Sam Scurfield obituary

Other lives: Juggler in one of the UK’s most popular street acts

My friend Sam Scurfield, who has died aged 64 of cancer, spent the initial phase of his working life as a children’s play worker before becoming a successful juggler and street entertainer.

From the early 1980s onwards, along with Ron Binns and Steve Robinson, Sam was part of the Saroste jugglers’ troupe, and later in that decade he teamed up with Andy Beattie to form the Samande jugglers. For 20 years they were one of the UK’s most popular street acts, each year taking the Edinburgh festival by storm.

Along the way Sam featured in the 1989 Guinness Book of Records for juggling three objects without stopping or dropping them for six hours, 24 minutes and 50 seconds. He was also the lead organiser of the European Juggling Convention in 1988-89 and toured Nicaragua as part of the Jugglers for Peace Group.

Sam was born in Rugeley in Staffordshire, one of six children of Robert Scurfield, a manager for the National Coal Board, and his wife, Jenny (nee Rackham), the first female veterinary officer at the Ministry of Agriculture. After leaving Westwood high school in Leek in 1975 he went to the University of Bradford, where he took a degree in public and social policy and became involved in political activism. He continued to live in Bradford for the rest of his life, first working as a residential worker in a local children’s home and then as a countryside warden on the edge of the city before establishing himself as a key worker in the innovative Bradford-based children’s charity Playspace.

At the same time, having been introduced to the world of circus skills and performance by one of his brothers, Joe, Sam began to become a highly accomplished circus skills practitioner, particularly in the art of juggling. This led to his years of street performing, and from 1983 until 2014 juggling provided a source of income, allied to work carrying out surveys for the National Centre for Social Research and occasional roles as a television and film extra.

When not juggling, Sam loved to watch football and to travel, combining the two pursuits by attending the African Nations football championship on five occasions. A prolific tea drinker, Guardian reader and crossword solver, he was also a keen chess player, representing South Bradford chess club for 30 years and, for the last five years of his life, teaching chess in local schools.

He came to parenthood late in life when his partner, Pippa Jones, gave birth to twins, Ruby and Chester, in 2004.

He is survived by Pippa, Ruby and Chester and four siblings, Richard, Tom, Harry and Georgie.

Barbara Abbott

The GuardianTramp

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