BILLY Smart Jr fronted what he called "the greatest circus in the world". The arrival of his father Billy Smart Sr's Big Top at Queen's Park, Glasgow, created a show dome for 6000 people, with the back-up of hundreds of animals, vehicles and entertainers, and a 15-piece orchestra carried about the UK in their own special steamhauled train.

In a 1958 photocall, young Billy had himself photographed beside his father's vulgarly ostentatious Vauxhall Cresta, leggy lovelies draped over the yellowand-chrome bodywork. Billy sported the uniform of a US cavalry captain, worn nightly leading his team to victory over marauding Red Indians.

His Wild West routines included Davy Crockett and Wyatt Earp, and attracted fans to the extent that Smart persuaded boxer Freddie Mills and actor Stanley Baker to be "shot" by him in the ring.

This was the grand circus era, when the Smart family vied with the Chipperfield clan, Bertram Mills, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey in providing among the best circus entertainment on the globe. The arrival of BBC cameras to the Smarts in 1953 became an annual event that lasted for two decades and produced the highest audience figures of any light entertainment show, with the Christmas Day show rivalling the Queen's Speech in viewer numbers.

Stanley Smart, always known as Billy, was born in a fairground trailer on tour, the third son in a family of 11 of his parents Billy Sr and Dolly. In 1946, while out on a Sunday drive with his wife, Smart Sr passed Harry Cody's Circus, and on impulse bought the tent and equipment. This was the birth of Billy Smart's Circus, and the fairground vanished.

Billy proved a natural, with animal acts featuring his pet pony, Rajah, Dutch Friesian liberty horses, Welsh ponies, a four-person riding display and an elephant herd.

He genuinely loved animals with a special affection for his 15 elephants, particularly threeton Birma, whom he trained to walk over him, and place a foot on his face. The originality of his act drew not only female admirers but larger audiences, with Billy and Birma treading carefully in the "Elephant Walk of Death" over Sir Billy Butlin, Hattie Jacques, Hylda Baker, Robert Beatty and Jayne Mansfield, as well as a "DJ Dare" on Christmas Day 1967 over the inert bodies of Jimmy Young, Tony Blackburn, Keith Skues, Mike Lennon, Dave Cash, Chris Denning and John Peel.

By the 1960s, Billy Jr lived a playboy life in a pounds-3500 trailer that was a mobile mansion, entertaining a string of ladies including Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors, Shirley Bassey and Sabrina. A charismatic and eligible bachelor in his own right, his liaisons with glamorous women made him a gossip column target and he revelled in the limelight as audiences came to see him.

Billy first ran into animal rights protests when he spraypainted five of his elephants white, yellow, blue, cream and pink. His Rolls-Royce and several wagons later had their tyres slashed, and in 1971, the family reluctantly decided that the cost of transport became too much, and the travelling circus and animals were consigned to history.

Business remained healthy enough, thanks to family ability to diversify into interests like Guernsey Zoo. But it was the acquisition of Royal Windsor Safari Park which proved a valuable money-spinner.

Opened in 1969 by Princess Margaret - whom Billy had once received in his caravan - the family spent upwards of pounds-1m creating it and, in 1977, silver jubilee Year, Billy hosted a royal jubilee gala for the Queen in the park. The same year, the family sold the park and their interests in some 2000 giraffes, zebra, lions and rhinos.

In 1979, David Smart parted from his brothers Billy and Ronald to start his own circus, but the family entrepreneurial spirit continued.

First, they presided over the final auction of their circus equipment at show headquarters at Winkfield, Windsor, Billy and Ronnie selling a giant policeman's helmet which one of their elephants wore when "arresting" a pony, as well as a giant telephone used by another elephant, Bina, for trunk calls.

Billy then moved into property dealing, living in Marbella, and owning opulent houses in Colorado and Monte Carlo.

After being introduced to Prince Rainier in Monaco, he was royally invited to attend Rainier's circus festivals.

Life for the jet-setter changed dramatically when, on a flight to the US in January 1973, he fell in love with the beautiful flight stewardess, 28-year-old Hanna Magel. Five weeks later they married at a beach ceremony in Acapulco in extravagant surroundings.

To the end of his days, Billy remained acutely aware of his lack of formal education, and sent his son Billy-Jay - who made his one and only circus appearance aged six as a clown - to Eton. Billy-Jay is now a property tycoon in his own right. Billy Jr is survived by his wife Hanna, and children BillyJay and Baccara.

Stanley Smart (Billy Smart Jr), showman and circus director;

born October 15, 1934, died May 23, 2005.