Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Texts and music focusing on clowns, with readings by Alison Steadman and Andrew Sachs. With writing from Aesop to Stephen King and Clare to Holub, plus Stravinsky and Schumann.

Alison Steadman and Andrew Sachs read poetry and prose exploring clowns as mysterious constructs that evoke an array of emotions: from laughter to tears, happiness to fear, and wonder to pity. Clowns are seen as solitary, innocent, terrifying, malevolent and sometimes even evil.

The programme captures the many guises of clowns and begins with a homage to Joseph Grimaldi, considered to be the most famous English Clown. On the first Sunday of every February, clowns gather in the National Clowns' Church (Holy Trinity Church, Dalston, East London) to celebrate the life of Grimaldi, so the beginning of the programme recreates the Grimaldi Service with stanzas from an ode by Thomas Hood read over Stravinsky's Circus Polka arranged for organ.

Then enter the clowns: Verlaine's Parisian circus clown, the foolish country clowns of John Clare and Henry Parrot, Simon Armitage's Clown Punk, Shel Silverstein's tearful, unfunny 'Cloony the Clown' and Heinrich Boll's naive clown in the confusion of post-war Germany. The familiar figures of the Commedia dell'Arte - Pierrot, Harlequin, Columbine and Pantalon - also begin to emerge from the beginning of the programme and are characterized in Schumann's Carnaval, Op.9, the Pierrot of Bantock and Reger, plus Telemann's Columbine from Ouverture Burlesque.

In the middle of the programme, the 'Clowns' Prayer' recreates the central part of the Grimaldi Service accompanied by Britten's Village Organist's Piece. The darker side of clowns is revealed through Stephen King's 'It' with Respighi's horrifying depiction of death in the Roman circus (Feste romane), Shakespeare's clown gravediggers from Hamlet over Charlie Chaplin's 'Clown's Last Crazy Act', and Betsy Sholl's ghostly 'saddest man in the world'.

1 hour, 15 minutes

Last on

Sun 14 Jun 2015 17:30

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    STRAVINSKY, arr. KEITH JOHN

    Circus Polka

    Performer: Keith John (organ – L’Eglise du chant d’oiseau, Brussels).
    • PRIORY PRCD 174.
    • T15.
  • THOMAS HOOD

    Ode to Joseph Grimaldi Senior (extracts), read by Andrew Sachs & Alison Steadman

  • 00:03

    Cole Porter

    Be a Clown

    Performer: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland (voices).
    • NAXOS 8.120845.
    • T26.
  • 00:06

    PISTON

    Arrival of Side Show Parade (The Incredible Flutist)

    Performer: The Louiseville Orchestra, Jorge Mester (conductor).
    • TROY 016-2.
    • T19.
  • VERLAINE

    The Clown, read by Alison Steadman

  • 00:07

    Robert Schumann

    Pierrot (Carnaval, Op.9)

    Performer: Nelson Freire (piano).
    • DECCA 473 902-2.
    • T2.
  • AESOP, trans. THOMAS PHILIPOT

    Fab LIII. The Clown and Cart, read by Andrew Sachs & Alison Steadman

  • 00:08

    Granville Bantock

    Pierrot of the Minute

    Performer: Bournemouth Sinfonietta, Norman Del Mar (conductor).
    • CHANDOS CHAN6566.
    • T1.
  • JOHN CLARE

    The Clown, read by Alison Steadman

  • HENRY PARROT

    Nescit Stultus Irasci, read by Andrew Sachs

  • 00:19

    Erik Satie

    Petite musique de clown triste

    Performer: Aldo Ciccolini (piano).
    • EMI CDC 749713-2.
    • T3.
  • HEINRICH BOELL

    The Clown (extract from chapter 1), read by Andrew Sachs

  • 00:24

    Bobby Goldsboro

    See the funny little Clown

    Performer: Billie Jo Spears (singer).
    • EMI 789075-2.
    • CD1 T10.
  • EVE MERRIEM

    Veep, read by Alison Steadman

  • 00:27

    Bobby Previte

    More Confused Clown (Music of the Moscow Circus)

    Performer: Herb Robertson (trumpet), Roger Squitero (percussion), Bobby Previte (drums).
    • GRAMAVISION R2 79466.
    • T13.
  • 00:29

    Robert Schumann

    Arlequin (Carnaval, Op.9)

