Cyril Mills Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains material relating to the life of Cyril Mills and Bertram Mills Circus, including:

  • Financial, Administrative and Performer Documents
  • Publicity Artwork
  • Programmes
  • Bertram Mills’ Circus Events Ephemera
  • Photographs and Scrapbooks
  • Souvenirs, Books and Merchandise
  • Film and Other Media

Administrative / Biographical History

This collection was part of the Bertram Mills family archives relating to the history of the family's circus business, used by Cyril Mills (1902, 1991) to write his 1967 book Bertram Mills Circus: Its Story.

Bertram Wagstaff Mills (1873- 1938), a keen horseman, founded the annual Mills Circus at Olympia in 1920, famously creating his “Quality Show” in response to a bet. The Circus at Olympia revived circus as a form of entertainment, re-elevating the performance art to attract the cream of high society, gaining worldwide respect. After Bertram Mills’ death, the circus was run by his sons Cyril and Bernard, until it closed in 1966. Besides its famous winter residency at Olympia, Bertram Mills Circus also toured the UK as a tenting summer circus, starting with a collaboration with Harry Cameron's Carmo Circus (also known as The Great Carmo).

Cyril Mills started his career as an engineer after studying at Harrow and Cambridge, but soon joined his father's circus and dancehall businesses. By 1927 both Mills sons joined their father as directors of the circus. Cyril Mills obtained his pilot's license in 1933 and travelled Europe scouting for talent, discovering many acts that would go on to become household names, such as Koringa, the Female Fakir and Togare, the Tiger Tamer. This piloting ability would later serve Cyril well during World War II, where he served as a spy for MI5.

Cyril Mills retired from the circus business in 1966, but continued to take an avid interest in the circus world, serving as Honorary Chairman of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain for many years.


The collection is arranged into two series:

THM/196/1 - Bertram Mills Circus: Materials relating to the family company

THM/196/2 - Cyril Mills: Personal materials

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to 20th century circus, as well as performance in general may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files. Material may also be found via the V&A's National Art Library catalogue or Search the Collections.

Related archival collections within the V&A Theatre and Performance include:

Please ask for details.

Geographical Names