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Guests - Geoffrey Durham

A Very Warm Welcome to Geoffrey Durham









Chabang: Our guest this week is a personal hero and something of a legend in the UK magic scene

Originally leaping onto the magic scene as the Irrepressible "Great Soprendo" on crackerjack (a "foreign" magician with a legendary style & dubious facial hair) by the 90's Geoff had stepped out from the shadows and become something of a house-hold name; making regular appearances on TV shows and hosting the (much missed) "Best of Magic" TV Series with a young Anthea Turner and Italian Quick-Change Maestro Arturo Brachetti. In recent years he has become a regular guest on cult quiz show Countdown helping to puzzle viewers even more with his little miracles.

Despite clocking up probably more TV appearances than any other UK performer Geoff can still be found touring the UK with his one-man show which seems to be in constant demand across the country.

Famous as an all round magician and one of the genuine nice-guys in the magic world it is my pleasure to introduce our special guest......

Geoffrey Durham!

Admin: I'd like to offer Geoffrey Durham a very warm welcome to Magic Bunny. We are indebted to professionals such as Geoffrey, in the input of top-quality feedback in this forum and so I would like to offer thanks in advance for the considerable time and effort that Geoffrey has offered to set aside in providing this service to our site.

Thank you so much Geoffrey for offering your input. I am so looking forward to seeing the questions of our members and your subsequent replies. I am sure that many of our members, as well as myself, will gain so much from your input and hone their own ideas and ethos from this too. Here is a very heartfelt "thank you" for allowing us all to benefit from your knowledge and experience.

Thank you.

Nigel.

Michael Jay: Thank you for taking your valuable time with us over the upcoming week, Mr. Durham. I'm looking forward to this week with you, I hope that you shall find it as stimulating and enjoyable as we do!

Again, thank you.

Mike.

Geoffrey Durham: Well, thank you all for having me. I'll do my best to come up with replies as soon as I can, but there may be days in the coming week when you'll have to wait a bit. Apologies in advance for that, but don't let it stop the questions coming!




Graham: Mr Durham,

Often I find comedy magicians use their humour to hide their lack of true skill, whereas your skill is a wonderful example to us all. Do you deliberately use your comedy to disguise just how good a magician you really are, so that when the effect hits the audience the impact is further amplified?

I fondly remember your performance of "Dean's Box" on "Countdown". The only time Richard couldn't think of a thing to say. You fried 'em. You knew it and we loved it!

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Thank you, Graham.

Thank you particularly for your kind words about Dean's Box, because I thought I'd done a bad job that day, and I've never seen it, so I didn't know it had come off OK!

I'm not sure about the comedy thing. I certainly don't try to hide the skill with the comedy. I'd be very happy if the audience thought I was skilful!

It comes down to expressing my personality really. It doesn't actually matter what tricks you do, so long as the way you do them expresses something about you. I find I express myself best through a lightness of touch, and through not taking the material too seriously. So I guess you could call that comedy.

You know when you see a magic competition, and there's someone up there who can do the moves right, and the trick looks fine, and they're smiling nicely, and there's nothing actually wrong - but it doesn't work?

Well, what's wrong is that they aren't expressing their personality.

Usually, what's actually wrong technically is that the rhythm is wrong. But it's the rhythm that expresses the personality. So when I can't get a trick right (there are about three tricks in my current new one man show that I change every night for just this reason) I alter the rhythm, and as I alter the rhythm, so the effect on the audience changes. And slowly, the trick and my personality start to coincide.

When a trick gets cut from my show, it's almost never for magical reasons. It's always because it won't do anything to express me to people.

So that is where the comedy comes in, I think.

They don't come to see your tricks, they come to see you!

Geoffrey D




Huw Collingbourne: Hello Geoffrey,

Magicians (yourself most notable among them!) don't generally seem to have a problem mixing comedy with magic. But most mentalists take a very serious, straight-faced approach to their performance.

Do you think there is something essentially humourless about mentalism or are mentalists, by nature, just a gloomy bunch of people....? (and if so, what can we do to introduce a bit more fun into the proceedings?)

best wishes
Huw

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Huw

Well, I do some mentalism in my current show, and it's not exactly jam-packed with gags, but I do OK with it. When I opened this new show, though, I had quite a bit more mentalism in than I have now. Maybe that tells us something?

Graham Jolley is a wonderful performer, I think, and he is there to prove that you can express yourself through mind reading and comedy if you tackle it the right way. And that is by letting the comedy bubble up through you, rather than laying it on the top, if you see what I mean.

The difficulty lies in how to express the climax of a mind reading trick other than by being portentous and important. Because those tricks just seem to cry out for us to be heavy and solemn, don't they? But we don't have to give in to it if we don't want to.

In my current show, I conclude my version of the Stanley Jaks Brainwave routine by telling them that I can't look, because I'm so scared I've got it wrong. And I look at the final turnover of the card through my fingers, like a ten-year-old watching Jaws. It works for me, because it de-mystifies the climax, and gets me more applause as a result.

I often follow a mind reading piece with a piece of cod mind reading, like the Bar Code. That works for me, too. It just depends on your personality. It wouldn't work for Derren Brown!

Geoffrey




Michael Jay: I realize that there are different nuances with bad and good for both, but, since you are prolific both on the television and on stage, which would you say is your favourite genre, if you have one, and why?

Mike.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Michael

It's a difficult one this, but I think it has to be the stage work that I love the best. It was how I started, and I still regard it as my life's work, and I try to keep learning about it all the time. When I appear on TV on the other hand, it's almost invariably the first performance of the trick I've ever done, and chances are it will be the last!

The show I now do most on British TV is an odd, quirky little game show in which I do a two-minute spot half way through. The show has only two camera shots available, and I have to do a trick with no camera rehearsal and no re-takes. I never see it until it is transmitted. I've done 150 of these particular magic spots now, and I love devising and performing them, but I never learn too much about the individual trick by doing it this way. Lots about how to be on TV, but not much about the actual magic.

When I appear on stage, on the other hand, I just never stop learning and seeing how to perfect the moves, and trying it this way, and that way, and re-designing the props, and just generally keeping the show lively and fluid.

They're different jobs, I think. And I do love TV. But it's stage that does it for me every time.

Geoffrey




Graham: Mr Durham,

Magicians are often seeking the "holy grail" of effects that will catapult them onto the front pages of the world's press. It's like schoolboy soccer: kick and run. One performer has great success with a particular genre or effect, and the rest cling round like iron-filings on a magnet. The herd of wannabees chasing Derren Brown's tail right now is a case in point.

Modern over-availability of magical secrets has created the magic consumerist, who flits from effect to effect just because they can. As "necessity is the mother of invention", do you feel that the wealth of information available actually stifles creativity? Being spoon-fed rather than having to feed ourselves?

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

This is a big topic.

I think there are basically two kinds of magician. There are magicians who are in it to entertain audiences, and there are magicians who are in it to entertain themselves. Obviously, it isn't quite as simple as that, and there are a lot of areas of crossover, but I hope you see what I mean.

