Dora Terra-Mangle was a lion tamer in Leeds from 1947 until May 15th, 1960. That was the day of the catastrophe when Dora, at home in her family caravan near the big top, dropped her thick green eyeliner and then a mirror, which broke with intent.
The circus’s first show of the afternoon ended when Leonard, the largest lion, bit Dora’s head off. Startled, it plopped and rolled towards the audience. Leonard got to Dora’s wet liver before being shot by someone he couldn’t see. He hadn’t bargained on fatal reprisal and disapproved.
He had hoped to meet a scarlet tiger. He’d seen a big white Bengali in Berlin in the cold winter and he’d heard of others with black stripes, like a zebra.
He’d never fancied a life of failed glory on the African plains, of deep stalking grass and twitching gazelle and the nonchalant dispatch of unsuitable cubs.
Soon he’d be in a handsome tobacco and leather home, a stuffed, stitched and roaring trophy on his hind legs, or a head on a wall with a proud surround:
Ernest, Southern Rhodesia, 1960
It was left to Romele Ward, the large clown, and the ventriloquist Dymos Puné, a frequent liar, to tell the small and quiet audience that Dora’s decapitation was not part of the act. A lonely young woman stood and shouted, Oh Yes It Is.
Romele would later say to his friends that Dora was unwise to put her head in Leonard’s mouth when Leonard had told her the previous day to fuck off forever or he’d bite her head off.