By Mark McConville
INCREDIBLE images have revealed the glamour of the once-idolised fire eating women and men of 1950’s Britain that dazzled crowds with their death-defying acts.
The stunning shots show the stunning Priscilla Birt rehearsing her circus act by balancing a flaming holder on her forehead while passing her body through a hoop, blowing a stream of petrol from her mouth to set the torch ablaze and placing a flaming torch into her mouth where she swallows the flames.
Other remarkable pictures show a fire eater joining a Fire Brigade’s weekly display in Huddersfield to give holidaymakers a surprise, Rhanee Mottee performing as a flame thrower and a performer named Tagora with his wheel of fire.
Tagora, who was also known as ‘the great Fakir’ was burned many times while playing with fire, but that didn’t daunt him.
Every night audiences at ‘Chu Chin Chow’ the ice spectacle at the Empire Pool Wembley were amazed at this man who could expel from his mouth a sheet of livid flame twice as long as himself.
Fire eating is the act of putting a flaming object into the mouth and extinguishing it. It became a part of the standard sideshow acts in the late 1880s and was often seen as one of the entry-level skills for sideshow performers, although skilled fire performers, such as those who can use the difficult and dangerous vapour transfers and produce large breaths of fire are regarded as equals in the circus community for their skill and devotion to their art.
Other than sound fire safety precautions and some practical advice regarding the laws of physics, there are few secrets to eating fire. Torches do not burn with “cold flames” nor is there any special substance in the performer’s mouth other than saliva.
It is instead the cutting off of the oxygen from the flame which extinguishes it and the evaporation of saliva with the water in the alcoholic solution which keeps the nearby surfaces cool while it is still burning.