The Unusual Career of Pete Collins (1908-1980)

(125)-Pete-Collins-with-daughter-Claire

Pete Collins with daughter Claire

After the war, Horace at times aided by his brother Pete, set about entertaining a new breed of audience. Gone was the ‘live for today’ attitude of wartime as a new austerity set in.

(84)-Movita-with-husband-Marlon-Brando-courtesy-of-Peter-Green

Movita with husband Marlon Brando courtesy of Peter Green

Things continued to prosper, but there was increasing tension between the brothers with Pete wanting more scope and Horace being rather loath to grant it. Pete, like his father before him was a showman rather than a business man like Horace who distrusted his monetary acumen. Horace had good reason for his attitude as is illustrated, for instance, when he dispatched Pete to London to sign up a principal for the forthcoming Glasgow Pavilion pantomime at a salary of £17.10s.0d. Instead, the bold Pete arrived back having signed up a Mexican film actress called Movita, who incidentally later married Marlon Brando, at a salary of £85. Not unnaturally, Movita meant nothing to the Glasgow booking office so £1,000 was instantly lopped off the seasons profit – a lot of money in the 1940’s. Eventually the brothers decided they simply were incompatible as partners and although they remained on brotherly terms, Horace bought Pete out – lock, stock and barrel.

Another day at the office for Pete Collins courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Another day at the office for Pete Collins courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Pete moved to London and established his own Theatrical Agency. Since putting together the Collins’ Agencies first revue of human oddities in Aberdeen, Pete had always had a taste for the unusual and so began his new career. He reformed the “Would You Believe It?” show, once again with Lofty and Seppitoni but now also featuring acts such as ‘The Human Aquarium’ who could regurgitate fish and frogs and ‘The Human Gasometer’ who after inhaling gas could then breathe it out, light it and cook an omelette on the flames! The show toured for two years to great success.

 

The Human Aquarium

The Human Aquarium

The Human Gasometer and Pete Collins

The Human Gasometer and Pete Collins

Lofty, Seppetoni and Jack Joyce

Lofty, Seppetoni and Jack Joyce

In 1949 Pete launched a new revue which featured a wrestling lion, an armless wonder who painted with his feet and a mechanical man. The content changed depending on the scale of the venue and the title changed too to “Well I Never!” and “You’ll Never Believe It!”.

Another show of Pete’s was titled “Hold Your Breath!” featuring a giant tank of water in which frogmen displayed their talents and an “Aqua Revuette” featuring a “Striptease Mermaid”! This show also toured successfully abroad under many different names.

Lemo the Tame Lioness

Lemo the Tame Lioness

Tom Jacobsen the Armless Pianist

Tom Jacobsen the Armless Pianist

Hold Your Breath!

Hold Your Breath!

 

Another of Pete’s imaginative ventures was a “Jungle Fantasy” featuring a tribe of “Genuine African Warriors” who were actually students recruited from the pubs in London’s Tottenham Court Road!

Pete-Collins'-Jungle-Fantasy-courtesy-of-Don-Stacey-&-King-Pole-magazine-of-the-Circus-friends-associationAs the theatre business declined in the UK Pete headed to the USA in 1954 where he toured with another giant, Ted Evans in baseball stadiums and racetracks supporting many big names of the age. While in the states Pete realised the potential of television and founded his own TV production company on his return to the UK, producing shows based on his old novelty revues.

Postwar Reunion of Pete Collins' 'Would You Believe It

Postwar Reunion of Pete Collins’ ‘Would You Believe It

Ted Evans and Pete Collins arrive at Idlewild, NY

Ted Evans and Pete Collins arrive at Idlewild, NY

Prince Kari-Kari and his Ghana Dancers (From Tottenham)

Prince Kari-Kari and his Ghana Dancers (From Tottenham)

Khara Khavak courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Khara Khavak courtesy of Don Stacey & King Pole magazine of the Circus friends association

Itchy feet once again took Pete abroad, finally to South Africa where he produced radio and television shows. Among these shows was “The Southern Sky”, based on the BBC’s “The Sky at Night”. Both shows were presented by the legendary British astronomer Patrick Moore with whom Pete became good friends and published the book “The Astronomy of Southern Africa”.

Ateka-and-friends-courtesy-of-Don-Stacey-&-King-Pole-magazine-of-the-Circus-friends-associationPete Collins was probably the UK’s most successful producer of human oddity shows and the last of his breed. In his long and fascinating career he worked with such amazing acts as: The world’s tallest man and shortest man, the world’s tallest woman, a man who played his head like an xylophone, a tame lioness, human robots, an educated pig, a one legged dancer, the woman with ten brains, sword swallowers, a woman who produced ‘paintings’ on a typewriter, flea circuses, a crocodile hypnotist, a man who lived in a bottle for a year, an armless pianist and Heinrich the counting toad to name but a few.

No People Like Show People by Pete Collins

No People Like Show People by Pete Collins

Pete Collins & Patrick Moore

Pete Collins & Patrick Moore

Hold Your Breath Programme 1949

Hold Your Breath Programme 1949

 

Many of Pete’s tall tales and stories of the fascinating individuals he represented can be read in his very entertaining book “No People like Show People”.

Pete Collins died in South Africa in 1980 leaving a widow, Moya and three daughters.

Pete Collins 1913-1980

Pete Collins 1913-1980