Friday, February 1, 2013

The Butler Also Juggles

[post 324]

Downton Abbey is now one of the most popular television shows in the world, no small achievement for a fairly sophisticated British costume drama. The acting, led by the delightfully caustic Maggie Smith, is top-notch, and one of the stand-outs has to be Jim Carter as the butler, Mr. Carson.

Mr. Carson's prim and proper character is not one you would associate with circus, but I recently got a tip from Martie LaBare (thank you very much) that Carter was also a juggler, and figured all you demanding blog readers would want me to track it down... which is exactly what your humble servant did. Apparently word about his juggling surfaced after this appearance on the tv show, The View:

And a quote from the Daily Mail:

"I went to a circus school in New York in the Seventies and I was a tightrope walker in my 20s but you might not think it to look at me now. I was a pretty good juggler and could ride a unicycle and I did a magic act. I stepped back from all that when it started getting in the way of acting. I taught the runners on Downton Abbey to juggle and I have been known to do card tricks but my magic act was the worst in the world. I still occasionally do some magic, card tricks and juggling but I'm a bit heavy for the tightrope. I don't think that I would want to venture on to the tightrope again. It would have to be a bloody big one if I did."

I was around the NYC circus scene in the 70s but didn't remember him, so I shot an e-mail off to my old circus teacher, Hovey Burgess.


Yes, I remember James Carter quite well.  He was very much of a presence at my daily NYU January Circus Sessions, which later evolved into Saturday Circus Sessions.  He was not matriculated (no money changed hands), but he was very eager and helpful.  The tightrope anchors in studio #1 were new at the time and he ALWAYS helped me set up the tightrope.  He referred to my chain-hoist as a device (which he pronounced "DEV-oiyce").  I doubt that I would have been able to connect the name, but for the fact that I remember well that he shared his name with an American President and a Victorian Lion Trainer! Subsequently we went to London where we found an alternative theatre type circus called LUCY IN THE SKY. James Carter was in it.

Mystery solved. One more interesting fact about our stuffy butler courtesy of Wikipedia:

He has been a keen cyclist for 55 years (as of October 2011), frequently riding for charity causes. On 30 September 2011 Carter travelled with 25 other riders to Ghana for a 10-day trip which included six days of cycling to raise money for clean water in the small impoverished town of Tafo. He has a web page for this event to receive sponsors and donations: This was his tenth charity ride. The previous nine (Jordan, Costa Rica, Laos, Vietnam, India, Namibia, Chile, Argentina and London to Paris-twice) were to raise money for the National Deaf Children's Society. He intended to raise a minimum of ₤2,750 but ended up with ₤8,670.

Update (2-8-13): See Dave's comment below for more on "Carter the Magician" (not to be confused with Carter the Great!)


Dave said...

I was lucky to know Jim in London in the late 70s / early 80s. I met him at the juggling class run by Tim Batt on Sunday mornings in the Pineapple Dance Studios. He was a regular and happy to share his skills.

I also have a clear memory of him performing his 'magic' act in one of the first juggling conventions in London. It was a delight and feature Jim as an inept and later inebriated magician. He entered with decks of cards and rubber doves falling from his jacket and set up his table siping from a pint glass of beer. He then started the classic multiplying wine bottle routine looking more and more confused as bottles seemed to appear of their own volition. He downed a couple more 'pints' and seemed visibly more drunk as he attempted other tricks culminated in placing his last full beer glass on a pool table triangle on a cord and slowly and then much too quickly was whirling the balanced beer glass repeatedly over his head and with a slur telling us "...this is the easy part. Stopping it is impossible!".

Jim was already an established stage actor with the National Theatre in London where he met his wife the actor Imelda Staunton and soon went on to feature often in UK television, notable The Singing Detective mini series but pops up again and again in 'character roles'.

Jim was always modest about his magic act but for me it was very, very good and his combination of a drunken and startled magician would easily have been a world class act. For whatever reason he seemed to feel it was not helping his serious acting career and didn't perform it much after then (to my knowledge)but it remains a enjoyable and inspiring influence on me.

jt said...

Thanks for the info, Dave. Not surprised to learn his magic act was so funny! —jt

Adam G. said...

Thanks for the info! I had no idea! And in researching this, I discovered Jim Carter's old comedy company The Madhouse Company of London along with an old photograph of him doing some street work.

jt said...

Thanks, Adam!

Jokes Funny and Humorous said...

How amazing that Jim Carter went to circus school, a man of many talents.