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The Real Tom Thumb

Michael Grade reveals the extraordinary and utterly unique story of General Tom Thumb, the world’s first global showbusiness celebrity. Just 31 inches tall, he went from humble beginnings in America to international superstardom, eventually performing on stage before over 50 million people, including President Lincoln and a devoted Queen Victoria. Yet Tom Thumb didn’t choose his own career, and his selling point was his disability. Is this story one of success, or exploitation? And why do we remain just as fascinated by performers with unusual bodies..?

As an impresario and lifelong entertainment devotee Michael Grade sets out to follow the remarkable life of Tom Thumb (real name Charles Stratton), from his discovery aged four by the legendary showman PT Barnum to his setting out on the first ever show-business world tour. The journey takes him to New York and across snowy New England, then back to the UK to discover how adored Stratton was by the British public. It features exquisite hand-made suits, tiny bespoke carriages, and the first ever visit by a film crew to Stratton’s specially designed home (complete with miniature staircase).

Looking to our own times, Michael meets contemporary entertainers to find out what it’s like to be a little person or disabled actor today, and asks whether it’s ever right for us to be entertained by people with unusual bodies. Expecting a tale of exploitation, in Stratton Michael eventually discovers the story of man who made the very most of his situation and had a truly unforgettable life. And in the process there is a discovery that rewrites the history of Charles Stratton, suggesting he may have had a long-forgotten baby…