First-name: Nicholai [performing name Coco] (1900–1974)
Coco, whose real name was Nicolai Poliakoff, was born in Latvia in 1900. His parents worked in the theatre when Nicolai was born, but both lost their jobs a few years later and, in order to survive, Nicolai started busking from the age of five. In Easter 1930 Nicolai, or Coco as he was then called, came to England with his young wife Valentina to begin working for the Bertram Mills’ Circus in what was to be their first summer touring season.
He left the circus temporarily to serve in the British Army during World War II, where he entertained troops as a member of ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association.
“In 1947, the year after Bertram Mills Circus reopened, Coco and his family returned to Britain’s ‘Quality Show’. He appeared on tour with Mills every summer thereafter until the closure of the touring show in October 1964 and at the Grand Hall, Olympia, London, each winter from 1947–8 until the last Christmas show in the winter of 1966–7.
He had become an indispensable member of the Mills’ clown team, working first with his children Michael, Sascha, and Tamara until they left to join Billy Smart’s circus, but also with other members of the Mills clown equipe, including Percy Huxter, Alby Austin, and Jackie Sloan. His name became synonymous with that of the Bertram Mills circus and he quickly became its biggest star attraction in a branch of the entertainment industry that did not normally promote individuals as featured artistes.”