So, no book

So, what made me not write my book?

Well, have you ever been to the Wellcome Collection? If not, and if you are in London, especially near Euston, make a visit. They have displays and events on science, the body, medicine and more.

And some years ago they had an exhibition about magic. It was pretty good.

Afterwards, I was looking at the dedicated books in the bookshop, and found this: Experiencing The Impossible, by Gustav Kuhn.

So now we know. My Web searching skills are not so good.

Now, you can find this book easily enough, new copies and used. While it’s not really what I was aiming at, it does a good job and is worth a read. It has some faults (what book doesn’t), faults I could see mine would have only worse. So that was the end of that.

Oh well…

My book

So, I had this idea about writing a book, or at least a slim volume, on magic.

When people see a magic act, what do they expect to see? What do they actually see?

Why do they clap? Is it because others are clapping, or they are genuinely entertained by mystery and a suspension of disbelief, or because they acknowledge the magician’s skill and dedication?

(Actually, as a sideline to that latter, let us acknowledge that for so many illusions, it’s the assistant who does all the work and has all the skill. Look at this famous clip. To his credit, Harbin did design the trick, but he talks a lot while the girl does the contortions inside that box to make the effect:

Ah classic, sexist clips and all.)

What’s the point of stage magic??

TV magic

Magic is made for TV. It’s somewhat different from magic on stage. In a theatre, people are watching the act from all sides and above and below. On TV there is just one viewer, the camera. You in TV land don’t get to watch what you want, you get shown just what the performer and producer want you to see, with the dodgy/tricky bits hidden.

They always used to say no camera tricks, being non-specific about the meaning of the word ‘tricks’. They don’t seem to say that any more, and certainly some magicians in recent times have used technology to, er, enhance their performances. And there’s some neat editing.

My first memory of magic on TV is watching David Nixon in the 50s and 60s. Nixon was a tall, bald, rather elegant and well-spoken chap. He was intelligent and appeared on many quiz and panel shows. He had a hand in introducing the Mellotron to the UK, and Basil Brush. He was also a heavy smoker. However entertaining Nixon was, he was not a great magician.

And Ali Bongo…

What do magicians do?

Exactly what is it that magicians do?

I would like to say that basically magicians come on the stage or on our screens and they lie. That’s what they do.

Take a very simple card trick. The magician says to a probably unwilling audience member, “I have an ordinary pack of cards here. They are all different, look. I will shuffle the cards so we don’t know which card is where. Pick a card at random, you have a free choice. Put it back at random, you have a free choice. Look, I have a banana here, I will make you card inside the banana. It’s not there? Oh no, it’s been under your chair the whole time.”

So, the cards may be ordinary, or they may not. Things can be done to alter the shape or surface of a card, for example, that is not immediately detectable.

The cards may not all be different. They could be. If they are fanned out, you may not see them all.

Pick a card at random, a free choice. Well, maybe, or maybe it was forced.

It’s in the banana. Not, that’s misdirection. And the card under the chair may not be your card, but a duplicate.

The magician does not have to say anything at all. By their actions, they imply they are doing something they really are not. It’s just a lie. And maybe we like being lied to.

Did Copperfield actually vanish the Statue of Liberty? No, of course not.

Stage and screen

Magic seems to be something just perfect for television, but, of course, magic on stage has been around for a very long time.

Las Vegas seems to be the place to go. There are so many magic shows, including Penn & Teller, David Copperfield, Criss Angel, Piff the Magic Dragon…

In the UK, Derren Brown does shows, more mental trickery than illusions, and sometimes there are shows with a number of younger, up-and-coming stars doing essentialy old fashioned variety.

The Mischief Comedy Group, those jolly folk behind The Play That Goes Wrong, did a Magic Goes Wrong show recently with the help of Penn & Teller, mostly Penn, or so it seemed. When this closed, some of the cast maintained their part of the act for a time.

Of course, on tv, classic magicians like David Nixon and Paul Daniels had long running shows, Penn & Teller have Fool Us, the talent shows often have magicians on doing stuff. So there’s plenty of it about.

The classical view of the magician is someone in a dinner suit with a top hat, someone with some style or class.

They are making this appear or disappear: rabbits, birds, cards, snooker balls, candles whatever. The suit is an especially good place to hide things.

Nowadays, the style has changed. Penn & Teller do appear in suits, but more casual. The trend is for more pop, disco style outfits.

When Robert Harben did the Zig-Zag Woman, he was dressed in a dinner suit.

The Paul Daniels Magic Show ran on UK tv for a long time, something like 15 years, but was cancelled for something more modern. Current magicians seem to be more into dancing, especially disco, as a prelude to a trick: