In the mid to late seventies there ran a short afternoon slot on the BBC devoted to magic. David Nixon, the undisputed king of British TV magic in the 1960's and 70's had sadly died and the BBC seemed to be searching for a replacement. Various magicians each took a turn, performing three or four tricks each.
The slot lasted no more than five or ten minutes, and was a filler between children's programmes, but one performer stood head and shoulders above the rest. His catch phrase was 'You'll like this not a lot! but you'll like it'. The BBC did like it, and for the next fifteen years Paul Daniels would star in his own show and guest on countless others, using that phrase, clever illusions, and his bubbly persona.
For the PDMS, the studio was rigged in the typical style of light entertainment sets of the day with audience seating occupying about half of the floor space, the set another quarter to a third on the other side, and cameras and other crew jammed in the space in between. Stage right was generally clear, for guest performers, and anything that required a little space, but stage left was where most of the action occurred. Sat on two rows of seats on a low rise plinth were a 'jury' A dozen or so members of the audience who were plucked out to sit behind Daniels while he worked, to ensure no 'cheating' A path ran from the very back of the set, past a band and then the jury to the downstage area allowing McGee to bring various props to and from Daniels. It would take a good fifteen seconds to get there, which gave the audience time to admire her ample curves, and also allow Daniels some vital misdirection.
The show had some spectacular tricks, scrutinised by the jury, and a couple of guest slots with acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, and other circus style performers, but it was Daniels who hogged the attention of the audience. All of the large scale tricks required assistance from various stooges, and props men. The larger the trick, the bigger the con. Most of these have been 'blown' by various documentary shows, but here's one that I remember that you might not have come across.
Daniels asked a member of the audience with a credit card to come forward. The jury, unusually on this instance, was composed solely of employees of all the major credit cards that existed at the time and when the card was proffered Daniels asked the representative of that company to confirm (which she did) that the card was genuine.
McGee is then called from backstage to bring a table mounted coffee-grinder which she does, losing two table legs on the way. With the audience still laughing at the apparent gaff, Daniels pushes a hidden button on the table which releases two replacement legs allowing McGee to place the table in front of Daniels.
After again showing the card to everyone he proceeds to grind it to dust in the coffee mill, putting the resultant powder into a small metal tin. He shows the dust to the now rather glum looking audience member, and then lights it using a box of matches. The powder flares up and then settles to some low flames, while Daniels walks with the tin to stage right where just fluttering down is a long thin piece of tissue paper, which he lights with the flame. The camera follows the fire as it consumes the tissue paper, upwards towards where the studio lights are, to where there is a small balloon, which bursts when the heat reaches it.
Out from the balloon, drops an envelope dangling from a small parachute which Daniels chases around the stage before grabbing it and handing it to the audience member. When opened it reveals the owners credit card, genuine and undamaged. Applause.
The trick? Daniels has a jacket with upwards of twenty (20) inside pockets each with a genuine, but blank credit card. Whatever the guy hands him, he has a duplicate, and McGee's 'accident' with the table legs allows Daniels to retrieve the correct duplicate card from his pocket without being seen. When McGee bends to place the table on stage Daniels slips the card in a pocket in her dress, and she then exits and clips the card to a piece of fishing line.
Up in the lighting grid sit a couple of props guys (with me watching them!) who pull up the line, slip the card in the envelope and pop it into the balloon who's mouth is stretched over an empty baked bean tin open at both ends to facilitate this. The balloon is inflated, tissue paper attached, and they have just enough time to get everything in position before Daniels below ignites the paper for the trick's finale. Simple!
Of course everyone was in on these 'tricks' (except for the audience!) but there was one feature of the show that nobody could figure out, and that was the 'Bunko Booth.' Daniels would use a small booth, much the sort of thing you see at carnivals and fetes and - hamming it up - he would put on a bowler hat and costume while the victim - usually a member of the audience - would sit the other side of the table.
He would then produce a few dice, or a deck of cards, or cup and balls and make something disappear, appear or change colour seemingly using real magic. He would challenge anyone to see point out how he did the trick. No one ever did. Not audience, jury - nor us who would crowd round him during rehearsals, and breaks while he did the same trick, time after time.
Times, and tastes change, and Daniels tends to be seen more on the 'B' list circuit these days. Sad really as he was one of the best.
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