The obvious conclusion to draw from that would be that the first category are basically professionals, and the second lot are basically hobbyists. Well, actually that hasn't been my experience - there seem to me to be quite a lot of professionals in the second group and vice versa.

If you do it to entertain yourself, it stands to reason that you will become fascinated by methods and secrets. You will want to learn four or five methods for the pass, three double lifts and seventeen ways to do the Diagonal Palm Shift. You will scour the magic magazines to see what's new and buy the latest thing as soon as you can your hands on the cash. You will see someone do a trick on the TV, and have a huge, incandescent passion to know how it's done.

If you are like that, you are keeping the magic dealers solvent, and it's hardly surprising that that you are catered for so well by them. There's money to be made, and I certainly don't blame the dealers for doing what they do. I don't blame the enthusiasts either. That was how I started.

But isn't a good way to handle your magic if you believe as I do that audiences are much more interested in you and your personality than they are in your tricks. If you come to believe that, you realise that you need to entertain them first and yourself second.

But you need to take your tricks very, very seriously indeed.

So that means having a different attitude. My working methods are based on taking a given effect and breaking it down through rehearsal to its basic essentials; researching all the methods that have ever been used to achieve the effect; from these methods, distilling one that I can begin to work and call my own; learning how to talk through the trick to express my personality; and finally (and most important of all), getting the rhythm right.

When I buy a trick from a dealer, I almost always remake it and change the method or the finer points of the working, to make it more my own. In fact I can't think of a dealer trick I've ever owned that I haven't changed!

As Paul Daniels once said: never read the instructions!

So to answer your points directly - yes, I agree with you, but it always been like that, and I bet it never changes! And if you want to be successful as an entertainer you need to find your own voice, and you won't do that by doing it someone else's way.

Geoffrey




Andy D:

Hi Geoffrey and thanks for giving up some of your time to be our guest.

Where did the idea for 'The Great Soprendo' come from...............and where did he go??

Geoffrey Durham: Oh, this is a long story...

In 1959 or so, I got interested in magic. I was 10. I had a truly wonderful magic book: Magic As A Hobby, by Bruce Elliott. I devoured and tried all the tricks, and learned quite a lot of stuff from other books, and did odd shows for relatives, school functions, etc. But by 1961, the passion had started to wane, and by the time I was 13, I wasn't a magician any more.

Fast forward 12 years. I was an actor in Liverpool, and there was a show being rehearsed, and someone had to do some tricks in it, and it ended up being me. I sent off to my Mum for that old Bruce Elliott book, and devoured it again. I went to Davenport's, where Patrick Page sold me a Vanishing Cane. He showed me the newspaper vanish of the cane (it's brilliant) and he suggested other tricks: the Rice Bowls (he sold me a truly terrible set of them!) and some bits of mentalism.

I decided to buy another magic book, and was lucky enough to hit on what I still believe is the best possible "first" book for anybody: Bruce Elliott's Classic Secrets Of Magic. The magic bug had bitten again. I did some tricks in the show, and enjoyed them hugely.

Fast forward six months: I was out of work as an actor, and was reading every magic book I could get my hands on. I discovered the Supreme Magic Co by accident, and read some of their stuff. Through an extraordinary little book called Stranger Than Fiction by Derek Lever, I started to work as a busker on the streets of Liverpool doing a stunt act - fire eating, bed of nails, razor blades, hammering a nail up my nose.

But at the same time, the interest in mentalism continued, and I created another act, which I did in art galleries (true!) of basic mind reading. I loved it. But not enough to stop being an actor, and when another job came in, I went off and did it. I started work in Leicester in the summer of 1975.

They had heard all about my interest in magic, and when they decided to do a Christmas Music Hall show, they asked me to do a conjuring act. Well, I didn't want to do it. I'd done the stunts, and I'd done the mentalism, and conjuring felt like a backward move. But they insisted. So I had to come up with something that would suit me and suit them - a way of doing a conjuring act that would express something about me while displaying the tricks well.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night, and suddenly having the idea: "you could be Spanish, you could wear spangly suits, you could have a manic laugh, you could take a narcissistic delight in the tricks, you could have stupid magic words, you could have a twirly moustache, you could wear Cuban heels". And I went back to sleep. I didn't realise that I'd created a career for myself in about 30 seconds.

I went on in the show, and had a huge personal success. I did the act twice more in different shows that year. I met Ken Brooke, and became an occasional pupil of his. I gave up being an actor and decided to be a magician.

There were huge ups and downs, but the Great Soprendo was a success in theatre and TV for about 14 years. And then I started to realise after about 12 years that I needed to push my career in a different direction. I was on children's TV a lot, and of course children didn't really realise that The Great Soprendo was as much a joke at magicians' expense than anything else. And children's TV was changing, and I felt that I might not be employed for much longer. Above all, the Great Soprendo was a novelty act. It wasn't me. And if you want to survive as an entertainer, you simply HAVE to be yourself.

So I spent two years planning the Great Soprendo's demise. I got lucky, and was offered the role as presenter on a new magic show. I did my last work as the Spaniard in 1989/1990, presented The Best of Magic as myself, and very, very slowly learned how to express my own personality through doing magic tricks.

I firmly believe that that is actually all you have to do as a magician: express your personality through doing tricks. But it can take a good while to learn how to do it.




Gary Scott: Hi Geoffrey,

Looks like AndyD beat me to it.

I will just say...nay..scream those immortal words......

" Craccckkkerrrjaaaaaaaaccckkkkkkk"

Now I'm showing my age

Thanks for the memories Geoffrey.

Always waited for the Great Soprendo to come on!

Best wishes

Gary Scott

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Gary

Thank you for that. It's nice to know that people remember Crackerjack, and a bit humbling to realise that for some kids I was the first magician they ever saw!

I only ever did about seven Crackerjacks, though. It feels like many more!

Geoffrey




Daleshrimpton: Hello Geoffrey.

Interesting. if you only did seven crackerjacks, there is a very good chance that I have them all on tape.
The one thing I really liked about your spots on crackerjack, was the fact that you never did " children’s magic".
your performance of the card in bottle( Harbins?) was great, and if memory serves, you did something odd with Easter eggs.
now, something else , Soprendo was very camp, and as a character magician, it is, if I may say, one of the best there’s been over the top , but not too over the top.
why do you think so many magicians don’t get character acts quite right?
and did it surprise you to get a kids' show with a line like " a little poof works wonders".
mind you, thinking about it, you were working with the Krankies. It’s no worse than a middle age woman dressing up as a schoolboy, and being spanked by her husband
(OH BOY THE GUYS FROM THE STATES ARE GOING TO BE SOOOOO CONFUSED!!)
regards..
Dale

Guest: Hello Geoffrey I also remember you on Crackerjack and was always eagerly waiting for your spot. I still remember your version of the torn and restored newspaper, which had a bit of a sucker ending and being fried. I loved it.

