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BBC showcase the travelling life of showmen featuring Nipper Appleton & John Birch


Last night Friday [Nov 25] saw award winning BBC1 show ‘We Are England’ broadcast their latest film ‘England’s Greatest Showman’ which focused on the trials and tribulations of the SHOWMEN’S COMMUNITY today and celebrates it’s ancient traditions.

The film focused in particular on 79 year old Eastern Counties Section showmen Nipper Appleton and his family plus also featured fellow showmen John Birch and his sons. It was filmed earlier in the year, starting at Kings Lynn Mart in February, the traditional start of the season and follows the setting up and opening of the fair. In particular it focuses on Nipper Appleton and his family, as well as John Birch and his family; following their work, experiences, family life and business challenges, both at Kings Lynn and as the spring season progresses.

All in all a great piece showcasing the best of the industry and it’s traditions.

The programme is shown again on Saturday [Nov 26] and Sunday [Nov 27] on the BBC News Channel at 2.30pm.

Watch now online via BBC iPlayer

‘We’re Are England’ – England’s Greatest Showman

At 79, Nipper has led an incredible life. The head of East Anglia’s largest family of travelling showmen, he is fairground aristocracy. His stock-in-trade is the ghost town ride, which he has toured for several decades.

Several younger generations of showmen from his family work alongside him. Schooled by Nipper and other members of the old guard since birth, they know this most traditional of entertainment industries inside out.

In this film, we follow Nipper and his clan from the first fair of the season in Kings Lynn as they embark on a new season of touring. Along the way, we hear how the industry has changed; from horse and cart to wagons with all mod cons, and from old-fashioned ‘exhibits’ like the bearded lady to new attractions for modern audiences.

We meet Nipper’s two granddaughters, Monique and Britney – two women in their 20s who have followed their family into the trade. This season, they are also arranging an 80th birthday bonanza for Nipper, inviting the great and the good of Britain’s fairgrounds to come and celebrate with him.

We also meet John, on the road with his two sons. John is all too aware of how gruelling life as a showman can be. He travels by night, setting up rides when he arrives, and welcoming revellers come daytime. He’s also trying to secure land for a permanent home to return to at the end of the season. His family may face homelessness if a solution isn’t found, and it weighs heavily on John’s mind.

Overheads are tight, and the whole family must pull together. Challenges range from the technical and the commercial to the bureaucratic, with even small challenges enough to throw a spanner in the works.


  1. Hi I hope that you do not mind me messaging you.
    I don’t know if you are the Nipper Appleton that knew my sister, brother in law and nephews. Barbara, Barrie, Tony and Richard Walls.
    If so I would just like to inform you that Richard passed away on 3rd January.
    His funeral is Friday 16th February at 10am, St Peters Church, Chertsey. SURREY


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