Clowns have been warned that local authorities are likely to have a sense of humour bypass if they do not take out public liability insurance.

At a meeting of their union, Clowns International, performers were told to ensure they were covered by more than their usual lurid outfits and greasepaint.

The secretary of Clowns International, Clown Bluey, said the union had a block scheme with Zurich Commercial, which covers members for up to £5m.

However Mr Bluey bemoaned the way times had changed. “Clowns are anarchists at heart,” he said, “you can't expect us to be politically correct.

“As Zippo said, the people who sit in the front row know what they are in for.”