My father’s job as a sub-editor on the Sporting Life came with a few rather curious fringe benefits. But the one I particularly remember is his annual invitation to the first performance at Bertram Mills Circus.

Because we didn’t just see the performance. We also went to the backstage party afterwards to meet the performers.

I loved the performance itself – as any young boy would. It was thrilling, hilarious, spellbinding and desperately exciting by turns. This was long before anyone raised concerns about animal welfare, so elephants, big cats and horses were always on the roster. As of course were the clowns – and I adored Coco the Clown, who had a wonderful way with children.

On one occasion we were invited to their winter workshop, and that was where I met Gosta Cruz – and his elephants. And where I had the joy of a wonderful ride on one of the younger elephants. I can still remember the distinctive smell (not unpleasant!) and the feel of its hide under my hands.

At an earlier performance I was entranced by the horsemanship of the Cirkus Schumann troupe from Denmark – and taking my courage in both hands I went up to them and complimented them in Danish. They were amused and impressed, and told me to visit next time I was in Copenhagen. Backstage!

Sadly I was never able to take up that invitation, and Cirkus Schumann is no more. But I will never forget those captivating evenings at Bertram Millls – or the kindness of that most remarkable community.