Thomas Robert Hanneford, of the Royal Hanneford family, passed to the big lot in the sky on December 5, 2005.
Son of the late George Hanneford, Sr., and nephew of the famous 'Poodles' Hanneford, he learned to ride as soon as he learned to walk. Tommy became the active head and star as the celebrated 'Riding Fool' of the Hanneford Riding Act. He appeared on countless network television shows, in motion pictures and at virtually every major Shrine Circus in the United States.
When his performing career was over, Tommy became the producer of 'The Royal Hanneford Circus', one of the outstanding circuses in the United States, at times having as many as five shows going at the same time. As a skilled director he staged circuses from Coast to Coast, directed circus-type productions for the grandstand shows of leading State Fairs, and acted as a technical adviser for many TV productions as well as the recent motion picture 'Barnum' - starring Burt Lancaster.
Tommy Hanneford was possessed of unbounded energy plus a phenomenal talent for producing a smooth-running, fast moving performance that captures and retains the interest and the enthusiasm of an audience from start to finish. He selected the acts for each year's edition of Royal Hanneford Circus, layed out the program, coordinated the music, the lighting, the property-handling, and personally supervised every performance throughout the season to give each show that special Royal Hanneford touch.
From his birth, September 27, 1927, until his death, Tommy was the consumate performer and circus producer. He once said; 'As many times as I have heard the announcement (And now the Riding Hannefords featuring Tommy Hanneford) in my lifetime, I have never gotten over the thrill associated with them. The smells, sights and sounds of the circus, the applause, the thrill of a standing ovation -- circus is my life, not a way of life. Struppi says I truly have sawdust in my veins'.
The one word that best describes him is that he was truly a showman.
He once said: 'For me there is no life without the circus, circus is my life! As long as I have a breath of life, I will do my utmost to bring to you only the best of the circus. for alas, in my heart, I am just like the rest of you, a circus fan to the end.'
Tommy's desire was to die in the ring, he almost made it.
Struppi Hanneford, Tiger Trainer and Aerial Director, is one of the truly great circus stars of our time. She is one of the few performers who has not only mastered three of the most difficult circus acts but became a headliner in each one.
Struppi in tandem with her teacher, billed as the Luvas Sisters, played major vaudeville and circus engagements on the European Continent and in England. There they were discovered by an American circus owner and brought to this country in 1953 to appear in his circus.
In the United States, they again rose the ladder of stardom and appeared on such TV shows as Ed Sullivan and Super Circus and in most major circuses.
When Struppi married Tommy Hanneford she immediately set about forming a new act. It became what many believe to be the greatest single trapeze act of the time. She performed it many years under the name of 'Princess Tajana, Goddess of Flight' and won numerous awards and again appeared on many TV shows, circuses, in films, and at such theaters as Radio City Music Hall. Retiring from her trapeze work some years ago, she took up the high wire, and again, mastered a difficult act.
Then she developed the finest trained tiger act presented in modern circus times. Today, she assists her husband in every detail of the circus production, especially in the areas of costuming, lighting, special effects and program coordinating. Her talent as a performer is equaled by an intuitive sense of timing, showmanship and theatrical effect, which contributes greatly to the smashing audience impact of every Royal Hanneford Circus performance.
On January 22, 2005 Struppi was inducted into the 'Ring of Fame' on St. Armand's circle in Sarasota, FL honoring her lifetime achievements.
With the passing of her husband of fifty years, Struppi now steps forward as the driving force behind Hanneford Circus. She is determined to carry on Tommy's vision of producing the finest in family entertainment and realizing his dream of being the greatest circus producer in the modern era. HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF ROYAL HANNEFORD CIRCUS
Prior to forming their own show, Tommy and Struppi were both circus super stars. Struppi was a multitalented award winning performer -- first as an accomplished aerialist, and then as a high wire artist and tiger trainer. Although she now only makes only occasional appearances in a performance, her style and showmanship instantly communicate one of the reasons for her performing success.
Tommy was known as "The Funniest Man on Horseback" and his sister, mother and father presented what was considered the greatest and most entertaining bareback act in circus history.
The earliest origins of Hanneford involvement in the circus can be traced to Edwin Hanneford, a foot juggler who performed on London street corners and at fairs. Among the honors bestowed on Edwin was a summons to perform before King George III in 1778, in a contest to determine who was the best juggler in England. Having become preoccupied with other matters during the competition between Edwin and Walter Scott, the King never delivered a verdict.
The Hanneford family first toured as a troupe in 1807. All successive generations of Hannefords performed in some capacity, and by 1903, the family had its own show, the Hanneford Royal Canadian Circus, and was touring the British Isles by horse drawn wagon and performing under canvas. During the winters of these early seasons, they would appear with other featured acts with indoor shows on the European continent.
While performing in Spain in 1915, the Hannefords were seen by John Ringling. Mr. Ringling wished to get the Hannefords signed to the Ringling Brothers-owned Barnum and Bailey Circus. To do so, he had to buy the entire Hanneford Circus. The show at the time included family members George, Sr. and Edwin "Poodles" Hanneford. In the years that followed, Poodles, George, Grace and Elizabeth (or "Lizzie") performed together at various shows in a multitude of places.
Tommy Hanneford is recorded as a circus performer as early as April of 1933 with the Downie Brothers Circus. At the time, he was a clown and only 5 years old. Not since his father, George, Sr., had a Hanneford owned and operated his own circus. So it was at Pleasure Island Park in Wakefield, Massachusetts in 1965 when Tommy, his sister Kay with her dog act, his wife Struppi on the high wire, and other acts performed the first Hanneford Circus, a title incorporated in Macon, Georgia.
After that, Tommy began to solicit fairs for the new show and performed the Circus in a first major fair in Saginaw, Michigan in September of 1966. His brother George, Jr. even contributed his bareback riding act to the performances. This is considered to be the first performance of the Royal Hanneford Circus.
Later, Tommy met Bill English while taping a Gary Moore television special at the Circus Hall of Fame. The special, which aired on December 12, 1966 included acts from both of the managing parties. Later, in 1968, Bill English was with the Sells and Gray Circus and left that show to team up with Tommy Hanneford. The two operated the Circus and in 1969, were joined by Art Concello, the famed trapeze artist-turned General Manager of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Shows. Bill English acted as president, Tommy was vice president, and Concello was treasurer.
The show operated under the company name Circus Classics, Inc. and operated until the close of 1974, when the three men separated. At the beginning of 1975, Tommy Hanneford reorganized the Royal Hanneford Circus and took it on tour. By the following year, the show performed the Moslem Shrine Circus, and developed a name among Shrine Temples as a first-rate show.
So, by individual accomplishments, by presenting an act that was the essence of circus, by their equestrian heritage and by several royal appearances, the Hannefords are truly circus royalty.