Circus dog act star of the 1950s dies at 85

A STAR of the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome in the 1960s and one of Europe’s most celebrated circus dog acts, Gabriella de Jonghe, has died aged 85.

The Belgian-born circus performer, who spent a summer season at the Hippodrome in Billy Russell’s Circus, died on September 7.

She was born in 1927 in Arlons, Belgium, into a prominent Belgian circus family that can be traced back to the 1890s.

She was the fifth child of Joseph de Jonghe and wife Anna van der Biest - Joseph may be remembered for spending time working at the Hippodrome before the second world war with his Liberty Horses.

Gabriella’s dog shows first featured in Great Yarmouth in the summer of 1967, where her dogs were one of the hits of the Billy Russell Circus.

This was a return to England for Gabriella, who first appeared in the country at Tom Arnold’s Mammoth Circus at Harringay Arena, London.

Gabriella was a versatile circus performer, excelling as a ballerina horse rider, bareback horse rider, and at presenting horses and ponies.

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Her family ran circuses in Belgium and the Belgian Congo under various names before and after the second world war, including Circus de Jonghe, Cirque Congo, and Circo Barcelona, which only stopped in the late 1960s.

Her brothers Cesar and Victor remained in the Congo for many years - Victor’s daughter Patricia later marrying celebrated white face clown Bruno Stutz, from popular Swiss clown troupe the Chickys.

Gabriella joined her other brothers in returning to Europe in the 1950s where they specialised in their own individual animal acts, often appearing in other leading European circuses.

Gabriella created a group of mixed dogs and the most varied presentation of performing dogs ever seen at the time. She was known for presenting her circus dog tricks in an elegant, charming manner.

Among the breeds of dog in her shows were a St Bernard, papillon, spitz, griffon, Maltese, schipperke, fox terrier, dalmatian, poodles, greyhounds, pinscher and an Afghan.

Gabriella married Boris Sobolowsky, the leader of bare back horse riding troupe the Sobolowskys, who she met at the German Circus Carl Hagenbeck. The Sobolowskys made their last appearance at the Kelvin Hall Circus in Glasgow in the winter of 1953/54.

Gabriella and Boris went on to have a daughter, Natasha.