THE name Nicolai Poliakoff might not mean much to anyone, but his alter ego Coco the Clown was one of the most famous circus performers in the world when he came to Blackburn in 1964 with Bertram Mills Circus.

Unlike many superstars of today, he was only too happy to allow Evening Telegraph photographer Frank Walsh into his trailer as he prepared for yet another show.

Lancashire Telegraph:

With his croquet hoop eyebrows, size 24 boots (more than two feet long and weighing five pounds each) and stand-up red hair, Coco was one of the most well-loved clowns of all time, but the man behind the make-up was virtually unknown.

Born in the dressing room of a theatre in Russia in 1900 he would perform in his back yard for the other children and drove his father to despair until he let him join the circus.

At the time of his visit to Blackburn he could speak eight languages and had met royalty and prime ministers. He had lived in a caravan for so long he said that a house felt like a railway station when he was inside.

The main thing that kept Coco on the road, travelling hundreds of miles every year, was the children who loved his act.

“I believe in humanity,” he said.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Coco had also devoted a lot of his time to road safety, often making unheralded visits to schools and to children’s wards at local hospitals whenever the circus rolled into town.

His one-man safety crusade was the result, he said, of a little boy whom he knew being knocked down and seriously injured.

“I believe it is in my heart,” he said.

Ironically Nicolai himself had been the victim of a road accident in 1959 which left him partially paralysed on his right side and unable to use his right hand but bit was something he hid from his audiences.

By 1964 he was preparing to celebrate his 45th wedding anniversary to bis wife Valentina - they had six children, 24 grandchildren and four great grandchildren scattered all over the world. But the Coco name lived on with no less than four Coco the clowns and one Cocotina working in some of the world’s leading circuses

Lancashire Telegraph:

Nicolai was, of course, Coco Senior and son Michael was Coco Junior working with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in America with grandson Graham Coco. Sacha Coco worked with Billy Smart’s Circus and one of his granddaughter was Cocotina.

A large crowd gathered outside his caravan as he prepared to meet the Mayor of Blackburn ahead of the show.

“Are you really her most famous clown in the world?” a little girl asked him. “My granny says you are.”

He just smiled at her.