Pablo Fanque’s afterlife

Tuesday 29th December 2020

Beatle John Lennon and the Pablo Fanque poster
Click Image to Enlarge

My addiction to BBC Radio 4 occasionally results in a welcome surprise. A few days ago, and as part of his mission to spread the word about the people of diverse backgrounds that history has forgotten, historian David Olusoga told listeners about Pablo Fanque (1810–71), the first black circus owner. Born William Darby, he was a British equestrian performer at Astley’s Amphitheatre, and then a circus impresario whose work delighted Victorian Britain for some 30 years. But he also had an afterlife. Since 1967, Fanque has been known for being name-checked in The Beatles “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!” on the legendary psychedelic album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Most of the song’s words come straight from a Victorian poster advertising Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal. Apparently, Lennon bought this in an antiques shop and hung it in his music room. Great story.

© Aleks Sierz

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