    Performer: Alicia de Larrocha (piano).
    • DECCA 421 525-2.
    • T2.
  • AESOP, trans. THOMAS PHILIPOT

    Fab. XCVIII. The Wood and Clown, read by Alison Steadman & Andrew Sachs

  • 00:30

    Georg Philipp Telemann

    IV Colombine (Orchestral Suite in B flat major, ‘Ouverture Burlesque’)

    Performer: Collegium Musicum 90, Simon Standage (director).
    • CHAN 0512.
    • T4.
  • 00:32

    Aaron Copland

    Dream Dance & Circus Music (Red Pony)

    Performer: New Philharmonia Orchestra, Aaron Copland (conductor).
    • SONY SM2K 47236.
    • CD1 T3.
  • HILAIRE BELLOC

    Auvergnat, read by Alison Steadman

  • BETSY SHOLL

    Joining the Circus, read by Alison Steadman

  • 00:40

    Max Reger

    V Pierrot und Pierrette (Larghetto) (Eine Ballettsuite, Op.130)

    Performer: Norrkoeping Symphony Orchestra, Leif Segerstam (conductor).
    • BIS CD 601.
    • T14.
  • 00:43

    Benjamin Britten

    Village Organist’s Piece (c.1940)

    Performer: Timothy Bond (organ).
    • REGENT REGCD205.
    • T5.
  • ANONYMOUS

    Clown Prayer, read by Alison Steadman & Andrew Sachs

  • 00:46

    LOUIGUY – HENRI CONTET

    Bravo pour le clown

    Performer: Edith Piaf (voice), Unidentified orchestra directed by Robert Chauvigny.
    • EMI 746497-2.
    • T8.
  • 00:48

    Anon.

    Can Can Girl

    Performer: Unidentified circus band, Milton Rosenstock (conductor).
    • Naxos Musicals 8.120845.
  • SHEL SILVERSTEIN

    Cloony The Clown, read by Andrew Sachs

  • MIROSLAV HOLUB

    Clowns, read by Alison Steadman

  • 00:50

    John Dowland

    Complaint

    Performer: Jakob Lindberg & Paul O’Dette (lutes).
    • BIS CD 267.
    • T6.
  • PHOEBE HESKETH

    Clown, read by Alison Steadman

  • 00:52

    NOEL-LOESSER

    Broken Hearted Clown

    Performer: Arthur Tracy (voice).
    • SOUND WAVES SWNCD 002.
    • T17.
  • AESOP, trans. THOMAS PHILIPOT

    Fab. LVI. The Stork and Geese, read by Andrew Sachs & Alison Steadman

  • 00:54

    Robert Schumann

    Pantalon et Colombine (Carnaval, Op.9)

    Performer: Claudia Arrau (piano).
    • PHILIPS 420 871-2.
    • T15.
  • 00:55

    Gerald Finzi

    Quodlibet (Clowns): Vivo (Music for ‘Love’s Labours Lost’)

    Performer: English String Orchestra, William Boughton (conductor).
    • NIMBUS NI 5101.
    • T6.
  • STEPHEN KING

    It, read by Andrew Sachs

  • 01:02

    Ottorino Respighi

    Circenses (Feste romane)

    Performer: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Neville Marriner (conductor).
    • PHILIPS 432 133-2.
    • T9.
  • 01:06

    CHARLES CHAPLIN, arr. RAY RASCH & CHARLES CHAPLIN

    The Clown’s Last Crazy Act

    Performer: Unidentified violinist and pianist.
    • BLUE MOON BM 99903/4.
    • T26.
  • SHAKESPEARE

    Hamlet, Act 5 Scene 1, read by Andrew Sachs & Alison Steadman

  • 01:10

    Sergei Prokofiev

    Danse des bouffonnes (Dance of the Clowns) (Chout, Op.21)

    Performer: WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, Michail Jurowski (conductor).
    • CPO 999 975-2.
    • T5.
  • SIMON ARMITAGE

    The Clown Punk, read by Andrew Sachs

  • 01:12

    Ives

    The Circus Band

    Performer: Gerald Finley (baritone), Julius Drake (piano).
    • HYPERION CDA 67644.
    • T2.
  • ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

    The Angler and the Clown, read by Alison Steadman

Broadcasts

The hidden history of plant-based diets

The hidden history of plant-based diets

Forget social media influencers - the meat-free movement started with the Victorians.

Books website

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.