Sonny Fossett, who has died aged 83, was a circus clown who went by the name of Stripey, and an honorary member of one of the world's oldest circus families.
The Fossett family has branches in several different countries and, over the years, established a series of circuses. The original Fossett, Robert, was a London street urchin who, in 1809, set up a table in Petticoat Lane featuring a flock of performing sparrows. Six years later, the by-now 18-year-old showman appeared in Kent, with a one-pole canvas tent, his sparrows and a fortune-telling donkey.
The family became renowned circus people, travelling the roads of England (and later this country) with their various troupes. In 1866 the Robert Fossett Circus billed Master R Fossett as "the British Fox Hunter"; Miss R Fossett as "the Smallest Child Rider in the World"; Mr H Fossett as "a Rider"; and Mr J Fossett as "a Juggler on Horseback". There was also a "Funny Harry Fossett".
By the 1960s, practically every major circus in England featured at least one member of the family working in front of or behind the scenes. At times, as many as five generations of Fossetts worked together in the ring.
Sonny Fossett's real name was Ronald Mole. In the 1950s, however, he spent some time with members of the Fossett family, who happened to be neighbours of his family at Henley-in-Arden, Warwickshire. He became known as Sonny Fossett after beginning a relationship with Ellen Fossett, a sister of the showman Jim Fossett.
In his early days with the Fossetts, Sonny looked after their circus elephants at Alton Towers. Later he helped Jim and his family launch the James Bros Circus, a family show which toured for many years, mainly in the Midlands and Lincolnshire. As Stripey the Clown, Sonny Fossett became a popular feature of the show and also developed skills as a bareback rider, driver, carpenter and tent master.
In the 1960s Gerry Cottle joined the circus, marrying Jim Fossett's youngest daughter, Betty. She had spent much of her childhood with Ellen and Sonny, and after the Cottles established their own travelling circus, which quickly became the largest in the country, Sonny performed as the circus's principal clown from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, his comedy car act being a particular favourite.
With Gerry Cottle's circus, Sonny Fossett toured extensively in the British Isles and also took part in tours to Oman, Bahrain, Iceland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. In 1981 he appeared in Gerry Cottle's short-lived Gary Glitter's Rock & Roll Circus, which toured three towns before shutting down.
The youngest of seven children of a steam engine operator, Ronald Mole was born on May 4 1931 at Henley-in-Arden. He left school early to assist his father as he helped local farmers with the harvests. Called up to the British army for National Service at 18, he became a tank driver and later chauffeured the wife of his commanding officer in Germany.
After Ellen Fossett's death in 1979, Sonny Fossett started a relationship with Claire King, with whom he had two daughters. They eventually settled at Gerry Cottle's headquarters at Addlestone Moor in Surrey, where he became caretaker while Claire looked after any animals that were not needed by the circus on tour.
Sonny Fossett continued to perform his comedy car act at carnivals and fetes. Sonny, who died on December 6, 2014, is survived by Claire and his daughters.