A Knight’s Tale (6: Spanish Flu)

John Richard Evans was the brother of Annie Hunter, nee Evans, my maternal grandmother.  He was therefore my great uncle, and the grandfather of Audrey and Roy, who appear in the street party image featured in “A Knight’s Tale” (5: That Heady, Optimistic, Summer)

As a high wire and trapeze artist, John adopted the stage name Jack Riskit.  Among the countries graced by his presence was Australia, where he met and married a young woman who was to join his act.  This was Holly King, my great aunt by marriage.  Taking the stage name The Dental Riskits, they were famous throughout the Antipodes for a particular line in daredevilry.  I am not sure to which part of Holly’s anatomy the strong wire from which she hung was attached, but the other end was firmly held in Jack’s teeth high above the ring. Given that her husband suspended Holly from his teeth, their stage name was most apt. The views of Jack’s dentists are not recorded

This image from the 20th February 1915 issue of The New Zealand Free Lance newspaper, shows a flyer advertising The Dental Riskits appearing at His Majesty’s Theatre. From the addresses of other advertisers on page 31 I believe this to be the one now termed St James Theatre, Wellington.

Shortly before the end of World War I, the couple came to England. Before then Holly had borne 2 children both of whom died. Their daughter, Ivy, named after Holly’s twin sister was born here but, not long after, Holly succumbed to the dreadful Spanish flu of 1918 – 1920. Following the devastation of World War I, this killer wiped out 100,000,000 more lives across the globe. The great aunt I never knew was then aged 28 years and 9 months. The disease was contracted while performing at Rotherham in Yorkshire and she is buried at Harrogate cemetery. Ivy, brought up by her grandmother, married Jim. They were the parents of the aforementioned Audrey and Roy.

September 1925: Trapeze artists Jack and Betty Riskit perform a gymnastic feat. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Having lost a wife and two children, John later married Betty, seen here performing a different act. Perhaps his dentist had had a word.

These photographs were e-mailed to me by my cousin Yvonne, who knew Jack and Betty well. Performances came to an end when the couple fell 20′ when equipment failed in 1925 at London’s Victoria Palace, resulting in serious injuries. Jack went into theatre management and died in 1955.