Geoffrey Durham: Thank you both for your memories.

I'd forgotten all those routines that you remember, Dale! But I guess the reason I veered away from children's effects was that I was doing the stuff that interested me at the time, and I always wanted the magic to be as strong as I could make it. I do recall being very aware of the power of the video recorder to reveal a method, and they were just becoming a regular feature of the British living-room at the time, so I was perhaps a little too wary of all that. Also, never having done a children's party in my life, I didn't have much of a memory bank to draw on in that direction.

As for magical characters - well, it can be a tough thing to bring off well. I'm glad you thought it worked. I'm not sure I entirely agree. If I did, I'd probably still be doing it now!

Geoffrey




MagicSamX: Mr Durham

I am sure you have been asked on countable occasions "How you first got into the magic art". This is my question for you. Thank you for taking time to speak with us.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Magic Sam

I've given a brief run-down of my early career in the "Great Soprendo" thread, so I won't repeat that.

But I guess the single greatest influence, and the one that really got me moving, was Ken Brooke. He has become a bit of a legend in magic circles, and rightly so, but he's quite hard to explain in some ways.

He was a magic dealer, and a wonderful demonstrator, and he really cared about magic. He was opinionated and funny and skilled. Anybody who phoned him about would get a magic lesson of some kind. The first contact I had with him was to ring to ask if he sold a billet knife. "Yes", he said, "but don't buy it, because you'll never use it". He was right.

The first thing I bought from him was an egg bag. In those days he was selling pink ones, with the gaff in the corner, Max Malini style. I went back a week later to ask if I could buy another one, but a black one this time. "Why, what's the matter with the pink one?", he asked "Well, I think I could hide the pocket more easily if it was black," I said. "GET OUT!", he shouted at me.

He really cared about the magic he sold, and he minded passionately if he thought one of his tricks was being done badly.

I asked him to teach me the Multiplying Martinis. He agreed, and then proceeded to shout the rhythms of the trick at me for about 25 minutes, all the time telling me why my rhythms were wrong for the trick. I've never forgotten that magic lesson. It was the best I've ever had.

He told me not to join a magic club. "You'll be taught how to do it wrong, son," he said. I had been a full time professional for 15 years before I joined a society. I think he was right about that, too.

I think it's a shame that there are so few Ken Brookes about now. There are still one or dealers whose opinions I respect, and I only really deal with them, because I know they care. I wouldn't use one of the Internet dealers unless there was a very good reason.

Geoffrey




Graham: If you had a son who was just starting to get into magic, and were asked by him to name the six most important points that your experience has taught you, what would they be and why?

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

Well, I can have a go, but I'm sure my list of six would be different on any given day!

Try this for size:

1. Read, read, read. Read good books, bad books and indifferent ones. Read magazines, old and new. Try and read three magic books a day. Never stop reading. Understand that reading is a better learning tool than video, DVD, lectures and magic clubs all rolled into one. (Though you'll need to join a magic club to use their library, I suppose...)

2. Learn the difference between rehearsal and practice, and do both assiduously. You need to practise the moves for any given piece of material, but you also need to rehearse the whole thing, and learn how one piece of material blends into another. Oh, and never practise in front of a mirror!

3. Make sure your tricks can be described in ten words or less. Good tricks are easy to describe that way. "The lady floated on air". "The chosen card was stuck on the ceiling." Bad tricks go: "He had two cards glued together with a hole in them, and then he folded one card up so that it went through the hole..." and you're still not half way through.

4. Find out what tricks are currently fashionable among other magicians, and make sure you do completely different ones. When a good dealer trick is in vogue, buy and put it in a drawer for at least five years. I just did Cardtoon for the first time last week, and it went very well!

5. Be yourself. Never let your performance as a magician be characterised by fear, bravado or bluff.

6. Try not to lie.

Geoffrey

Aged Magician: Now that is what I call 'solid gold' advice!!
Please, please make this post a permanent fixture.

Graham: Mr Durham,

Many thanks for your reply. As 'Aged Magician' stated "solid gold advice".

I agree about the books. I sold my video collection a year ago, and now devour books. Books have hidden corners full of gems. Both locating them, and using them, is a bonus.

Trying not to lie is difficult for a magician!

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.




Graham: Mr Durham,

For those reading this who have not had the pleasure (and it is) of seeing your work, how would you describe yourself?

For me, you are very much in the style of the great (and sadly late) David Nixon. Just as at home doing close-up, parlour or stage work. Which genre do you prefer and why?

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

I'm not sure how to describe myself, so I'll take the second question first.

Yes, I'm equally at home in close-up, parlour or stage because I really don't recognise that there's a difference. True, stage magic can be bigger than close-up, but it doesn't have to be - I am currently doing the Gypsy Thread in 800 seat theatres - and I often do the Bending Glass in close-up. So I honestly can't say that any particular genre of magic is my favourite. But out of the three, stage work has to be my preferred option in terms of working conditions.

And so now I have to describe myself... Well, I'm very flattered that you want to compare me to David Nixon, because I thought he was terrific. And I'm certainly as bald as he was! Otherwise, I would say that I try to be friendly and warm and funny, but that I don't suffer fools gladly. And I try to use the magic to express those characteristics as well and as entertainingly as I can.

Geoffrey




Sean: In relation to magic of course! On one hand, the Internet is great resource tool where people from all over the world can buy books and tricks and have them delivered in a few days.

On the other hand, people from all over the world can buy books and tricks and have them delivered in a few days. A lot of older magicians see this as a bad thing and think magic is too accessible. In times gone by, you had to be really dedicated and search very hard for sparse material, but now any Tom, Dick or Harry can get their hands on a book or find out the secrets of a trick just by spending a few second searching on the net.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? Is the Internet good or bad?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Sean

Yes, I do think the pros outweigh the cons, because the Internet is quite simply the most brilliant, life-changing invention for generations.

Having said that...

You're right. It is going to be harder to keep the secrets. People can get hold of what used to be classified information. You can buy books/DVDs instantly and find out this and that.

But we shouldn't get in a panic about it. It's wrong to confuse information (which is what the internet provides) with understanding or insight or knowledge. Information and understanding are not the same thing.

So while some people will know some secrets, they won't have the understanding to be able to apply them.

That's why the Internet can be more of a problem to us, the working magicians, than to the casual observers. Because the Internet reduces magic to a series of products. And magic just isn't like that. Magic is not tricks, or secrets or even sleights - which is what you come to believe if you spend too long on the Internet - it is about having real conversations with real audiences and learning from them. And you'll never be able to do that on the Internet if you're on it for 100 years.

Geoffrey




Huw Collingbourne: Obsessed as some of us may be with the magical arts, there is obviously more to life (I think?) than magic. I wonder if you have any opinions on the kinds of interests, skills or other (non-magical) qualities, which contribute to the making of a good magician.

Let's put this another way: apart from magic itself, what are the factors in your own life, which have helped you to become such a great magical performer?

best wishes
Huw

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Huw

Good question. I'm not sure I'm going to find it very easy to answer.

