THE SHOW WITH A DIFFERENCE
So runs the slogan which has been emblazoned on Steven’s transport for many years.
It is no idle boast. Steven’s Fair is different, or rather special.
Joe Stevens died on 9th September 2008. He always ploughed his own furrow. His fair has
a unique “Show Biz” glamour about it, reminiscent of Billy Smart’s circus. Indeed, it is to
Billy Smart that we must look to find the roots of Stevens Carnival Fun Fair. This was
because Joe Stevens in 1942 married Peggy Smart, daughter of the late Billy Smart of Circus
fame. They were very keen dancers and Joe was at one time the all Surrey ballroom dancing
At this time Billy Smart was still predominantly a fairground riding master. His Fair was
the best in the London area. He was certainly the most enterprising Showman in the
London section and was always breaking new ground, especially with hospital carnivals
and “holidays at home” fairs during the war. Joe Stevens naturally fitted into the Smart
family fair and learnt well. 1946 was a very big year for Billy Smart. He opened his new
World circus, which was to become Britain’s largest travelling show, for the first time ever
at Southall Park. Not only that, he also took delivery of four new machines.
A brand new Lang Wheel Dodgems, Big Wheel, Octopus and Dive Bomber. These were in
addition to his Gallopers, Coronation Ark, Swirl, Ghost Train and enormous Brooklands’s
Track, the largest car track ever to travel in this country, Billy Smart’s combined circus and
fair was certainly “The Greatest show on Earth’. He was now the top Showman in Britain
and was travelling the largest number of big rides together ever owned by one man in this
country before or since.
Travelling such a large combined show posed the problem of finding enough grounds big
enough to take the circus and the fair together. The Circus, which was originally an adjunct
to the fair, went from strength to strength and as the 1940’s wore on the circus became more
important to Billy Smart than the fair. As well as touring the Travlling such a large
combined show posed
the problem of finding enough grounds bigenough to take the circus and the fair
together. The Circus, which was originally an adjunct to the fair, went from strength to
strength and as the 1940’s wore on the circus became more important to Billy Smart
than the fair. As well as touring the Circus also did frequent TV programmes for the
BBC. The annual Christmas Day programmes attracting record audiences. Royal
Performances took place in London, raising thousands of pounds for charity. The
circus stopped travelling in 1971 but continued its TV spectaculars until 1983.
This is where Joe Stevens starts to take an important role, because Billy Smart started to
sell off his machines and reduce his stake in the fair as he became more and more
preoccupied with the circus. So it came to pass that during the early 1950’s a gradual
transfer took place whereby Joe Stevens ultimately took over Billy Smart’s fair, This is
rather an over-simplification, he did not simply take over the Smart machines. He
bought his own, one by one, and it could be said that by the mid 1950’s the Fair became
No fewer than 24 big riding machines have passed through Joe Stevens’ hands from
1945 to 1984. The very first ride he owned was a delightful Lang Wheel Juvenile
Autodrome, delivered new in 1945 and travelled, of course, with Billy Smart’s fair. This
was very quickly followed in the same year by a new Ghost Train. This is the one that
is now stored at Dingle’s Fairground Heritage Centre in Devon.
1959 was a golden year for Joe Stevens. With five superb rides Stevens was now a
really great show. To celebrate Mr Stevens had a handsome glossy brochure produced
at the end of the year as a publicity tool to send out to Carnival organisers. The booklet
had photographs of all the machines taken at night,
pictures of all the family, Joe Stevens, his wife Peggy and children Joseph, Charmaine,
Perrin and Peggy as well as his brother Len who was at this time acting as advance
Publicity Manager for the fair.
This a fitting point to pause and examine the transport which Joe Stevens had at this
time. Then, as now, his vehicles were a wonderful spectacle, all painted yellow with
orange wheels, mudguards and underframes. In 1959 they all had whitewall tyres. The
emphasis was very much on loaded Lorries, the philosophy being that each lorry
carried its own machine and powered it through the prop shaft to a rear mounted
dynamo. All the Lorries and tractors were quite elderly at the time, as was general in
the fairground business in those days. However, they were very handsome and all had
headboards proclaiming “Here Comes Stevens” over the cabs. This convoy was a
wonderful looking lot altogether.
