‘Barbaric Beauty’ who enjoyed bizarre career

The Great Omi SUS-140929-132101001
The Great Omi SUS-140929-132101001
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Scores of people in Hailsham remember The Great Omi, but once seen he was not the sort of man you could easily forget.

This bizarre character, who claimed to be a member of an elephant-worshipping cult, had a tattooed face and body that were covered in stripes like a zebra.

The former public schoolboy and British Army officer was a regular visitor to the town, making shopping trips there from the caravan home he shared with his wife, Gladys, in Ripe. To add to the remarkable effect, The Great Omi had also sharpened his teeth to points and wore elephant teeth in his ears and a baby elephant’s tusk in his nose.

He travelled the world with his wife (The Omette) and was a star of circus and stage from 1922 until the 1950s, the greatest tattoo attraction of his era.

His appearance became more and more outrageous as the years went by. He took to wearing lipstick and nail polish and signed his pitch cards as the ‘Barbaric Beauty’. He and his wife came to Ripe in their declining years, and certainly livened up the whole area.

The real name of the professional freak and sideshow performer was Horace Ridler, by his own account born in 1892 into an upper class family. He had a relatively privileged childhood, marked by travel, private schooling and comfort.

He pursued a career in the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He was decorated for his outstanding conduct and gallantry when serving in Mesopotamia during the First World War. Demobilised at the end of hostilities with the rank of Major, with a small pension and few prospects, but willing to take chances, he decided to become an act at The Odditorium. In 1922 he received his first few pictorial tattoos, and began exhibiting himself in small sideshows.

His appearance became more and more outrageous as the years went by and Ridler travelled the world, a common monologue on stage being the claim he had been captured and tortured via tattooing in New Guinea.

He continued to perform until the early 1950s, retiring at the height of his fame to Ripe where he died in 1969.