Conjuring and “The Magical Arts” has a long established history and as been part and parcel of the creative and performing arts from the earliest moments of human civilisation. The very early shaman would not have been averse to including what today we might call ‘trickery’ in their rituals and demonstrations of spiritual powers and throughout history the idea of having ‘magical abilities’ has appealed to human nature. The Harry Potter series of books and films are a testimony to this as indeed are the numerous other fantasy novels and films that have enthralled audiences for many many years.
In terms of my generation conjuring as an art in and of itself has gone through several distinct incarnations.
I remember seeing David Nixon and Tommy Cooper on television when I was quite young and my Grandfather knew a few cool tricks which he shared with me… this was in the early to mid 1960’s I guess.
Perhaps the 70’s and the 80’s were the heyday of magic on television. We had the incredible shows of Paul Daniels whose influence in the world of magic cannot be magicien close-up underestimated; but there was also a series called Best of Magic which introduced UK audiences to the delights of close-up and stage magicians from outside of the UK.
For me the Paul Daniels/John Fisher years and the Best of Magic series introduced some of the finest of the worlds magicians and speciality acts to UK audiences – Eugene Burger and Jeff Mcbride (who I now consider as personal friends in magic), Lance Burton, Shimada, Tommy Wonder, Richard Ross…. and so many many more.
Of course the 80’s saw the fantastic “Secret Cabaret”. With its bizarre, gothic and deliciously twisted take on magic – Simon Drake – brilliant and “Stuff the White Rabbit”, a pot pourri of dynamic, funny and left field performers including David Williamson, Jeff Hobson, Jerry Sadowitz and others.
I guess, for me the 80’s, which is when I started taking magic seriously and creating my own professional repertoire, was a bit of a hey day for TV Magic. Not only did we have our own home-grown shows, but we were also treated to shows from the US which included Doug Henning’s shows and the great David Copperfield’s yearly extravaganzas. We were also seeing re-runs of the Kreskin shows, which I think directed me towards mentalism and the impact of the David Berglas television series cannot be underestimated in my own professional development.
The inimitable Penn and Teller brought their irreverent and aggressive approach to magic audiences and their success is due not only to their craftsmanship, but the fact that they didn’t treat their audiences as being stupid – they gave them the dignity of knowing they were complicit in the magic, that they were being fooled.
In the 90’s TV magic was in a bit of a decline but in the US David Blaine was doing his bit to revitalise the art by taking it to the streets. Blaine’s genius was to focus not upon the magician or the trick, but the audiences reaction to the trick. This was really a reinvention of close-up magic for the most part, although so much of it could not be performed on-the-fly or in the impromptu way the TV programmes portrayed.
In the 00’s and the 10’s in the UK we have Derren Brown and he, more than anyone else in recent years, has been able to capture the imagination of audiences on television and in his sell-out theatre shows.
Now, I know what you’re saying…
This article was about becoming and magician and all I seem to have done is to talk about my memories of TV magic.