I started as an actor, and in some ways that helped me to understand how to "be" on a stage and in front of people. It helped me to understand how to behave when I was the focus of attention. On the other hand, it had its disadvantages: actors have a tendency to want to hide their true personality, and I suffered from that at the beginning. But overall, I think my four years as an actor helped me with the twenty-six years that I've been a magician.

Another thing that helped was my first job when I left university. I was a stagehand at a well-known variety/vaudeville theatre. I watched people go on and die with the material that they had done really well with the night before, and that was very instructive! They used to film a very popular TV show from the theatre on Sunday nights, and I used to work on that and learned something about TV and how it works.

When I became a professional magician, I quickly came to realise that I needed to go out to work. By that, I mean that I don't bring the job home. I have an office, and I work there from 9 - 5, and I then I go home, and I don't let the home life and the work life mix too much. (In fact my kids have hardly ever seen me work!) My office is a big, gorgeous space these days, but in my early career it was a tiny bed-sit, and at one time later on it was a garage. It didn't matter. I just needed it to be separate.

I go to the theatre a lot, and it is just part of my life to watch performers. I love cinema, and I find I can always learn from that. I wish I could say that I watch TV. That used to be the case, but British TV depresses me rather these days!

I'm an active Quaker, and I do quite a lot of speaking in public, which has nothing to do with my life in showbiz. That's quite useful, because I have to present myself in ways that emphasise the "real me", if you see what I mean. There's no room for b******t there, and it helps.

But having said all that, I think the only way to be a magician is to get out there and do it. Prepare well, of course, but don't make your first show the most important day of your life. You'll only learn from your mistakes, so you might as well get out there and start making them!

Graham: I can relate to that. I have a friend whose office is a shed at the bottom of his garden. Each morning he puts on his suit and tie and goes down the garden to his office until 5:30pm. The change of clothes gives him the mental division between work and home life.

Geoffrey Durham: Just as a little postscript, my 11 year-old son read my answer to this question, and said "But you never told them about the crosswords". Well, he's right. I do crosswords all the time, and I think it probably helps to tune my lateral brain. I also set puzzles for radio and TV shows as a minor second career, and I rather suspect that helps too.

Geoffrey




Timnicebutdim: Geoffrey - Is your 11-year-old son interested in magic in anyway? or if not, what are his interests?

Geoffrey Durham: Henry, my son, shows no interest in magic at all. He is one of the funniest people I have ever met, and may (perish the thought!) become a comedian, I suspect. But he is also a very talented trumpeter, so there's hope for him yet.

Geoffrey




Timnicebutdim: Hello Geoffrey

first, well done for all of your success in the theatres and on TV, it is good to see a lot of hard work paying off.

My question; do you feel in any way nervous before you go onstage, or have you got used to the feel of being in a large theatre? I'm wondering because compared to a TV studio with millions of viewers watching, an 800-seated theatre must seem a pretty small way of getting your magic across to spectators.


Geoffrey Durham: Hi TimNBD

For about the first twenty years of my career, I used to suffer from destructive nerves. I would pace up and down for a good half hour before I went on, go over lines, worry, shake, and occasionally throw up.

Then about ten years ago, I started to learn how to handle it. It's really a question of knowing who you are, having a still centre, and being able to work from that rather than worrying about what people think of you. ("The only person who can make me feel inferior is myself" - Eleanor Roosevelt.)

I still get nervous, but that's quite a good thing. If you don't get nervous, it indicates that you don't care about your audience.

It may seem odd, but I get less nervous before a TV show than I do preparing to entertain 800 people. That's because when you do a television show, you are just talking to one person. The camera becomes that one person, and that is always how you should gauge the performance. If you think of it as 10 million people, you not only go mad, but you risk pitching your performance completely wrongly.

Geoffrey




Elwood: Geoffrey,

Out of all the effects I have studied and learned, the Chop Cup is probably my favourite. It is fast, funny and baffling, it can be presented as a serious piece, or a comedy effect. It works close-up and on stage.

My routine has been performed so many times, that it quite possibly is the one effect that crystallises what I am all about as a Magician - the gags, improvisation bits and final loads (weird, funny and impossible).

Is there an effect that sums you up as a Magician (either as yourself or as The Great Soprendo), or one you wish you'd invented?

I'd say that the Torn and Restored Newspaper would be the effect that IS The Great Soprendo...not sure which one is Geoffrey Durham though?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Elwood

Yes, you're right, the Torn and Restored Newspaper was the one for me when I was the Great Soprendo. And it was the only one that I "took with me" when I made the change into the act I do now. I found that the rhythms I used as the Great Soprendo simply wouldn't work when I started the new act, so all my previous material had to go. The Newspaper Trick had been my closer, and it became my opener in my new show, and that way I was able to do it with a new rhythm.

It's actually only the rhythm of the trick that makes a difference, I would say: you liking the Chop Cup is actually you finding that the rhythm of the trick helps you to be baffling in a way that only you can be. I love the Chop Cup, but I'd never, ever do it, because I know that it wouldn't be right for my personality.

There are many more tricks that do it for me now than there were when I was The Great Soprendo. The T & R Newspaper is still one. But then there is my routine for the Himber Ring, which I like because I've managed to make the link a theatrical moment which really works, and which happens in the spectator's hands. And I would say that my routines for both the Sterling and Malini Egg Bags are up there too. And just lately the Gypsy Thread (stage version) has begun to be my real favourite.

So take your choice!

Geoffrey




Sean: Hi Geoffrey

An interesting question was raised on here last time and I think I'd like to hear your views especially as you do quite a bit of TV including Countdown.

Quote:
John McDonald: We have been lucky in this country to have some great television magicians: David Nixon, Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels, Paul Zenon, Wayne Dobson and more recently Derren Brown. Each have their own particular style of presentation which suits their personality and their magic.

This is a huge question and I don't really expect an answer but I'd really be interested in your view.

What is the future of television magic?

Do you see a lot of "variety" shows with a lot of different types of magic acts? Or Do you see another Paul Daniels type of show emerging? or something else?

It is always good to see magic on television but some recent shows have failed to communicate the real meaning of magic, the feelings of wonder and innocence of childhood when everything was magical.

Over to you.

A very interesting question in my opinion.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Sean

Yes, a very interesting question. I've done well over 1,000 TV shows in all sorts of genres, and I've been very lucky to seek out the outlets on TV that would help my career. But having said that, I'm not at all sure that anyone, least of all me, can predict the future of magic on TV.

There are two important factors with regard to British TV that we have to bear in mind: (1) Each network is now in the hands of one person - not a committee, as used to be the case. (2) TV shows are only commissioned if they are cheap.

That means that there will never again be big TV shows with big production values, like The Best of Magic or Paul Daniels or David Nixon. All TV shows for the foreseeable future will be small scale.

And because the network controllers are obsessed with novelty, everything has to look new.

