By Dominique Jando
In the 1970s, triple-somersaulter Freddy Osler was the most famous and arguably the greatest flyer of what was known then as the South African school of flying trapeze—whose troupes had invaded the European circus scene. Born Frederick Weppenaar in South Africa, he learned to fly with Keith Osler Anderson, a puppeteer and stage designer who had developed a passion for circus and flying trapeze. (In 1973, Keith Anderson would create the Hi-Fli Trapeze Training School at the YMCA in Observatory, Cape Town, which defined the South African school of flyers, and produced most of them.)
Freddy Weppenaar debuted with the Flying Oslers in 1967, when the troupe got its first European engagement at the Hippodrome in Great Yarmouth, England. The act was then composed of Keith Anderson, Tommy Kieser, and Freddy Weppenaar, (flyers), and Mike Redpath (catcher). There were not many great flying acts in Europe at the time, and the Flying Oslers began an impressive career that led them to practically all the major European circuses of the period.
Enter Freddy Osler
In 1968, Keith Anderson and Tommy Kieser left the troupe and returned to South Africa, but the Flying Oslers continued with Freddy Weppenaar as their main flyer, and Steve Savage and Jimmy Garner replacing Anderson and Kieser. Soon, Freddy Weppenaar would become known as Freddy Osler: A gifted flyer, he quickly was able to catch a triple somersault (still a rarity in Europe in the 1970s), and he secured his role as the troupe's star flyer. Then, in 1969, the Flying Oslers went to the United States, where they were featured with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for two seasons.
Freddy Osler resumed his European engagements in the winter of 1971, at the Deutschlandhalle in Berlin, where he flew in the spectacular quadruple flying trapeze act of the Osca-Marilee Flyers (an all-South African act gathered for the occasion), replacing Fred Bovil, of the Marilee Flyers, who had been injured. Afterwards, Freddy went back touring with the Flying Oslers, now composed of himself and his new wife, Gabi, and Steve Savage, with Basil Schultz replacing Mike Redpath as catcher.
In 1972, the Flying Oslers, who had by now acquired a sterling reputation on the international circus scene, returned to South Africa to appear with that country's celebrated Boswell-Wilkie Circus, with which they toured South Africa and Zimbabwe. They stayed with Boswell-Wilkie the following season (1973) as the Flying Weppenaars, a double flying act created with the addition of flyers Stanley Bower and Anton and Dee Haupt, and catcher Pete Hansen.
The Flying Oslers returned to Europe in the summer of 1974 to work at the place of their European debut, the Hippodrome of Great Yarmouth, in England. The group was now a trio, with Freddy and Gabi Osler flying into the hands of Allen Weppenaar, Freddy’s brother. Then, after a first season with circus Pinder-Jean Richard in France, Freddy teamed-up with another group of South-African flyers to form the Osler del Canes, a double flying act that included, in addition to the Oslers, flyers Carol Fiallo (who was to become Freddy’s second wife) and Frank Cora, and catcher Naafi Louw. The Osler del Cannes remained with Pinder-Jean Richard until 1977, after what Freddy Osler resumed the Flying Oslers’ act as a trio, with Carol Fiallo and Naafi Louw.
From The Flying Oslers To Action World
In 1978, he Flying Oslers competed in the BBC TV’s Circus World Championships in London, which they won. They were not so fortunate at the 1979 International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo; nonetheless they continued their brilliant European career in such prestigious venues as Cirkus Benneweis, Cikus Scott, and Circus Krone in Munich. In 1980 Allen Weppenaar replaced catcher Naafi Louw, and the Flying Oslers went to Australia.
This was to mark the end of Freddy Osler’s career as a flyer: He dislocated his shoulder in a bad fall in Perth, Western Australia—a fatal injury for a flyer. For the first time in their adult lives Freddy and Carol Weppenaar-Osler settled in one spot, Perth, and they became Australian citizens. They went on to produce shows for Perth’s Atlantis Marine Park for several years, and when the need to travel hit them again, they produced circus shows in South East Asia, Australia, and finally for Weber Bros Circus in New Zealand.
They fell in love with New Zealand, and eventually emigrated there. In 2003, Freddy Osler began experimenting on a continuously inflating crash mat, which he believed would replace advantageously the relatively dangerous safety net, a protection device that had saved him many times, but eventually put an end to his flying career—as it had done for other flyers before him. Freddy teamed up with Brendan Duffy, proprietor of Canvasland, a textile manufacture in Levin, New Zealand, and together they created an inflatable crash mat system that allowed all sorts of previously dangerous activities. This in turn led to the creation of Action World in Paihia, New Zealand, an amusement park Freddy and Carol Osler have run ever since.
- Video: The Flying Oslers, flying trapeze, at the Circus World Championships in London (1977)