Boy Foy was born John Campwell in Glasgow, Scotland in 1919. His parents were Jack and Ann Campwell, better known as the British juggling duo the Melvilles. You can see the Melvilles in the following video.
Taking the stage name Boy Foy, John began performing at the age of 7. He regularly practiced 5-8 hours a day and had developed an act as a unicycling juggler by the mid 1930s.
One of his first big appearances was at King George V’s last Royal Command Performance, which took place at the London Palladium in 1935. He was billed as “England’s Youngest Juggler” and held the distinction of being the youngest performer ever to do a command performance. During the second half of the 1930s, Boy performed regularly in both the UK and in the United States, appearing at Radio City Music Hall as well as a return engagement at the London Palladium in 1938 with the Oxford Circus.
Boy Foy performed his entire juggling act while riding unicycles of various sizes. His act consisted of 3 and 4 club routines, 3 top hats, ball and mouth stick work, and several combination tricks. At the peak of his ability, he also performed the cups and saucers routine, mimicking Rudy Horn’s skill of doing so on a high unicycle. Here are a few photos showing pieces of his act.
For most of his 50 year performing career, Boy Foy lived and worked in the United States, although he performed in many other countries as well, making appearances in Berlin, Paris, Switzerland, and Singapore, among many others.
He performed at Radio City Music Hall on several occasions, including runs in 1947 and 1950. He also made other Royal Command Performances, being a favorite of Queen Elizabeth.
Boy Foy toured with the Harlem Globetrotters, acting as one of their halftime acts. He also performed on television often, including appearances on the Ed Wynn Show in 1950 and on the Mickey Mouse Club House in 1957. Boy found a great deal of work performing his act in roller skating and ice skating revues. He also did circus dates between contracts with skating revues. The last known performance by Boy Foy was in 1975, when he performed in a circus in San Francisco. Juggler John McPeak performed in the same circus and remembers Boy Foy getting great applause.
We are fortunate to have some good videos of Boy Foy performing. First is a video showing clips from three performances by Boy Foy in the 1040s, filmed by Bobby Jule. Thanks, Bobby, for sharing this video with us.
Next, we have a color film showing Boy in an ice skating show from the 1950s or 1960s.
While the Museum of Juggling History doesn’t have any props from Boy Foy, its archives does contain a great piece of history. Below you can see a letter written by legendary prop maker Harry Lind to Boy regarding the cost of various juggling props. The letter was written in 1948. Sixteen years later, Lind became Boy Foy’s stepfather when Harry Lind married Boy’s mother, Ann Melville.
In the late 1970s, Boy Foy retired from performing and began teaching juggling and unicycle, which he had begun earlier while still performing. One of his students was Peter Davison, who went on to become an IJA champion both as a solo performer and as part of the famed team Airjazz. Peter had the following to say about Boy Foy.
“Boy Foy and his partner Fay (who I assume was also his wife) taught a circus arts class through Santa Monica Community College, I believe during the years of 1973-74. I was around 13 years old when I started his class, after having learned to juggle a year earlier. Foy and Fay, as they were known then, were a matched pair of compact people, not much over 5 ft. tall if memory serves, in their sixties. Foy had a marvelous kind of English accent similar to Charlie Chaplin’s in the movie
The class included juggling with balls, clubs (Harry Lind, fiberglass, or his homemade fabric over cardboard & wood structure on a turned-wood handle) and rings (quarter inch thick wood), various balancing and spinning tricks, unicycle, and walking globe. Foy and Fay could juggle all of the props well, and they passed clubs with him on a unicycle and she on a globe. I believe in those days they were occasionally performing small gigs in schools and such, or had only recently retired from doing so. They also brought a wonderful collection of memorabilia, with glossy photos of their friends and colleagues, including Francis Brunn.
One day Foy announced that the Mickey Mouse Club TV show was re-broadcasting his appearance on that show from the 1950’s. My heart was pounding as I watched his act performed entirely on unicycle. Some tricks I remember were a 3 club routine, 3 top hats, and ball & mouth stick on a short unicycle. Then, on 8-ft. Giraffe, 4 clubs; spinning rings on arms, leg & mouth stick; and combo trick with true balance on head; juggling four rings; and holding 3 balls in joints of one leg. (I know another trick from his youth not performed on TV was the cup & saucer trick on giraffe.)
It was Foy and Fay’s class, the memorabilia, and his TV appearance that opened my eyes to professional juggling and got me excited about becoming a juggler myself.”
Boy Foy should be remembered as one of the top acts of his day. He was a big influence on the variety world. To quote a blurb from a Unicycling Society of America newsletter, “all the jugglers took to unicycles and all the unicyclists took to juggling” because of Boy Foy’s influence.