Derren Brown is definitely going stay big, and get bigger, though I suspect that the bigger he gets, the more interested the press may become in his methods.

Stephen Mulhern strikes me as a real tip for the top. I thought that ten years ago, and I've had no reason to change my opinion.

I have a feeling that Danny Buckler may well become a big name as well.

I'm a big fan of David Blaine. He is the only foreign magician ever to become truly popular in Britain, and that is because he does exactly what the British require of a magician: he is very plain and simple with no starriness, and his character is clear and consistent. The British hate to be told they are "ABOUT TO WITNESS THE IMPOSSIBLE" or go on a "JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE MIND" or other such stuff. When people talk like that to a British TV audience, the whole nation turns over and watches the news. Which is why, I suspect, David Copperfield has never caught on with the British lay public.

So here are a few thoughts: if we get more variety shows (and I suspect we might) they will be cheap and small scale; new and up-and-coming magicians will have to find new ways to present themselves (compare with David Blaine and Derren Brown); the American influence will only work with the British if it's done on a small scale; and finally, there will always, always be room for new and original talent.

Geoffrey

Sean: Great reply Geoffrey. Just one more thing. When you say that TV execs are looking for novelties and things now, combined with the reality TV phenomenon that we are having, can you see a Magic Idol or something similar taking place in the near future?

Geoffrey Durham: Yes of course. Good idea. Why don't you approach a TV exec with it?

Aged Magician: Geoffrey, your post makes me think how true the old Gigi song is to me, "Oh, I'm glad that I'm not young anymore."!!
At least us oldies have seen the magic of the past.

Paul Smith:

Sean wrote:
can you see a Magic Idol or something similar taking place in the near future?

I can actually confirm that there is talk about such a show going on already. I'm a professional set designer for TV shows and was one of the consultants for the set of The Quick Trick show, so I know young Stephen Mulhern personally. He's a fabulous guy and I agree with Geoffrey that he is pretty big at the minute, and will go on to huge!




Sean: Hi Geoffrey

In another post the advice you gave was:

Quote:
1. Read, read, read. Read good books, bad books and indifferent ones. Read magazines, old and new. Try and read three magic books a day. Never stop reading. Understand that reading is a better learning tool than video, DVD, lectures and magic clubs all rolled into one. (Though you'll need to join a magic club to use their library, I suppose...)

On that note, what would you suggest? There are of course the obvious choices of say RRTCM for card guys and MCM for the coin guys, but what else other great books would you suggest for an upcoming magician, or even some of the older ones! We never stop learning, do we?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Sean

Well, how long have you got? I could spend the next three weeks recommending you books!

I've already said in another post that I warmly recommend Classic Secrets of Magic by Bruce Elliott as an ideal first magic book. It contains such wonderful stuff, and by such fine magicians. There's a lot of Dai Vernon in the Ambitious Card routine, and the Card on the Ceiling is by Jay Marshall. And so on. And Elliott makes such beautiful connections: the Rice Bowls leads him on to a brilliant Glass of Wine from the Air, for example. And there's lots more like that.

Bruce Elliott's other books are terrific as well: Magic As a Hobby, Magic 100 New Tricks (entitled The Best in Magic in the US) and Professional Magic Made Easy. Each one really excellent. I've just looked up all four of his books on abebooks.com (an excellent second-hand book site) and they're all there, some at knockdown prices.

We should all have read the classics, of course. Everything by Devant, Robert-Houdin, Hoffman and Vernon. Oh, and the dear old Tarbell Course goes without saying. And Sleight of Hand by Edwin Sachs contains the best description of a successful magician that I've ever read. Greater Magic, too, by John Hilliard - crammed with tiny inaccuracies, but really fascinating, and full of strong magic.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that because this stuff is old, it's also old-fashioned. It just isn't true. It's all useful to us all now.

I like reading old magazines. I would single out the bound editions of the Phoenix, Hugard's Magic Monthly (there's a trick from that in my new theatre show) and the quirkiest and probably most useful of all, Chap's Scrapbook.

Books of old running orders are a help. Holden's Programmes of Famous Magicians[/I] contains the acts of a huge number of wonderful performers, from Chung Ling Soo to his own time. Many of the magicians I can remember myself! And Taylor's Spotlight on 101 Magic Acts does the same thing in a slightly different way.

When I was starting out as a stand-up magician, I found Billy McComb's book 25 Years Wiser a real goldmine. And I read everything by Roy Johnson, Alan Shaxon and Al Koran as well as devouring absolutely everything ever written by Sid Lorraine.

Eugene Burger seems to me to be required reading. His first book Secrets and Mysteries for the Close-up Entertainer should be set as an exam, and you should have to get 90% before they let you into a magic club!

Finally, two books to curl up with on a winter's evening. David Bamberg's Illusion Show is the best evocation of a travelling magic spectacular ever written. And Todd Karr's The Silence of Chung Ling Soo recreates the man like nothing else I've ever seen. He really lives.

My own favourite magic book is very hard to get hold of. Magic of Robert Harbin is a beautifully written description of the man's greatest tricks. Always inspiring, and an absolute delight from beginning to end.

Well that's a start. I'm sure I've left a lot out.

Geoffrey




Paul Smith: Very in depth reply Geoffrey and I'll definitely look out for some of those books.

Geoffrey Durham wrote:
I like reading old magazines. I would single out the bound editions of the Phoenix Hugard's Magic Monthly (there's a trick from that in my new theatre show) and the quirkiest and probably most useful of all, Chap's Scrapbook

My question basically is, how could you get your hands on such magazines? I'd assume there are specialist dealers for this sort of thing?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Paul

Well, a quick jaunt round the Internet has revealed that H & R Magic Books have bound copies of the Phoenix for sale, new. Abebooks.com have a lot of Hugard's Magic Monthly at various prices second-hand. I haven't found Chap's Scrapbook yet. It may be harder to track down because it's so damned good, but I bet you'll find one in the end.

If you're a UK resident, I find Adrian Harris in Perth very useful for second-hand books.

I realise that I never recommended the best and most obvious book for card enthusiasts. The Expert at the Card Table by Erdnase is absolutely invaluable, it seems to me. I particularly like the (expensive) edition edited by Darwin Ortiz, called The Annotated Erdnase. A real treat.

Geoffrey




Sean: Who are the two worlds best magicians at the minute? I always try to find two as I don't think it's fair to compare skill with entertainment. For example, David Blaine is a hugely entertaining magician, but I would never compare him with someone like Daryl. Therefore my question is, who is the most entertaining magician in the world and who is the most skilled magician in the world at the minute in your opinion?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Sean

Hmmm.

Well, I can't really draw a distinction between an entertaining magician and a skilled one. Skill without the ability to entertain seems utterly futile to me.

Restricting my choices to people I have actually seen live (because the video camera can hide a multitude of ineptitudes) I would say that the most skilled magicians I have ever encountered were Juan Tamariz, Rene Lavand and Lance Burton.

