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Last on

Wed 25 May 2011 11:00 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 25 May 2011

A portrait of the life, popular art and remarkable engineering of Carters Steam Fair. John Carter was interested in old machinery and fairground art. People began giving him gear and rides, or selling them to him when they retired, knowing he would keep them working.

His obsession encompassed his family and now, a decade after his death, Carters Steam Fair, staffed by John's widow, his sons and many old friends, travels for 7 months of the year, and spends winter in the yard fettling, burnishing and painting.

There are gallopers (no, not carousels) of extraordinary glamour and beauty, dizzying steam yachts and the amazing Chair -o - Planes. The family and workers live in exquisite 1940s art deco showmen's wagons, with cut-glass clerestories.

Their set-up is different everywhere they go because they regard all this as art and architecture - that moves. Even their lorries are ancient and beautiful - This programme, recorded in their winter yard and on site while they work, captures the wild, bright, musical, oily beauty, and thoughtful philosophy, of the life of the steam fair.

Producer: Julian May.

  • The Carters Steam Fair Gallopers at Night

    The Carters Steam Fair Gallopers at Night

    John Carter fell in love with these gallopers that were built in about 1895. He and his wife Anna restored them, found their original steam engine, returned them to original glory using traditional painting techniques and so their funfair was born

  • Anna Carter working on a picture of her husband John

    Anna Carter working on a picture of her husband John

    Anna Carter painting a panel from one of the rides depicting her husband John, who died in 2000, with his cherished gallopers in the background.

  • The Chair-o-Planes in Flight

    The Chair-o-Planes in Flight

    The Chair-o-Planes, which the Carters were working on while the documentary was being made. This ride, dating from the 1920s, was the second they acquired for the steam fair

  • Carters' 1932 Ford Model AA

    Carters' 1932 Ford Model AA

    This is thought to be the oldest truck in Britain still used for work. With its coach-painted livery, lettering and lining, it is a proud example of all the fairground art traditions the Carters keep alive.

  • Joby Carter's 1940s Showman's Living Van

    Joby Carter's 1940s Showman's Living Van

    When Carters Steam fair is out in the summer the family and their colleagues live in these beautiful wagons. "All cut-glass and mahogany, " says Anna Carter. "And very comfortable."


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