Who Was Pablo Fanque?

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Pablo_FanqueWho was Pablo Fanque?

There’s a question. But the chances are that you might well have heard the name before. There he is on the right.

I imagine he looks unfamiliar to you but I think that you might have heard his name, especially if you’re a fan of the Beatles.

So what on earth can a bloke who was born in England in 1796 possibly have to do with the Beatles? And how is it that you’ve probably heard his name? Read on.

Pablo Fanque,as you might have guessed,wasn’t his real name, that was the more prosaic William Darby. No-one really knows a great deal about his early life (the eighteenth century was a long time ago) but as you can see, he had African ancestry. It’s thought that his father was probably brought over from Africa and trained to be a domestic servant. When Pablo was married in later life, he recorded that his father was a butler.

Pablo, or William as he was then, was apprenticed to a circus. There he learned a variety of circus acts and became successful. His forte was equestrian acts and he was applauded as a particularly sensational horse trainer.

Pablo became the first black circus owner

His circus toured around Britain and was very successful indeed. Fanque married a young woman named Susannah Marlaw and together they had two sons. But in 1848, when the circus was performing in Leeds on the Headrow, there was a huge disaster. During a performance, when their son was performing in a tightrope act, the gallery collapsed. There were six hundred people seated there all of whom fell to the ground.

Astonishingly, Susannah was the only person who was killed. The accident was widely reported in the newspapers of the time and,when she was buried in Leeds, over ten thousand people lined the streets as her cortege passed by.  Many years later, when Pablo died, his  body too was returned to, and buried in, Leeds.

This is all very well JJ, but what does it have to do with the Beatles?

You will remember that on the Sgt.Pepper album, For the Benefit of Mr Kite was inspired by an old handbill that John Lennon had bought advertising a circus performance. This featured Pablo Fanque. The first lines of the song are:

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline

The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanques Fair, what a scene!

There it is, about twenty seconds in:



Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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