A Dodgem ride originally owned by Stevens was immortalised by being heavily
featured in the film “That’ll Be the Day”. Mr. Stevens started 1962 with a brand new
Dodgem from Supercar. For his new Supercar Track, Mr. Stevens had a fleet of 20 new
cars made in Italy by Spaggiari and Barbieri with fibreglass bodies and balloon
bumpers, the first such cars to be seen in this country.
In addition, his lovely Swirl attended the winter fair and circus in the Kelvin Hall,
Glasgow for eighteen years.
For 1972 Stevens had a brand new Twist built at Ilkeston to their own specification.
This was a pioneering machine, the basic idea of which has been widely copied since.
It was an artic load with fold up floor and pay box on the swan neck. The drive to the
three column sets of cars was by friction, a system which has been used on nearly all
subsequent floor mounted Twists.
It gave a ride which was faster and smoother than any other Twist made up to that time. This
pioneering prototype spawned many Stevens’ built Twists including the latest generation of
“Twisters” built by Stevens at their own Chertsey premises. Joe Stevens’ younger son Perrin
was by now taking a large part of the running of the fair. Indeed he already owned the last
two Twists and those that were to come after. The Dodgem was also his. For 1980 Perrin had a
new Meteorite from Sam Ward. In 1981 Stevens’ presented a spectacular ride from the U.S.A.,
the famous Super Loop. Also that year Perrin made the first of a new generation of Twists at
Chertsey, the “Sizzler’s”. These have fibreglass cars, a Perspex pay box and boxed in panels
round the top frame covered in running lights. These Twists are, for my money, the best such
machines ever built. 1983 saw the third Sizzler Twist, again built by Perrin Stevens at
Chertsey. The practice up to now was to build a new Twist each winter, run it for a season and
then sell it.
The demand for Stevens Twist Ride became so great Perrin opened an additional factory in
Corby, Northants, manufacturing Twist rides which were exported all over the world.
Perrin sadly died in a car accident in 1990 aged 36. His son also named Perrin Stevens is still
In 1973, Mr Stevens and all his tenants joined the Showmen’s Guild. Many of us thought that
this would spell the end of the uniqueness of Stevens’ fair as other rides from Guild members
infiltrated Stevens’ grounds, fortunately this did not happen, going on to give even more
variety to Stevens Fair.
Stevens fair has always gone further afield and travelled greater distances than any other
major firm. This is partly historic.
Operating outside the Guild as Mr Stevens did until 1973 (and as did Billy Smart
from 1946 onwards
During the winter of 1977/8 Stevens’ had a new Maxwell Waltzer of revolutionary
design. It was a spinning top machine, the fifth such made by Maxwell’s. What really
made it so revolutionary was, first, the low flat across the front six sections. Previous
Waltzers had a high flat across the back six sections. Also this new ride had hydraulic
drive to the outside rims of the platforms, ten black fibreglass cars, and an
illuminated black and orange pay box which looked like a giant juke box.
During this winter, we heard that Stevens’ were one of four firms to be having a new
Sobema Matterhorn imported from Belgium. The Stevens one, was the last of the four
to arrive and made its debut opening in Victoria Park, Hayward’s Heath on the 11th
July 1984 and was a sensation! I had watched it build up for the first time during the
previous two days when it still had all its packing materials round it, corrugated
cardboard and so on. This wonderful ride was “The Event” of 1984 as far as I was
concerned and I think the best Matterhorn yet imported, with its illuminated cars and
mountain scenery stretching right across the centre.
Joe Stevens’s elder daughter Charmaine (who was christened in Billy Smarts Circus
ring) has always been heavily involved in the business all her life. Taking on the
running of the Fair after her father’s death, with the help of her family.
Conclusion When Stevens’ fair comes to town, even for private business, it is a real
event in the community.
Mike Hanna wrote the above article because Stevens’ are one of his favourite firms. I
hope you have found it interesting, and urge you to visit a Stevens’ fair as soon as
possible if you have never seen them. You will not be disappointed. It is definitely
Stevens': The Show with a Difference.