Living curiosities

 BILL CROUCH continues his delving into the exploits of AE Pickard, who played a pivotal role in the early days of Stan Laurel's career 

Herbert Crouch and AE Pickard brought the strangest human beings to the public gaze in Glasgow in what was a highly competitive market. Living exhibitions and freaks were excellent box office. Pickard scanned newsprint for freaks and actively promoted and exploited them.

The Panopticon became the home of such freaks as the Bear Woman of Texas; Lucy Moore, American Fat Girl, 97 inches around the bust, 46 stone; Tom Thumb, “The World’s Greatest Living Curiosity.” There was even talk of a leprechaun!

Crouch’s Wonderland countered with the great Brazilian Novelty, Louis, half-man, half-elephant; The Blue Man; The Hungarian Wonder, age 18, 35 stone- still growing; L’Homme, age 25, Weight 34lbs. “£500 to anyone showing similar attractions.” Together with a thousand little wax figures and side shows to amaze and interest. 

In the summer of 1908 Pickard expanded his premises and installed a menagerie to compete with one of the most influential impresarios in Glasgow, Edward Henry Bostock, who had a zoo in New City Road to the west of the city centre.

The first advert for Pickard’s Noah’s Ark and Glasgow Zoo, as he named this additional attraction, stated that the entrance was from New Wynd which adjoined the Panopticon.

The Panopticon was primarily for the working classes who could not afford to indulge in more expensive pursuits and at the Panopticon they had a combination of entertainments under one roof. What set Pickard  apart from his rivals was in his use of advertising and how he engaged with the public. He cleverly used his name in phrases and slogans to promote his shows; ‘Pickard Unlimited’; ‘Pickard, Ahead of the Times’; ‘The Sun Shines on Pickard, Visit his Theatres and Share his Pleasures’; ‘Dr Pickard for all trouble’s got the cure’.

 

He asked the public to provide catchy slogans or limericks and offered cash prizes for the best each week. Pickard always had the edge on competitors on advertising and the public responded. By 1910 Pickard had transformed the old ailing Britannia Music Hall into one of the most flourishing places of entertainment in Scotland.

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