As a young boy, I was amazed by illusionists and magicians. I remember seeing the late Paul Daniels on UK television working his magic (apologies for the pun), amazing audiences with his witty patter and masterful sleight of hand. Oh, how I wanted to be able to do what he did, to understand the mysteries behind the illusion. I had a problem though; I was a shy little geeky 8-year-old with a complete lack of any social aptitude. There was no way that I was going to be able to perform magic tricks with any kind of confidence in front of people. That stands true to this day; as much as I like to play with a deck of cards and practice my double lifts and false shuffles, the moment I start to do those in front of an audience, I fall apart into a pile of nervousness and completely mess things up.
I was always able to perform in front of my family though, and my love of magic was nurtured by my parents. One Christmas I received the "Paul Daniels Magic Set" and it was like all of my dreams had come true. I would spend hours practising how to position my finger over the missing diamond on that magic card (as shown here in the magic set) and trying to master the cups and balls. I actually got to be pretty good, for an 8-year-old at least.
As with most things at that age, magic got displaced in my affections by the likes of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore Amiga. Who knows what may have become of my life had I concentrated on my illusionary skills as opposed to my gaming and programming skills. I probably wouldn't be writing here if it wasn't for this change in focus. However, I always retained a deep interest in magic and over the years have occasionally come back to it, frequently finding that I just don't have the devotional element in my personality to keep practising to the point of becoming an expert.
Fast-forward about 8 years. I'm 16 years old and a young lad called Andrew West joins our school. Now, this guy somehow had access to magic tricks and books, the like of which I had never even dreamed of. He had a copy of the 'Tarbell Course in Magic' which, at that time, was basically the magician's bible. He let me borrow it and it engulfed me for hours and hours. Learning how some of the tricks that I knew about from TV worked; well, it was like winning the jackpot for an inquisitive soul like myself. I was still incapable of performing the tricks held within these magnificent tomes as they required all sorts of clever props that I did not own. However, I gained a new appreciation for the level of skill and ingenuity that some of these illusions involved.
At that point in time, there was a magician on the scene called Wayne Dobson. He was at the height of his career, performing on the Royal Variety Performance. This routine inspired me so much that I wrote a letter to the man himself asking about where I could buy some magic props. Remember, back in those days there was no internet and no way for me to find out how to get hold of this wonderful stuff.
Amazingly, I got a personally written letter back and he pointed me in the direction of a mail order company that sold magical props. I couldn't have sent off for their mail order catalogue any quicker. On receiving it, disappointment struck; there was no way, as a 16-year-old schoolkid, that I could afford to buy the props they sold. So it was back to my pack of cards and reading Andrew's copy of Tarbell until the fire in me eventually went out again, overtaken by the interest in computers again, and this time, girls too.
So now I am bordering on 40 years old. In fact, that milestone rolls around in the next few months. I still pick up the pack of cards every so often and do the odd "classic pass" or "one-handed cut" just to impress myself and wonder if I could have ever done it professionally. I just don't have the time to devote to learning anything even though now I have the funds to spend on the props that I'd love to get hold of. Maybe one day I'll have a go again. Maybe I'll post on here about learning some tricks.
Now I present to you, the magnificent works of some of the best illusionists of all time. Some of these you might know, some you might not. And yes, there are no Criss Angel or David Blaine videos - they have never really inspired me to be honest. As talented as they are, I still like the old school of magic more. :)
David Copperfield's Death Saw
If there was one person that I wanted to see cut into bits when I was a teenager, it was David Copperfield. The jammy git had somehow managed to get married to Claudia Schiffer. Not sure how he pulled that off. Marrying her was probably the best trick he ever pulled off, much to my annoyance. This sawing in half trick is a phenomenal twist on the usual "cutting the lady in half" trick. The way that he ends up looking at "his own feet" is something else and adds a certain level of quirkiness to the trick. Reproduced many times by many magicians, but nothing comes close to the majesty and drama that David creates in his version.