I was four feet away from Lance Burton as he did his dove act, and I was at the side of him, and I didn't see a thing.

Every time I meet I meet Juan Tamariz, I ask to see a trick. He always does the same one. He takes a pack of cards from its case and asks me to name a card. I do. It is the top card of the pack. I know how he does it, and somehow knowing makes it all the more wonderful.

Rene Lavand uses his skill to such effect that he actually has the ability to move people with his magic. Very hard to do.

And the most entertaining? Well, those three would give me a start and Salvano from >Poland always leaves me utterly enthralled. I enjoy Mac King very much.

But I guess my final answer is probably Juan Tamariz in both categories.

Geoffrey




Paul Smith: Hi Geoffrey!

It's great to get to ask you questions. I have fond memories of your crackerjack days and when I found out you were answering questions, I had to pop in!

I was just wondering if there were any additional techniques that you use to make your magic more powerful to your audiences.

I already try to employ things like resolving all questions before the climax, removing any unnecessary patter/movement/time, and tuning into the spectator's reactions to refine the effect later on. However, I do find that I'm searching for more methods to make the magic more powerful.

Cheers,

Paul

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Paul

All your suggestions are good.

If at the end of all that, you find your magic isn't powerful enough, it's perhaps not the magic that needs help. Because the magic can only take you so far, and then after that you need to look at yourself., and see how you can make yourself more powerful.

By "powerful", of course, I don't mean "strong" or "big" or "important". The power of silence can be very telling. And talking quietly. And pausing.
As I've said before in other posts, rhythm is the most important factor in getting your magic to work, and getting it to reflect and enhance your personality.

Because, make no mistake, nobody in the world ever wanted to see a magic trick. Not even you. What they want to see is an interesting person doing a magic trick.

Good luck with it!

Geoffrey




Paul Smith: Hi Geoffrey

One of the things I enjoy doing is writing. A lot of the time I just write just to get my thoughts down on paper, but over the past few years, I have written a book on magic and some of the theory behind it coupled with some effects that I have created.

Now I am at a stage where I have finished the book but now don't know what to do. I really have no idea where to go from here as all my work is in the TV side of things, I know all about that, but no nothing about books and getting things published.

Have you any advice about how I could go about getting my work into print?

And I suppose as a second question, have you ever had any of your own work published, as I must confess, I know very little about your career except for "The Great Soprendo"

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Paul

My only publication has been a fairly substantial set of lecture notes called Geoffrey Durham's Little Miracles. They were produced for a lecture at Blackpool about five years ago and I quickly sold out, but I think that Donald Wallace at Magic Books by Post still has some left.

I would publish a magic book privately if I had one to sell. I don't think there's much of a profit to be made in handing it over to a magical publisher.

But having said that, Richard Kaufman's record in discovering and publishing new magical talent seems to me to be second to none. Maybe he's worth a try.

Geoffrey




Andy C: Hi there.

First of all let me say a big Thank You for visiting our site. I have long been an admirer of yours, seeing your one man show a few times around the country, Most recently at Spalding a few months ago.

If someone asked me who to watch and learn from, yours would be one of the first names mentioned, due to your flawless technique, and the way you communicate with an audience. So a two-phase question, Firstly who would you tell a beginner to watch, (NOT copy) and secondly who, apart from Ken Brook who you've mentioned elsewhere, were your influences.

Andy

Ps Speaking of Ken Brooks, loved your classic handling of his Egg bag Routine at Spalding, No Gimmickry, just a classic routine excellently done.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Andy

Thank you for your kind response to my show in Spalding, It was my first performance of the new show (not counting the previews), so your warm reaction is especially welcome!

I have been influenced by a lot of people, I think. Others have mentioned David Nixon, and I would definitely go along with that. And there was a magician, now forgotten I suspect, called Bertie Otto. He did a superb pick-pocketing act in a Chinese outfit. He called himself Ming Chow, and I've often thought in retrospect that I probably stole half my Great Soprendo act from him!

I am a huge admirer of the work of Roy Benson, a truly consummate magician. I watch him on video all the time, and I think he has been an enormous influence. And Robert Harbin, too. The greatest British magician I ever saw -even though I know he was originally from South Africa!

Roy Johnson has been a big influence in my work during the last ten years. We collaborate a lot on material, and the Sterling Egg Bag and the Cash Stab routine from my current show owe everything to Roy.

Jim Hooper was an inventor (known professionally as Nemo) who worked with Ken Brooke. He chose to spend his last years working with me on new material and building props with me. He died about six years ago and I miss him still.

And I mustn't forget Charles Reynolds. He worked with me on two series of The Best of Magic, the only magic adviser I've ever had, and it was quite simply the most energised and productive period of my magical life. And it was all down to Charles.

As for people whom others might watch... Well, I would say get hold of videos of Fred Kaps - the greatest all-rounder magic has ever produced. And watch how David Blaine is able to choose material that aligns perfectly with his personality - you don't have to like him to understand that. Try looking at Roy Benson and Robert Harbin, too.

Here are a couple of other ideas. Watch the good television cooks. The similarity between the work of a TV magician and TV cook is very striking. So I would say look at Jamie Oliver and Ainsley Harriott and, yes, Delia Smith.

Look at film actors, too. I never cease to be awe-struck at the ability of Michael Caine to speak utterly naturally with a camera three inches from his face and a microphone up his nose. Look at John Malkovich. Look at Madonna...

Geoffrey




Graham: Mr Durham,

When selecting effects for TV work what is your criteria? Sometimes it appears to be a tug of war between the performer, who is trying to keep the effect near to their face for recognition, and the cameraperson trying to zoom-in on the hands and never mind about the performer!

My heart goes out to those who guest spot only to be told "OK, so show us what you've got in the seven seconds we have remaining!". Those that make it in the business really earn their wings.

kind regards,

Graham

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

The first rule of television (assuming you don't have a magic advisor sitting in the box) is to tell both the director and the camera operator how the trick is done. They become your collaborators for the session, and they help you keep your secrets.

The second rule of television (which you've hit on) is to hold the props up so that your face is in shot at the same time. Nobody is interested in your props, but they are very interested in you: so make sure they see you.

If you are able to get yourself a camera rehearsal, then that's great. Use it. You can do more or less anything, then. You can vanish a silk over here, for example, and then find it in an apple, which a spectator is holding over there on the other side of the studio. The camera will follow you, and, if you've had a camera rehearsal, the vanish and the appearance will both be clear and in shot.

But if you don't have a camera rehearsal, don't even think of doing a trick in two parts, or which happens in two locations, or in which something needs to be seen close up. I often perform one of a little list of half a dozen tricks in these circumstances, and I don't mind if people have seen them before - they will at least look OK, and I can be fairly sure that nobody is going to remember anyway!

Torn and restored in its various forms has always been useful to me. The Hydrostatic Glass is another useful one. Bending Glass a third. Tricks in which the chosen card has the spectator's name written on the back (in the style of Fred) are always very handy in these circumstances.

