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The Tale of Two Donkeys

By Wendy Rushton

My Father survived Dunkirk and married my Mother. Together they set up home in Blackpool, the most exciting town in the north. More than that, it was unique for its sea, sun, sand and entertainment. I doubt the country had anything like it…shows, shows and more shows!

A portrait of a bride in her gown and the groom in military uniform
Wendy Rushton's mother and father on their wedding day

As a 6 year old my passion was donkeys, so when the wakes weeks from Bolton came round, my uncles would take me and my brothers and sisters to the beach…that’s if we could get on; a lot of the time we couldn’t find a deck chair let alone a bit of sand to sit on. Oh the joy of sandcastles, crabs in pools and poor old Punch and Judy with a lot of punching going on. Then there were the donkeys. I always looked for my favourite, I talked to them, hung around them and rode them.

Fast forward 10 years and I graduated from The Tower Children’s Ballet to The Blackpool Tower Circus…now that was a fun time! The glamour of the times, the artists and acts had made it to the top if they performed at a Blackpool summer season. On a pier, in the Opera House, Winter Gardens, Palace, Queens many wonderful shows and here I was on the world famous Blackpool Tower Circus. Surrounded by sequins, sawdust and ring masters in red; I was on top of the world.

A child on stage with a clown and some ballerinas in tutus.
Wendy as a circusette dancing in the Blackpool Tower Circus alongside Charlie Cairoli
A close up of typed text on a contract
Wendy's contract for the Blackpool Tower Circus

Did someone say donkeys? It seems Blackpool hosted the Daily Mirror annual Donkey Derby Race creating a race track opposite the Tower. The jockeys were the dancers from all of the shows. I soon learned that The Circus had never won this prestigious title. “Does anyone want to volunteer?” I was asked, need I say more, of course I would!

We all gathered on the beach at the side of the race track. I was sporting false pig tails, why, because I had worn them as a six year old when I first rode my donkeys. My donkey was called Bobby’s Girl. Susan Vaughan had just had a top ten hit, with a song of the same name.

As I flew down the course I felt the exhilaration of a six year old, my pig tails flying! The compere was Don Arrol, a TV presenter at the time, and every donkey step of the way he shouted out racing comments all the way to the end and my goodness… I won! I might just as well have won the Derby, I felt so proud.

Three women and a small boy stood next to a donkey.
Wendy celebrating her win with the crowd

All the circusettes rushed forward and we all celebrated Blackpool Tower Circus’ first win (I suspect the only win). Jimmy Edwards, a well-known celebrity of the day who used to be called the Professor, presented the donkey owner and me with the winning cup.

Four women posing with a donkey.
Wendy celebrating with the other circusettes
A man with a large moustache giving a trophy to three girls.
Wendy presented with her winning cup by Jimmy Edwards

I still have the cup, which reads ‘Daily Mirror Donkey Derby Blackpool 1963 Tower Circus’ and then of course my so proud. So the tale of two donkeys came to an end.

A silver trophy on a black base.
The Daily Mirror Donkey Derby Cup still owned by Wendy

Blackpool’s glittering past cannot be repeated in the same way but the stories can and hopefully as the future unfolds, we can continue to present Blackpool as the most exciting Beach resort in the country...more stories...that’s for another day.

Image Credits

All images in this article owned and supplied by the author.