William Edward Russell Perks or “Jumbo” as he became known, was a big name for a little boy growing up at the end of the 19th century, but it was a name he grew in to. Jumbo Perks would become synonymous with entertainment in Ireland and across the globe.
Theatrics ran in the family and at the tender age of 10 Jumbo knew three things, he loved music, having played for silent movies, he loved entertaining people , and , perhaps making the strongest impression at this tender age, playing the violin was a hell of a lot easier than shoveling coal, a job he did after school. His father had died and his mother , brother and 2 sisters were left destitute,and as their were no government supports in that day, a job was a job, regardless of how back breaking it was. He’d do anything to make ends meet
Caledonian amusements was famous in Ireland in 1920s, and at the centre of it all was George Mac Donald. At one time they were seeking a Fortune Teller for their show to which Jumbo’s Auntie Queenie applied. She wasn’t exactly a fortune teller but knew how to read people and so she got the job. The Perk’s were now in the funfair business. Jumbo now a teenager was put to work in the confines of the steam engine and he was back to shoveling coal. But Jumbo watched, listened and learned everything and was soon promoted to operating the roulette.
It was while working for George mac Donald that Jumbo met Violet or V as she was known , George’s daughter and immediately fell in love. Eventually they married and went into business for themselves in the funfair industry. And they were on their own. George Mac Donald made it perfectly clear that the Mac Donald name would not be going with them and with his influence in the industry the newlywed couple found it hard to get suppliers on board especially those loyal to George Mac Donald.
To drum up support for their fledgling business, Jumbo would get into his truck and drive around and around town, drumming up interest in what was surely a huge funfair judging by the amount of trucks…… in fact it was Jumbo, his truck and their wedding presents as prizes. Word soon got around that Perks Funfair was the place to be and found previously closed doors were opening.
Time went by and Perks traveled the length and breadth of the country. V and Jumbo were blessed with a baby boy George and with a little girl who tragically died and then Ned came along. Not long after they were blessed with another little girl ….a daughter named Sal. Perks visited Youghal and decided to make this their home. Immersed in the world of the funfair from a young age, Sal was fascinated by the sights and sounds of the fair even before she could walk.
Sal grew up and spent two years with Elizabeth Arden in London before returning to Cork to open her own business in the City- Ivory Health and Beauty Clinic. By this stage Jumbo and V had set up permanent residence in Youghal , now with the illustrious Showboat ballroom where couples came to find love. Sal frequented the ballroom herself on many occasion and had her fair selection of suitors but, love wasn’t in the air.
But Sal finally did meet the love of her life which began with her passion for vintage cars. At the Mount Vernon motor club in Cork there was a club bar and in charge of it was a man named Philip Tivy. A motorbike man and Munster Champion to boot, he ran his own motor bike business. One of Sal’s pride and joys , her Humber 1924 11.4 hp Saloon, her own vintage car, was giving trouble at the time to which she requested assistance from Philip to fix. Having turned her down on two occasions, he finally gave in on the third request, if only to get her to leave him alone. And they haven’t stopped since.
In the late 80’s, Jumbo and V decided it was time to sit back, relax and shy away from the entertainment empire they had built. Sal and Philip decided to purchase Perks and so a new chapter began. People wanted something different, the days of hook a duck and coconut shys were well and truly over. They invested in new rides, bumper cars, a new carousel and a big wheel, but always kept Jumbo’s ethos of entertainment first in the forefront of their minds. Financially they were all in so it was a roll of the roulette wheel they had to win.
Lady Luck was certainly on their side as a phone call from her nephew Sam in Hong Kong who was an engineer, would lead them on a new adventure. Sam had been asked if he knew anyone in the entertainment industry who would be interested in bringing Western arts to the Eastern audience, and Sal jumped at the chance. When Perks closed in the Winter , she and Philip would board a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and , with them, bring touring shows including Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserable. Word of mouth soon spread, and it wasn’t long before Sal got a phone call from Beijing seeking Perk’s advice on setting up a theme park. They thought they were just having a few conversations, maybe a nice lunch out and home again…. How wrong they were.
Philip and Sal ended up in China for six years with their funfair. It was based on a Disney style amusement park and they handled all the funfair and games aspects of it.
“It was a wonderful time. One that you sometimes have to pinch yourself about. That’s not to say it wasn’t trying, but it was worth it in the end. In total the park had 200 staff and the Chinese employers wanted all the best and the brightest for the hotels and high end guests. ” says Sal.
But there is no place like home and so Sal and Philip finally cashed in their air miles and headed back to Youghal and Perks Entertainment Centre, now situated at Seafield and boasting the traditions of the fair, with state of the art gaming, bowling, adventure play, to name but a few as well as the Showboat Casino for the grown ups. And Perks has expanded to include two further businesses… the Liberty Casino’s in both Midleton and Cobh.
They are proud parents to Gavin and Warren and grandparents to Calum, Neil, Isolde, Fearne and Phillipa. Gavin is heading the team and Warren who is a sound engineer has opened his own hi-tech recording studio Claycastle Recording Studio within the Seafield Industrial estate having recorded many famous people from Europe, Ireland and the States.
Philip and Sal are both as active in the business as they ever were, with a loyal and dedicated team behind them. Over 90 years have passed from the day Jumbo first fashioned his own roulette wheel. Each roll of the dice bringing new opportunities.
Sal says “ Entertainment is something that’s in your blood. As the song says , there’s no people like show people and I’m proud to call them my friends. Throughout your life there’s ups and downs- God knows our family has had more than its fair share- but the show must go on” And at Perks Entertainment Centre, it always will.
Sal's Funfair :: Ordinary Lives Podcast
Sal’s Funfair is a documentary about the journey of Perks Family Funfair Youghal and is an intimate behind the scenes look into the travelling Funfair and the now modern entertainment centres.
This documentary is one that encapsulates the life of growing up with the travelling Funfairs in Ireland over the past century and the work involved in keeping the show on the road, with constant reinventing to keep the doors open.
Sal is the centre of this story, her memories, her life, her journey with Perks Funfair, intertwined are her family, staff past and present.
This story will tell us of life living in wagons, the great historical funfair rides of old, the days of the ballroom dances at Perks Showboat, A time when this small seaside town was filled with life and Perks Funfair played no small part in ensuring all the fun of the fair was brought to the town.
This is a great piece of history that takes us behind the scenes of the travelling Funfair and the entertainment centres while also allowing us an intimate portrayal of one of Ireland’s much loved Funfairs told through the experience of it’s hard working owner, which for decades has brought all the fun of the fair to Youghal town.
This programme was produced by Ordinary Lives Podcast and funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence Fee:
Ordinary Lives Podcast – Sal’s Funfair: https://ordinarylives123.podbean.com/e/sals-funfair/