Follow the leader - Juan Tamariz
Often touted as one of the best card magicians of all time, this Spanish born magician has always been one of my favourites. In my younger days it was hard to get footage of him, but in the age of the internet, you can now find many of his works available on youtube. This is one of his best. The level of patter in this is phenomenal and his distraction techniques are second to none.
Catching a Bullet in Your Teeth - Penn and Teller
Penn and Teller are possibly the most famous of the people on my list in this day and age. I was lucky enough to see this very trick live back in 2000 in Las Vegas and it was absolutely amazing in its execution. I was lucky enough to also meet both Penn and Teller after the show. Teller even spoke. Yes, he does have vocal chords. They are quite a controversial pair, having shunned the magic circle as well as exposing the secrets to many of their tricks. For me, this does not detract from their talent; more often than not, knowing the secret of a trick makes the execution seem all the more impressive (check the trick where a truck runs over Teller on youtube )
Chop Cups by Paul Daniels
Welcome to the 80s in the UK! Paul Daniels was my hero back then and this trick is probably one of the ones that he is most famous for. The level of distraction and sleight of hand in this is something that many a magician aspire to. One minute you think you know what he's up to and then... "you have a lemon". Where the fudge did that come from.
Card Magic - Lennart Green
I only recently discovered Lennart Green and this TED talk displays his aptitude for card magic perfectly. One of the best comedy routines I have ever seen. His bumbling facade is a perfect cloak for the skill this guy has. It's almost Tommy Cooper-esqe in its apparent unprofessionalism.
Tommy Cooper - Multiplying Bottles
You may not know the tragic story of Tommy Cooper. The 6ft 4inch, fez-wearing British magician had a lifetime dogged by alcohol addiction and health issues. One of Britain's most loved performers, he tragically collapsed during a live performance on British TV and died of a heart attack. His chaotic approach and apparent lack of any magical skill was no doubt underpinned by a unique ability to both entertain and mystify. One of the greatest British entertainers of all time.
Sleight of Hand - Lance Burton
A Las Vegas stalwart, Lance Burton has been entertaining the exhausted gambler for many years. His ability to own the largest stages with some of the most intricate illusions is world renowned. He retired back in 2010 having performed for over 5 million people over 15,000 shows. One of the most sustained careers of any of the great illusionists. One of the best of all time. I suspect that the animal rights activists may not have liked some of his dove work, but when it came to doves, he was and still is, the best.
The Human Regurgitator - Stevie Starr
I was lucky enough to see this guy perform at my University back in the late 90s. Not so much a talented magician, more of a guy with a unique natural talent and a great performer. He has more recently appeared on America's Got Talent, but he has been around for decades, doing the UK circuit. I am still not sure if he really does take these items down into his stomach or if he has some kind of issue with the palate in his mouth that allows him to hide these things away. Even so. "downing" a billiard ball is something that is both disgusting and intriguing at the same time, not to mention the swallowing and regurgitating of a goldfish, or locking a padlock in his innards!
Martin and Paul Daniels - Phantom of the Opera.
This was one of, if not the final trick that Paul Daniels ever performed on live tv. And what a way to go out. His favourite trick, and performing it with his son on TV must have been a dream come true for him. And what a trick it was. If you watch it twice, it's pretty easy to work out how it's done. However, as with all magic, the first time is the charm. This is not just an illusion, this is a high-quality performance done by two of the most experienced magicians of all time. If you aren't in awe by the end of this then there's something wrong with you!!
Flying - David Copperfield
"Yeah, yeah, it's just wires" you might say to yourself. That's almost definitely the case. But then how do you explain how he flies through those rings. And then he flies into a frikkin sealed box and flaps about. No wonder Claudia fell for him. Even looking at the plans for this illusion (they are available on the internet of course), it's still hard to fathom how it's done. Truly truly awe inspiring.
Well, that's my top ten. Not in any particular order, but if I had to pick a number one, it would have to be my hero, Paul Daniels and his chop cup routine. That's the one that got me into all of this in the first place. Paul is sorely missed by all magicians, amateur and professional alike.
Thanks for reading