When men were men and maulings routine

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THROUGHOUT history, every generation seems to get told by their elders that people today aren’t as tough as they used to be.After reading the Mail’s interview with a circus animal tamer in September 1955, ANDREW LEVETT wonders if they might be right.

“DURING his 20-odd years as a lion tamer he has only been mauled twice.”

Only twice? Not only did tamer Bailey Fossett “not consider himself brave or unusual” but the Mail’s journalist also seemed to think that just the two brushes with a terrifying and agonising death was nothing remarkable.

Mr Fossett, who was in Hartlepool with his family’s touring circus, revealed that both maulings came at the hands of the same animal.

“Seven years ago, in Birmingham, a Bengal tiger hurled himself at Mr Fossett with such furious ferocity and speed that half the audience didn’t realise he was being attacked,” the Mail reporter wrote.

“The animal, Sheika, after giving vent to its pent-up feelings, returned immediately to its stool leaving Mr Fossett still standing with a torn artery in his arm, a mark across his throat and a severed finger end.”

Undaunted, Mr Fossett persevered, explaining: “Sheika was new to the game. Probably the noise of the huge audience frightened him.”

But two weeks later Sheika attacked again and Mr Fossett almost lost a leg.

“I decided to let him go. He was sold to Chester Zoo.”

Mr Fossett said he “drifted” into lion taming and said the main qualities required for the job included “common sense to help you get an animal out of the sulks or a temper” and patience.

He explained that a trainer might invest a year into coaching an animal, only to have to abandon him as unteachable.

There was one animal Mr Fossett, 43 at the time, did single out as dangerous – the domestic cat.

“I don’t like them. They are dangerous. if they caught cat flu they would affect the wild beasts.”

The Mail said Mr Fossett was normally a quiet, mild mannered man but he got angry “when outsiders said training was done by cruelty”.

“That is ridiculous,” said Mr Fossett, who would survive into old age before passing away in 1992.

“A jungle beast is apprehensive of humans because of their height and they have a certain amount of respect for them.

“Hit them and they will run away as far as possible, Corner them and they will attack.

“Patience is the only weapon used to train wild animals.”

Do you remember seeing Bailey Fossett and the animals perform? Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.