday September 18, seven days a week, with matinees most days. Learn more about: https://hippodromecircus.co.uk/ or call the ticket office (open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily) on: 01493 738877.