Don't think that because something is your best trick, it will look like your best when it's televised. It probably won't. Think about whether it could look as if stooges are used - if it could, ditch it. Think about whether you could be accused of camera trickery - if you could, ditch it. And so on. You get the idea.

You need to be versatile on TV, and you need to learn from your mistakes. Above all, if the show is live, don't take risks!

Geoffrey




Daleshrimpton: Geoffrey.

Can you offer any suggestions as to books the performer should read that are not magic books?

And also, any tips as to non-magical skills the up and coming magician should have within his, or indeed her arsenal.

Also, tips on how to handle the press.

Something very useful to know, should someone make it in this business we call show.

Dale

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Dale

Let's look at these in reverse order.

I'm not sure I have any golden tips about handling the British press. So far, there hasn't ever been a true story printed about me, and I bet they're not intending to start now! So my policy has always been to smile sweetly at them and say nothing. However, I'm not necessarily sure that this is very good advice!

I don't think I'm going to be very helpful about your other two questions either. I'm not sure it's really my place to tell up and coming magicians what to read or do with their lives - however much I might wish to!

Nonetheless, I guess it might be worth pointing out one or two books that might help us realise that it's very rare to achieve show business success quickly. One such book which I really enjoyed reading was Enter Talking by Joan Rivers. I appreciated learning about the catalogue of disasters, which accompanied her early career, and the ways in which she overcame her setbacks. There are a few (not many) showbiz autobiographies, which tell the truth in this way, and they are always a treat to read.

The Job of Acting by Clive Swift is another book, which analyses the life of the performer in a way which magicians might find useful, I think. It is always worth remembering that a professional magician has a job!

Actually any book which helps us to round our personalities helps us as magicians. Many of us come into magic because we are basically shy, or real klutzes (let's be honest!) so any work we can do to help ourselves to be confident in ways which don't just make us look good is work well done.

In conclusion, I'd say that if there is a skill we can all benefit from acquiring, it's the skill of getting on with complete strangers. And we do that by understanding that we are no better than they are just because we've learned a few tricks!

Geoffrey




nippy99: Mr Durham,

Firstly let me express my gratitude to you for taking time from your busy schedule to answer all our questions. Your help and advice is invaluable.

I saw your show during your previous tour in Guildford, which would now have been about six years ago. It was the show where you started with the children's magic set and explained how you got into magic. An excellent show and hopefully I will get a chance to see you during your current tour.

One effect that stood out for me was the one where you had two towers of about 6 wooden building blocks each individually numbered. When you covered up each tower with a tube and quickly removed it again the order of the blocks had changed. The whole routine was superbly done and this has haunted me ever since. The speed of execution was incredible.

Q, Is this effect still in your new show? Is there a story behind how it originated?

Q, Given your success at breaking away from the Great Soprendo persona, did you find it hard to establish yourself simply as Geoffrey Durham?

Q, And what are your hopes and dreams for the future? Is there an effect you would like to perform and perfect?

Q, And finally, what is your most treasured magical item?

Sorry for having so many questions, thank you so much.

Best Wishes

Darren

PS I've just searched through my ever-increasing library of magic books and have found a copy of Magic as a Hobby by Bruce Elliot. I paid £1-50 for it a few years ago and following your comments I shall be taking a closer look!

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Darren

Thank you for your kind comments on the blocks trick.

It was invented by P.T. Selbit about 80 or 90 years ago, and is variously called the Bewildering Blocks, Sympathetic Blocks and (not entirely surprisingly) Selbit Blocks. I agree, it's a great trick.

I first created a routine for it about 14 years ago, and did it for a one-off TV show. It was quite successful, but when I came to re-do it for the stage, I found that I couldn't do it in the same way. (I had used a volunteer for the climax, and his random pile of blocks was duplicated by mine when the tube was lifted.) My problem was that I didn't want to use the spectator for just the end of the trick- it worked on TV, but worried me very much to do it the same way on stage.

So I set about changing the routine, and that was where my problems began. I just couldn't find a good ending. I tried doing part of it blindfolded (terrible idea), I did part of it behind my back (absolutely dreadful) and then, after about four years, I finally came up with a climax that worked - I turned the whole pile upside down, and lifted the tube to find the other set upside down, too. Phew!

In the process, I discovered that my tube had to be made of steel, because it got such a hammering in the handling of the trick - so I just pass that on in case it is of use to anybody.

And no, I'm sorry, it isn't in my new show. When I put together the latest edition, I decided to make the first 90 minutes completely new, and the Selbit Blocks fell by the wayside in that process. But I'm sure it will come back in the future.

In answer to your second question, yes, it was quite difficult to get people to accept that I wasn't going to be doing the old act any more. It wasn't so much the public, but rather the agents and bookers who found it so hard to take. I suppose they resented having a familiar source of income removed from them! Certainly it was a good few years before they took it as read that I wasn't going back to my old ways.

Next question? My hopes and dreams for the future - well, I'm not an ambitious person, and I don't have any grand plans. So long as I can make a living and be with my kids, I tend to feel OK. I'm definitely going flat out with the new show next year, then in 2005 I've decided to take a year off - though when the time comes, I may re-consider that! And after that? Who knows...

You ask if there's a piece of magic that I would like to perfect. Well, strange as it may seem, it's the Chinese Sticks. I've seen it performed so often and so badly over the years that I'd love to come up with something that really knocks people sideways.

And in answer to your last question about my most treasured magical item, well (back to the last question) it's undoubtedly Roy Benson's original set of Chinese Sticks. He did a wonderful version of the trick using three sticks, and he always made his own props for the trick. I have one of those sets, and it's really beautiful, and it acts as a constant inspiration to me to try and take the trick one stage further.

Geoffrey




Graham: Mr Durham,

Does there already exist, or are there any plans to release, "The Best of Magic" on video or DVD? It would be a real shame for these gems to be relegated to a vault somewhere. As you stated elsewhere, these shows are not inexpensive to produce, so making them available for a whole new generation to enjoy would certainly be worth the production company's efforts.

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

I really have no idea if there are any plans to issue The Best of Magic in any other format, but I'd be very surprised. Certainly, they wouldn't sell if Thames Television chose to distribute them in the shops, and so it would be for the producer, John Fisher to issue them "privately" to magicians in some form. But I would imagine that copyright restrictions would prevent him from doing that.

Sorry...

Geoffrey




Orion: First of all, thank you for visiting these boards - I am amazed at the length and breath of your replies. You have an extensive knowledge of this art that is impressive to see and so valuable to learn from.

You recently mentioned the similarity of a magician and a TV cook:

Quote:

Watch the good television cooks. The similarity between the work of a TV magician and TV cook is very striking.



http://www.magicbunny.co.uk/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?t=6783

I was, at first, surprised by this comparison. What are the attributes that you consider to make these two so different roles so similar?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Orion

Thank you for your kind message.

I was at first surprised that you were at first surprised! Then I realised that it must sound odd, since cooking and magic are hardly the same thing.

