Topper Martyn and His Famous Juggling Family

Topper Martyn was born Victor Clifton Martyn in London, England, in 1923. He was the son of famed Australian jugglers, Martyn and Florence. His mother, Maude Florence Martyn (nee Thyer) came from a circus family with four centuries of history as performers. She had been trained as a juggler by the famed performer Paul Cinquevalli. Topper’s father, also named Victor, was a circus acrobat and magician who was eventually trained in juggling by a strong man juggler named Harry Cameron III, who would go on to become the famous magician Carmo. The couple married in 1910 and formed the duo of Martyn and Florence. They had a long career that took them from their native Australia to the United States and Europe, where they settled in the UK.

Topper Martyn in front of a poster of his parents that was printed around 1920

Martyn and Florence

Victor and Florence had a daughter named Decima, who was born in 1911 and eventually joined the act, which then became known as Martyn, Florence, and Martyn. Below is a description of this act that was told by Topper many years later.

The stage setting consisted of a backcloth, painted in perspective, of a tennis court set in a garden. A tennis net was stretched across the stage and two large paper-mache statues of goddesses were set to either side, resembling those found in parks. They were purely decorative, but came in handy during prohibition as their hollow interior usually contained the odd bottle my father got when playing dates in Canada!

When the curtain rose all this setting was concealed behind an enormous plywood tennis racquet, made in sections for packing. The center was pasted over with large sheets of white paper for each performance (old timers were not frightened of work!) and the strings were green foil stretched over the paper. My mother and sister jumped through this large hoop from behind, breaking the paper.

The racket was immediately hauled up to reveal the tennis court scene.

They went into a routine with a racquet and two balls, that set up Dad’s entrance with a beer bottle. He threw it over the heads of the audience four or five yards. They invariably cried out, but it returned to his hand on an elastic cord! He tossed it off stage and did a comedy three ball routine featuring spins with strong English. He finished bouncing them off an inclined board to music. As he left he removed the board, as it was customary for acts to leave the stage clear of acts for the following act.

Sister returned with three plates and Mum with three cigar boxes. They worked to music and finished together. (It’s a useful tip that if a trick is done to music and finishes at the climax of the music it automatically brings applause.)

Dad returned with three bicycle frame hoops, juggling them very fast and spinning one on his finger. I’ve never seen anyone else do this, and it’s very effective because the hoop is so large. He also did the usual hoop moves, including a roll over the back. Two more hoops arrive from the wings and he rolls five around him, pushing them in both directions. At the finish, they are thrown off with English so that they exit to one wing, then return to exit at the other wing.

Then followed Dad’s ball catching routine, a very old trick never seen today which he improved with many gags. The old trick was to catch apples or turnips on a fork held in the mouth, or even use softened apples and break them by letting them land on your head instead of the fork. Dad used apples at first, but it was unpopular with the management because they stained the stage furnishings.

Dad used fairly large oval shaped cloth balls filled with powdered cork. They were clean and easy to catch on the fork. After juggling and catching them from high tosses, he threw a few to Mom off stage and caught some fast throws from her. Then the house lights were turned on and he tossed them to the audience, beginning with the stalls and continuing way back to the gallery.

The effective part of the trick was the long distance catching. If somebody threw a ball too low he would bring on a baseball bat. Finally he would throw out a specially constructed ball that would hit him on the head and burst into pieces. This got him mad. He picked up a rifle, went through the business of waving back the innocent bystanders and finally fired at the guilty party.

This was a cue to Mom and Sis, who threw at him a shower of balls very fast, which he caught on the fork and threw off, followed by balls painted like cabbages. Next were packages, and finally he caught an especially large package about two yards by one yard which he caught on the fork and staggered off stage carrying.

The stage was filled with balls, cabbages, packages, etc. Under cover of applause the floor carpet was rolled back, thus removing all the debris for the next act.

Martyn and Florence

Martyn and Florence

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Before we move on to Topper, it should be noted that his older sister, Decima, had a successful career as a solo artist and as part of several duos. She was best known for her work with her husband, Jack Cooke, who was a talented clown. The pair performed as Martyn and Cooke.

Decima Martyn

Martyn and Cooke

Martyn and Cooke

Topper was born in 1923 and became a part of the family act at the age of two after wandering onstage while his parents were performing and becoming an instant hit. He learned to juggle at the age of five and began performing at the age of 14. He became equally well known as a comedy juggler and comedy magician and performed both skills all around the world for many decades. He also was a talented banjo, violin, and piano player. In this article, we’ll focus on the juggling side of his career.

Topper was one of the first jugglers to perform on ice skates, doing so from 1946 to 1959.

Topper on ice skates

Topper on ice skates

Topper on ice skates

He performed many gentleman juggler style tricks, but also worked with clubs and performed several quite eccentric routines.

Topper juggling an umbrella, bag, and top hat

Topper performing the balls through the hat routine

In his later years, he was known for his constant talking or singing throughout his routines. He was popular enough as a performer that there were at least two different games made with his likeness. Below is one of these.

In 1950, Topper married a Swedish ice skater named Ingalill, whom he met in one of the ice shows in which he performed. Topper, his wife, and daughter moved to Sweden in 1959. He became a Swedish citizen and was a popular performer on Swedish television.

He also had an antique store in Uppsala, Sweden. In 1965, Topper wrote the book Easy Juggling For Magicians. He passed away in 2004.

I was recently told a funny story by Topper’s granddaughter Bella. She asked me if I knew of the following photo of Topper.

I said that I knew the photo, but didn’t know anything of the context of it. She informed me that Topper had a friend that was a juggling historian and knew most jugglers from history by heart. Topper wanted to have some fun and took this photo dressed up. He then poured some coffee onto the photo and ruffed it up a bit to make it look older. Later, he sent the picture to this friend and said that he was a juggler from long ago, making up a name. He asked his friend if he knew anything about this fictional juggler and of course he didn’t. The friend apparently did intensive research and was distressed to not find anything about the juggler. Finally, Topper admitted that it was actually himself made up to look like an old juggler. This was quite a bit of work for a prank.

Some of Topper Martyn’s juggling props are on display in the Museum of Juggling History.

Topper Martyn’s parasol, boomerang hat, balls, and parasol ball that are on display in the Museum of Juggling History

Topper Martyn’s parasol opened up

Below you can see some videos of Topper Martyn juggling. The first one shows a bit of Topper doing his ice skating act at the end, along with video of Topper’s friend Joe Marsh and Topper’s sister Decima and brother-in-law Jack Cooke earlier in the video.

The next video shows Topper doing both comedy magic and juggling. The opening is one of the funniest bits I’ve ever seen. The final juggling trick was taught to Topper’s mother by Paul Cinquevalli.

Finally, here is a compilation of various clips of Topper’s juggling act.

David Cain is a professional juggler, juggling historian, and the owner of the world's only juggling museum, the Museum of Juggling History. He is a Guinness world record holder and 15 time IJA gold medalist. In addition to his juggling pursuits, David is a successful composer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and singer as well as the author of twenty-four books. He and his children live in Middletown, OH (USA).

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