Jesse Selman-Troytt fell in love with show business at the age of five when he saw a circus fire-eater breathe the wrong way and spontaneously combust. At sixteen he turned his back on the Selman-Troytt empire and began a stage act in music hall. His stern and tyrannical father, Jonah, was less than pleased: "I have already made arrangements to have you killed ... today!" he shouted after his departing son.
To evade detection Jesse adopted the name Bill Fivestars and sported huge side-whiskers as a disguise. Bill Fivestars and His Amazing Inflating Knees blared the pre-show publicity and every night, before hushed audiences, Jesse would strike both knees methodically with a piece of lead pipe until they had doubled in size. Assistants would then help him off the stage to sporadic applause.
But the body can stand only so much abuse and within five weeks his knees had locked, forcing him to abandon the act and to walk stiff-legged for the rest of his life. He drifted from one casual job to another, often stealing in between in order to support his various revolting habits. Gradually he achieved some success as a fairground huckster under the sobriquet 'Foxy' Fivestars and by the time his father died he was wealthy in his own right and had stopped picking pockets.
In the early 1930s he tried to follow the example of Billy Butlin by opening several holiday camps. They were run along similar lines to Butlin's but never enjoyed the same success, possibly due to their location on the outskirts of London. As their fortunes declined 'Foxy' struggled to re-vitalise the entertainment schedule to attract new custom. He dreamed up new competitions including: 'Shortest Necktie of the Day' and 'Spontaneous Arm Wrestling' but neither proved very popular. The first was invariably won by Bill himself: "No one can tie a shorter tie than me!" he would chortle proudly to all departing guests, "I was bound to win." His other creations included 'Group Whittling, Sewing, and Open-Air Ironing' but despite these innovations attendance fell away and Jesse died in poverty in an East London brothel.