Clowns in Joseph Grimaldi church tribute service

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News, London

  • Published
Dozens of clowns attended the church service at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston
Image caption,
Dozens of clowns attended the church service at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston

Rubber noses, frizzy wigs and multi-coloured suits may not sound like your usual Sunday best.

But this look was very much en vogue in an east London church.

Armed with hand puppets, balloon animals and whoopie cushions, dozens of clowns descended on Holy Trinity Church in Dalston.

They were there to remember fellow clowns who have passed on, and pay tribute to the man seen as the father of modern clowning - Joseph Grimaldi.

Grimaldi, who made his stage debut at the Sadler's Wells Theatre when he was less than two years old, is thought to be the inspiration for the clown nickname "Joey".

The 19th Century London clown trail blazed modern clown comedy, clobber and antics.

Larger than life

Tony Eldridge - aka Blue Bottle - secretary of Clowns International, who arrived dressed as a comedy security guard, explained the impact Grimaldi had on the clowning world.

Image caption,
She Duggan, five, from Islington was happy to meet Mr Woo

"Before him, there were pierrot and jesters," he said.

"But Grimaldi saw the funny side in life, and his character clown reflected the stupidity that happens all around us.

"He came up with the ideas of painting a personalised character on his face and using props."

Such was the anticipation for the 67th annual event, the church was packed to the rafters an hour before the service had even begun.

But Custard Clown Uncle Colin and his prankster pal Mr Woo, sporting a bright red wig, rosy cheeks and garish checked suit, were on hand to buffoon around and warm up the crowds.

Not that they needed warming up - children's cheers echoed around the church at their comedy capers.

After an hour of waiting, circus show-tunes were bashed out on the organ, and the doors at the back of the church burst open.

A variegated sea of jokers, jesters and pranksters dressed in motley, frolicked up the aisle, entertaining on their way, before plonking themselves in front of the altar.

The service began as Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin addressed the church.

Clown's Prayer

Shimmering oversized bowtie wearing Jolly Jack, 64, from Islington, who has been a clown since the Jubilee Street parties of 1977, gave a reading from the Bible.

Image caption,
Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin is Speaker's Chaplain in the House of Commons

The service then took a less traditional turn as balloon animals were made for the local children.

The odd horn hooter went off during the hymns, but the clowns were generally on their best behaviour.

There was a sombre moment as the names of clowns who had died in the last year were read out one by one.

A candle was lit for each clown and carried down the aisle, followed by a wreath for Grimaldi.

Finally, the Clown's Prayer was said, which thanked God for the gift of laughter.

But do the clowns' capers really fit alongside religious reverence?

Ms Hudson-Wilkin, the vicar of the parish, and Speaker's Chaplain in the House of Commons, thinks so.

"There is a wonderful passage in the Bible that says we are fools for Christ," she said.

"In society, we all need to laugh a bit more.

"Laughter fits perfectly with the church.

"I hope this enables people to see the church is real and participates in the cycle of people's lives, because laughter and humour is necessary in the cycle of life."

The service is so popular, an overflow of worshippers congregated in the nearby church hall to watch via video link.

Gigantic boots

But afterwards, the show had only just begun. Clowns descended on the church hall and performed for the waiting families.

Image caption,
Tuppy and Stephen Richardson travelled from Australia to attend

Tuppy and Stephen Richardson had squeezed their gigantic boots and homemade outfits into suitcases and got on a plane from Adelade, Australia, to be at the service.

"We heard the Grimaldi story and thought it was inspiring," said Mrs Richardson, sporting a purple wig and flower in her hat.

"We've never heard of anything like this in the world."

The couple have not come up with clown names yet.

"It took us two years to name our rabbit," said Mr Richardson.

"We're not professionals. It's just a hobby," Mrs Richardson added.

"We enjoyed walking down the street and waving at people.

"People just stop and smile and start speaking to us. You feel the mood lifts. "

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