Blazes of glory! Meet Britain’s 1950s fire-eating idols like circus star Priscilla Birt and Tagora who risked their lives to wow crowds with flaming spectacles
Incredible images reveal the glamour of the once-idolised fire eating women and men of 1950’s Britain that dazzled crowds with their death-defying acts.
Stunning shots show the Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act by balancing a flaming holder on her forehead while passing her body through a hoop, blowing a stream of petrol from her mouth to set the torch ablaze and placing a flaming torch into her mouth where she swallows the flames.
Other remarkable pictures show a fire eater joining a Fire Brigade’s weekly display in Huddersfield to give holidaymakers a surprise, 23-year-old Rhanee Mottee performing as a flame thrower and a performer named Tagora with a wheel of fire.
Tagora, who was also known as ‘the great Fakir’ was burned many times while playing with fire, but that didn’t daunt him.
Every night audiences at ‘Chu Chin Chow’ the ice spectacle at the Empire Pool in Wembley, north London were amazed at this man who could expel from his mouth a sheet of livid flame twice as long as himself.
Fire eating is the act of putting a flaming object into the mouth and extinguishing it. It became a part of the standard sideshow acts in the late 1880s and was often seen as one of the entry-level skills for sideshow performers, although skilled fire performers, such as those who can use the difficult and dangerous vapour transfers and produce large breaths of fire are regarded as equals in the circus community for their skill and devotion to their art.
Other than sound fire safety precautions and some practical advice regarding the laws of physics, there are few secrets to eating fire. Torches do not burn with ‘cold flames’ nor is there any special substance in the performer’s mouth other than saliva.
It is instead the cutting off of the oxygen from the flame which extinguishes it and the evaporation of saliva with the water in the alcoholic solution which keeps the nearby surfaces cool while it is still burning.
Mrs Austen Spriggs, 23 , whose stage name is Rhanee Motie , is seen here performing at the Festival of Magic held at the Scala Theatre in London, swallowing a flaming torch on October 23 1959
A woman wearing a bejewelled bikini, bangles and a necklace rehearses her performance before a show by holding a candle stick and breathing air onto it
Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act, the flaming torch sinks into her mouth where she swallows the flames
Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act, balancing a flaming holder on her forehead, while passing her body through a hoop
The performer known as Tagora and his wheel of fire which caused him several injuries
Ramon, 27, of Billy Smart’s Circus donned a uniform of the local fire brigade and gave holidaymakers a surprise when the fire fighters gave their weekly display
Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act by balancing a flaming holder on her forehead
Tagora preparing his fire brands before a show. In the 1950s he regularly dazzled crowds of thousands
Two female fire eaters relax at the breakfast table with a tea cosy and loaf of bread as they practice their incredible circus skills
Rhanee Motte, 23, real name Austen Spriggs, 23, performing as a flame thrower on November 12 1959. From her lips she is spraying paraffin into the lighted torches, which are covered in oil. Once being sprayed, they ignite like a bomb, with the unburned oil splashing out
Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act, she spits out a stream of petrol from her mouth and sets the torch ablaze
Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act , the flaming torch sinks into her mouth where she swallows the flames
The stunning Priscilla Birt handing over her tin for her petrol at the garage. It is then filled up in preparation for her fire breathing
Priscilla Birt balancing a flaming holder on her forehead , while passing her body through a hoop
Rhanee Motie, 23, performing at the 12th Annual Festival of Magic Circle held at the Scala Theatre in London, swallowing a flaming torch 12 October, 1959
A man displaying his talents of fire breathing in front of a poster recruiting for fire fighters
Priscilla Birt ollecting the milk and petrol from her doorstep, for her fire-breathing performance