Tom Norman is widely acknowledged as one of the most fascinating and accomplished showmen of the 19th century.

However, the man known as the Penny Showman - or the Silver King - in recent years became infamous through his association with the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick.

Norman's grandson Monty Norman has defended his grandfather's memory and has also revealed the fascinating history behind his circus family.

Monty, from Vincent Road in Coulsdon, said: "My grandfather was what was known as a spieler - a circus showman. And he was also an auctioneer to King George. My grandfather was born in Sussex but he was obsessed with being a showman. He ran away at the age of 14 to join the circus.

"He ran a showground on Mitcham Common which was very successful and he also travelled all over the country. That's how he came to meet Joseph Merrick."

According to Monty, Tom Norman was in a Derbyshire village touring with his circus when he first met the man who became known as the Elephant Man - named so because of a severe disfigurement.

Monty added: "Merrick was shunned and vilified. He was offered the chance to be cared for and to earn a wage in the circus. My grandfather managed him in his freakshow. Merrick was well cared-for, he was my grandfather's livelihood and it was in his interest to look after him."

Merrick became part of Tom Norman's side-show touring the country with the circus - including showgrounds in Croydon and Mitcham.

"He was safe and was with others who were the same as him," added Monty. "He earned a good wage and by the time he and my grandfather parted company he had amassed a few hundred pounds which was a lot of money in those days."

The 1980 David Lynch film called The Elephant Man, starring John Hurt, depicted Tom Norman as a drunk who cruelly abused and exploited Merrick - something which angered the Norman family.

Monty said: "We were annoyed at the way the film portrayed my grandfather as an unsavoury character. My grandfather never mistreated Merrick - he cared about him. My grandfather was a member of the Temperance Society and didn't agree with drinking."

Merrick and Norman parted company after freakshows were outlawed and Merrick was taken under the wing of Whitechapel Hospital surgeon Doctor Frederick Treves.

Monty's grandfather continued his successful career as a showman until he died from throat cancer at Croydon General Hospital in 1934.

Monty's father Ralph Norman, who went to Archbishop Tenison school, followed in his father's footsteps and became a successful circus performer as an internationally-renowned knife-thrower known as Hal Denver.

Monty added: "During the war my parents joined Ensa, entertaining the troops. It wasn't safe for them to take me with them so I initially went into a foster home in Warlingham. My parents would come to get me during the school holidays and take me on tour. But I hated it, I used to dread them turning up at the school gates in cowboy costumes. All the other kids thought it was great but I was really embarrassed.

"I just wanted a normal life, circus folk used to call normal people flatties'. I guess the fact I wanted to be a flattie' disappointed them a lot. My grandfather ran away from his normal life to join the circus - I ran away from the circus to have a normal life."

Monty forged a career as a painter and decorator, married and had three children. He is now a grandfather-of-eight.

His younger brother Michael did follow his parents into the circus and went on to become an internationally-renowned boxing referee, using the stage name Mickey Vann Norman.

Since his parents' death Monty has honoured his family's career at various fairground and circus events and has also donated much of his family's circus photos and other materials to the National Fairground Archive.