The Real characters behind -
FOR THE BENEFIT OF Mr KITE
Lennon & McCartney - The Beatles
For the benefit of Mr. Kite
there will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
late of Pablo Fanques'fair, what a scene
Over men and horses hoops and garters
and lastly through a hogshead of real fire
In this way Mr. K will challenge the world
The celebrated Mr. K
performs his feats on Saturday at Bishopsgate
The Hendersons will dance and sing
as Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don't be late
Messers K. and H. assure the public
their production will be second to none
And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz
The band begins at ten to six
when Mr. K performs his tricks without a sound
And Mr. H will demonstrate
ten somersets he'll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
a splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill
On January 31, 1967 the Beatles went to Knole Park near Sevenoaks in Kent to make the promotional film for
Strawberry Fields Forever. "There was an antique shop close to the hotel we were using in Sevenoaks," remembers former Apple employee Tony Bramwell. "John and I wandered in and John spotted this framed Victorian circus poster and bought it."
"The song was inspired by the finely-wrought language and the evocative names of the performers on the poster. John began to compose a song based on the poster"
The protagonists in the song were real characters but Lennon employed poetic licence in detailing the facts.
For example the poster mentions "The Celebrated Horse Zanthus" (not Henry, the horse's name in the song). On the poster it was Mr Henderson who offered to challange the world not Mr Kite. The Henderson's were not late of Pablo Fanque's Fair - it was Kite who was late of Well's Circus. In order to rhyme with 'Don't be late' he changed the location from Rochdale to Bishop's Gate.
A 150 years before the song was created, the protagonists were stars in the circus world.
The Henderson's were wire-walker, equestrian, tramplinist and clown John Henderson and his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Henderson's traveled all over Europe and Russia during the 1840's and 1850's. The 'somersets' which Mr. Henderson performed on 'solid ground' were somersaults, 'garters' were banners held between two people and a 'trampoline' in those days was a wooden springboard rather than stretched canvas.
Mr Kite was William Kite - son of Circus Proprietor James Kite and an all round performer.. in 1810 he formed Kite's Pavilion Circus and 30 years later he was with Well's Circus. He is believed to have worked for Pablo Fanque's Circus from 1843 to 1845.
Pablo Fanque -
Pablo Fanque, Britain's only Black circus proprietor, was born William Darby in Norwich in 1796, and was in his time one of the most successful circus performers and proprietors. Orphaned at an early age, he was apprenticed to William Batty, the owner of a travelling circus. Under Batty's tutelage, he became proficient at horse riding, rope dancing and acrobatics, and soon joined the troupe of Andrew Ducrow, who ran one of the most famous circus troupes of the time.
Pablo's first known appearance in the ring was in Norwich on 26th December 1821 as "Young Darby" with William Batty's company. Springing, as it were, from the gutter, he rose to greatness entirely by his own efforts
Details of his early life however, are scant. Church records suggest that his parents were John Darby and Mary Stamp of St Stephens Parish and that he was one of five children. On his first marriage certificate he declared his late father's occupation as "butler". It is possible that his father was African born and had been brought to the port of Norwich and trained as a house servant.
In 1841, the 45-yr-old Fanque left William Batty to found his own circus. He toured extensively throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire. His visit to Rochdale in 1843 produced the poster which later inspired John Lennon's lyric for the song For the Benefit of Mr Kite.
As a circus proprietor he won the respect of all who knew him, and was great friends with Charles Dickens and (Samuel) Plimsoll. He also rode in Hyde Park with the great Duke of Wellington, and was an all round famous man". Ted Pablo 'Old Timers at Brinsworth' (World's Fair, 28/4/1934, p.40, col.3). Pablo Fanque, died in 1871.
In 1847 Fanque made his London debut, which was a highly successful engagement. The London Illustrated News reported that "Mr. Pablo Fanque is an artiste of colour, and his steed…we have not only never seen surpassed, but never equalled…Mr. Pablo Fanque was the hit of the evening. The steed in question was Beda, the black mare that Fanque had bought from Batty. That the horse attracted so much attention was testament to Fanque's extraordinary horse training skills.
In 1848, "Fanque's Amphitheatre" opened in the Victoria Gardens, Norwich for the winter season. Arthur Barns
achieved 50 consecutive somersaults there, and the clown Tom Matthews was presented with a silver snuff-box by his admirers.
By the 1860's, Pablo's circus was in decline. He died in Stockport in May 1871, aged 75. He had been there with his second wife, Elizabeth, and two sons, George and Ted, since the previous month. Pablo's funeral took place in Leeds and was a spectacular occasion. The hearse was preceded by a band playing the "Dead March" and followed by Pablo's favourite horse, Wallett, and four mourning coaches. The deceased and his horse were brought from Stockport by train and were met by throngs of well-dressed spectators.
Illustration depicting Pablo Fanque, 1847 (click image for larger version)
In 1840 he appeared at Astley's riding his favourite dressage horse, Beda. Fanque trained several performers from childhood, including the famous clown 'Whimsical Walker' who wrote that he 'acted to me like a father'. Fanque was strict about the moral conduct of his apprentices and insisted that all members of his company attended church.
.."the proprietor being a man of colour - to all appearances a negro - short in stature, of black and shining countenance, with luxuriently curly black hair. A favourite turn in the programme was his performance with a clever pony, which went through surprising evolutions at his bidding, amongst which Pablo Fanque would drop his handkerchief unseen by the pony, which would recover it and bring it to his master in his mouth" (Scrapbook of cuttings, Manchester Central Library)."
In an age when slavery had not yet been abolished, Fanque appears to have been accepted not only by the circus fraternity, but also by the general public. Given the attitudes of the time, however, it is difficult to believe that he didn't encounter racism, but no evidence has been documented. Thirty years after Fanque's death, the Rev. Thomas Horne, chaplain of the Showman's Guild, wrote:
"In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line, for, although Pablo Fanque was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the Ring has but one test, ability".