I think I was about six years-old when I was taken on my first and last visit to the circus.

It was a terrifying experience. I can still remember two clowns running up the aisles towards me, crazed criss-crossed eyes like they’ve been stitched up and scalped hair. They passed by in garish blur as they were chased by what I think was a woman with a rolling pin.

She(?) stopped in front of our aisle took out a pin and popped the balloons that were her overlarge bosom.

One could have developed a lot of “issues” from the memories of that visit.

In those days the circus still had performing animals and I vaguely recall a baby elephant pirouetting in a tutu although that might have been a different nightmare.

Like music hall the heyday of the circus has long gone. Some still tour. You see them on the edge of town looking a little forlorn with a couple of tethered llamas sheltering from the rain. The big top seems a lot smaller these days too.

Circus skills are still taught as a fitness exercise but the days when Billy Smart was a household name are over.

Now though I’ve had to have a rethink. And it’s because I’ve stumbled across an incredible BBC documentary called The Golden Age of Circus.

It was on BBC4’s consistently excellent Storyville series. You can still see it on the iPlayer.

Do so if you can for it is a stunning film, mesmeric, ethereal, almost unbelievable.

The director has assembled 70 minutes of cine reel of 19th and 20th century performances and performers from around the world and, eschewing narration, set it to the beautiful other worldly music of Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

What you get is a kaleidoscope of whirling images of dancers, acrobats, tumblers, clowns, high wire walkers, daredevil motorcyclists, monkeys riding horses, polar bears on seesaws, babies boxing, escapologists and beauty queens. I’m not making any of this up.

In between scores of smiling kids and adults fill the bleachers with excited anticipation.

It is truly another world and another time.

The section on the circus animals is deliberately miserable. It’s hard to believe audiences really did enjoy seeing elephants dressed as rock and roll stars or tigers whipped into walking on their hind legs.

But nevertheless it remains enthrallingly mystifying that animal trainers would make a meagre living literally putting their heads in the lion’s mouth as happens here on more than one occasion.

But as the film follows its hypnotic pattern something else begins to emerge.

Something we may have lost. That the skill and dedication of these itinerant entertainers was truly remarkable.

The love with which they developed their craft was tangible.

Watch the walker take a table and chair out on the high wire without safety net and have his tea. See the acrobats weave astonishing patterns in the air. Watch the young girl swallow a sword. See the exquisite choreography of the dancers.

Study the two clowns stealing a chair from each other, watch their incredible timing and then note the laughter from the neatly-dressed audience.

Even in footage of the performers in down time they’re juggling, dancing, stretching, perfecting their craft.

When did we lose this appreciation of dedication and skill and daredevilry? These now extinct artists put their bodies on the line for us and we eventually turned our backs on them, preferring to manoeuvre an action figure across a computer screen or follow a soap.

Back then we watched in open-mouthed amazement thrilled at our proximity to live danger, potential disaster. You could almost smell it.

Now entertainment is chiefly in our own living rooms.

Everything has its day I suppose but it’s difficult to watch those flickering images without lamenting that the show, in some form, couldn’t go on.

The Argus: Sara Cutting

I never tire of seeing pictures of Sara Cutting in The Argus. She’s the lady who battled breast cancer and decided to take on the challenge of wearing a different, and wonderfully designed hat, every day for a year to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.

We printed hundreds of pictures of her in the hats in one edition when she reached her milestone last year.

This week she was given a Point of Light award by the Prime Minister. Sara is remarkable. The hats are brilliant enough but even they can’t distract from her beautiful, defiant, smile.

Cancer has made itself a powerful enemy.