Francesco the Clown

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Francesco the Clown (1919-2001) is the stage name of actor Gilyan Francesco, used when he performed as clown for various circuses (notably the Boswell-Wilkie Circus) as well as in his own presentations for childrens's events, parties etc. Born Gilyan Francesco in Wellington, in the Cape, (ostensibly 1919, but there is some doubt about his age). He made his stage debut aged six. Over the years worked on stage, variety, circus and pantomime. His clowning skills were taught to him by the Australian clown Tony Murrell, who paid him 25 cents a week, "and a clip on the ear every time I didn't clean Murrell's shoes properly". Francesco became an auguste (traditionally the clown with a red nose and baggy trousers) and played this part for some years at Pagel's Circus, until Madame Pagel decided he should become an elegant white-face clown in spangled costume.

In the 1950s Francesco, known as "Fanny" to circus folk, moved to Boswell's Circus, one of South Africa's greatest touring shows. Francesco then joined Wilkie's Circus to work with the British clown Charlie Bale, but had a disagreement with the owner and left after a week.

Boswell's later merged with Wilkie's show and Francesco toured with it during the 1970s. Such was his fame during this period that a wig-making firm took a half page advertisement in the programme proclaiming that it had made Francesco's hairpiece. Francesco was retained by the South African Ministry of Education to lecture to school children on a variety of subjects, from animals to road safety.

Along with H. Dut he was one of the directors of Gilyan Francesco’s Playmakers, a theatrical company, specialising in clowning and children's theatre.

Over the years he also occasionally appeared under his own name as an actor in straight theatre and film work. See Gilyan Francesco


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