Clowns pack east London church for tribute to the father of modern clowning

Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Clowns left Holy Trinity Church in east London Sunday after a service. Each year on the first Sunday in February, clowns from across the U.K. gather in Dalston attend a church service in memory of the clown Joseph Grimaldi, an annual tradition since 1946. The service moved to Holy Trinity Church in 1959, and in 1967 permission was given for the clowns to attend in their costumes. (AKIRA SUEMORI ~ Associated Press)

The Associated Press

LONDON -- The men and women in white face-paint and polka-dot bow-ties sang hymns and said prayers as one of their number rode a unicycle down the aisle of an austere east London church.

The group was gathered for a memorial service Sunday, but because it was for one of Britain's best-known clowns, the attendees kept things bright, cheery and more than a little unorthodox.

Brilliantly colored wigs, parasols and minuscule hats filled the nave of Holy Trinity Church at the annual service in honor of Joseph Grimaldi, known to many as the father of modern clowning. Roly Bain, the clowns' chaplain, blew bubbles from the pulpit at the service, which also honored clowns who have died in the past year.

The Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a vicar at the church who helped organize the event, said the clowns had a religious role to play.

A clown rode a unicycle Sunday as he and other clowns attended a church service at Holy Trinity Church in east London. (AKIRA SUEMORI ~ Associated Press)

"In the Bible, in the New Testament, it talks about us being fools for Christ and in a sense they clown around, they fool around, and they try to help people see the lighter side of life," Hudson-Wilkin said.

"I think from that perspective, that they have a ministry to perform."

Grimaldi was born in the late 18th century, and began performing publicly at age 3. A skilled mime, acrobat, magician and a consummate physical performer, he popularized many of clowning's trademark tricks, including thieving long strings of sausages. Grimaldi, who died in 1837, is credited with inventing the white face-paint and two red triangles that still grace many clowns' cheeks.

The first memorial service was held in 1946 and moved to Holy Trinity in 1959.

"If you're a clown, you know about it," said Albert "Clem" Alter, who traveled to the memorial from Portland, Ore.

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