“Kirby Flying” started at the very end of the 19th century when George Kirby founded the first company dedicated solely to the art of performer flying. In 1898 he filed a patent for a drum and shaft based machine and over the next 20 years went on to invent and develop many other types of flying systems, harnesses and hardware.
When J.M. Barrie’s new play “Peter Pan” was launched in 1904, the already established Kirby company were the natural choice to provide the flying effects. To the audience of the day the flying was so realistic that the script had to be altered and a sprinkling of fairy dust introduced to prevent children from attempting to fly without the aid of wires and a harness. H.R.H. Prince George (later King George VI), had to be restrained from trying to fly out of the royal box during an early performance at the Duke of York’s theatre in London’s West End. George Kirby went on to provide perfomer flying effects for plays and pantomimes, ballet and opera all over the UK and the USA, flying Maude Adams in the first ever transatlantic production of Peter Pan in 1905.
George died in 1919 and his son Joseph who had worked closely with him since 1908, took over the family business and expanded its operations worldwide. In the early 1920’s he developed the Kirby somersault harness and improved upon George’s quick release mechanism for attaching the wires to the harness. Joseph presided over the heyday of the genre known as flying ballet when he produced shows consisting entirely of aerial acts. A typical show would involve 5 or more girls flying across the stage.
Most flying sequences were still being done with pendulum systems but Joseph went on to develop track systems and then to combine the two producing ever more spectacular effects. In a career spanning more than half a century he went on to work in film and after World War II, the emerging television industry.
Nina Kirby (named after the first Peter Pan, Nina Boucicault) took over the company in 1969. She had grown up immersed in the business and learned how to rig, operate and perform.
Nina’s son Nick flew his first Peter Pan in 1971 and ran the company from 1985 until 2002 when it merged with AFX (UK) Ltd.