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
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 officially Stevens.
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
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 manufacturing
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.
oe 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
Stevens': The Show with a Difference.
© Stevens Fun Fair