“A while back I posted on my general family history blog here about Russell Middlebrook who was quite a famous clown in New Zealand and Australia.
I’ve recently discovered there was so much more to Russell than his performances as a clown. He was in fact a master at sculpture and modelling. Like others in his branch of the family, he was a great artist ( his sister Eva was a commercial artist and his brother Farrer was also involved in architecture and modelling, apparently being responsible for much of the Roman lettering on the Auckland Museum.
Russell’s sculptures graced such places as the Civic Theatre and the Tea Rooms at the Farmers Trading Company . With subjects as diverse as church alters, gothic gargoyles, fountains, and bunnies he was a master at creating them all.
Charles “Russell” Middlebrook was born in 1908, youngest child of James and Julia Middlebrook, Russell is best known as a clown. His talents went way beyond this though. As a child he learned acrobatics, and when his deafness meant he could not serve during WW2 he joined the Arcadian Troupe who entertained the troops in Auckland Camp Shows. After the war he went to Australia and joined circuses such as Whirling Brothers and Robinson Brothers. A great crowd pleaser in his many clown persona, he was best known for his feats of balance. He would balance on his hands on a stack of chairs, with the chairs balancing on beer bottles.
By trade though Russell was talented in other art forms. He had as a teenager attended Elam Art School where he excelled in the art of sculpture and modelling. He worked on parts of the Civic Theatre and the Auckland War Memorial Museum. His sculptures were seen in the Farmers Trading Company and in churches around Auckland. He also dabbled in photography, a collection of his photographs of the Piha region is now held in Auckland Library Heritage Images Collection. Russell spent his lifetime entertaining and was still performing and riding a bicycle at eighty-seven, and was still performing with Robinson's Family Circus well into his eighties. He was presented with a Benny Award ( the highest honour that can be awarded to a New Zealand variety performer) in 1983, and passed away in 1999 aged 91.