Well, yes, of course. What I was talking about was the similarities between the job of TV cook and TV magician.

In both cases, you decide at home what you're going to do. Nobody at the TV company knows or cares.

You get together the props. You pay for them. Nobody at the TV company knows or cares.

You rehearse. You work out the right order to present each moment, so that the sequence is clear. This will often be different from how you would do it if you were working to an ordinary audience, because the camera only has one viewpoint. So your job is to introduce each ingredient so that the whole is clear, and you need to explain clearly what's going on at the same time. In both jobs, you need to understand how to explain yourself.

You then write a script, so that your explanation becomes entertaining.

When you've rehearsed enough, you pack it all up. You need to pack spares of everything. In the case of the cook you need to line up at least two of the finished dish as it comes out of the oven. In the case of the magician, you need to line up at least two ready-set-up props in case of disasters. (Your studio bosses will not take kindly to you re-setting a prop if you need a re-take).

And then you get to the studio with your script and your props and nervous energy, and you SPARKLE! Everything needs to be up and energetic and clear, but you also need to have your nerve well enough in place to know that you aren't going to drop an egg, or worse, a pack of cards in Si Stebbins order. Because if you do, you won't be hired again.

They are both highly specialised, and, I think, very similar jobs in show business.

I did a pilot about ten years ago of a street magic show (and everyone said it could never catch on!). My model in that little enterprise was Keith Floyd, at the time the most entertaining and apparently freewheeling cook on British TV. I learned so much from watching him. Because I realised that while it looked unprepared it was in fact rehearsed to the nth degree. And today, I learn from other TV chefs. They can teach us all a lot.

Geoffrey




Chabang: When writing your introduction for this forum I realised that unlike so many other performers it was virtually impossible to label you as being one particular type (a close-up magician, a mentalist) due to the phenomenal variety of styles you have presented over the years - to this end how would you classify yourself?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Chabang

I think I'd probably describe myself as a stand-up magician. Stand-up magic has quite a long and honourable history, particularly in Britain, but it's not too common elsewhere. I think it may possibly have been David Devant who started it - not that I'm comparing myself to him!

Stand-up magicians are able to offset the cynicism of the audience by commenting on the ludicrousness of what they're doing - I think that's what probably attracted me to it!

Geoffrey




Graham: Mr Durham,

What is your criterion for assistant selection, to avoid picking on someone who may disrupt the smooth running of the set? While the obvious "loudmouths" need to be avoided, there are also the not so obvious danger zones such as those who would rather die than be called up before an audience. None of us would wish to put them through such an ordeal. Just two examples ...

kind regards,

Graham

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

This is a very good question, and one I could write a very long answer to. I'll try to keep it short.

999 times out of 1,000, if a spectator disrupts your set, it is your fault.

If the relationship between a magician and a volunteer is about power, then the relationship has gone wrong. It's the magician's responsibility to put it right.

I saw a magician do a show not so long ago, and he used three volunteers. The first was told to "stand over there, under the bag of cement". The second was asked to "stand just there, over the trapdoor". The third (a lady) was told to "put your legs together - can you remember how to do that?".

This kind of stuff can be lots of fun for the magician, and it can undoubtedly get a good response from the rest of the audience. But magicians only have themselves to blame if spectators don't want to come up and be subjected to such stuff. Or of course they may want to fight their corner...

And it's hardly surprising if less and less people choose to volunteer as your set progresses.

A lot of us come into magic because we're basically shy, and it gives us a kick to be able to control other people by doing things that they can't understand. That's fine. But often it can lead to an arrogant attitude, which puts the magician in a false position of power.

So here are some suggestions.

Open your set with an effect, which doesn't need a volunteer. Watch the audience. Look for the people who are laughing at your jokes, or who are interested in your trick, or who are (a good test, this) leaning forward. Look at their eyes. Are they warm? Do they sparkle just a little bit? If so, look them in the eye, just briefly, just once. See if they look back. If they do, they are a good bet for a good volunteer.

Ask them if they would like to help, and look them in the eyes again at the same time. If they say no, respect that immediately, and move on to someone else. Never press-gang a volunteer. When someone agrees and they help with the trick, be kind to them. Be as courteous as you would be if they visited your home. Try to put them at their ease. Ask their name, and remember it (crucial!) and use it often. Let them say whatever they want to say, and listen to them, and respond as if it were a conversation. (Actually, it is a conversation.) Don't be bound by a script, but keep the structure of the trick in mind, and keep the thing moving.

When the trick is over, make sure they get a round of applause, or at least (if it is a small audience for a close-up performance) show your own appreciation.

My experience is that you will never have a problem with a disruptive volunteer again.

A final thought. It can often be a bad idea to close your act on a volunteer trick. That is because the person has to get their applause, and go back to their seat, and it muddies the final picture of your set. You need all eyes to be on you at the end, and you need all the applause to be for you. For that reason, I have never closed on a volunteer trick.

I hope some of this is useful.

Geoffrey

Graham: Mr Durham,

Many thanks for that excellent reply.

The magic act that uses the "bag of cement" or "clean hand, dirty hand" tack highlights what can be wrong with magic for me. It actually damages magic, as many will think twice about volunteering after such an ordeal. Often that "magician" is far too thick skinned, or just plain thick!, to realise how far from the correct track they are.

This reminds me of an act which appeared on the 'Jerry Sadowitz Show' to be judged by Bobby Bernard. The young guy came on with his sponge routine, and used the opening line "Would you like to see my balls?". Bobby put his head in his hands, and I found myself rummaging in my pocket for a stun gun.

There is so much more to performing magic than effects.

All the best,

Graham




Road Mage: Dear Geoffrey,

I'm currently studying Drama and Theatre Studies, at Trinity College Dublin - under the kindly tutoring of your friend Chrissy Poulter. Anyway I've become very interested in the relationship with Theatre and Magic and the ways in which the two art forms meet - I was wondering since you worked on the magic side of the new Tommy Cooper stage show in London, in what ways do you feel magic and theatre could meet. Do you think it might be possible to say make illusions work in a production of classic plays such as Macbeth for example.

Thanks a lot!

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Road Mage

Thank you for the message - and please give my best to Chrissie Poulter when you next see her.

Well, absolutely! I think that magic and theatre are inextricably linked, and they have huge amounts to learn from each other.

Working with actors as a magic advisor has been a big part of my life for over twenty years now. I have worked on TV shows (Dr Who, for example) and stage musicals (Oliver! at the London Palladium, Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyceum among many others), with comedians (The Fast Show, The League of Gentlemen etc) and on a lot of straight plays. The show about Tommy Cooper is the latest of these. It is unusual in that I worked with just one actor, and my brief was to teach him a huge amount of material. In all, Jerome Flynn learned about 90 minutes of magic, of which about 75 minutes ended up being used in the show.

It was also unusual in that I was teaching actual tricks - magic with a beginning and a middle and an end. That's very unusual in magic advising. Normally I am required to work with actors on effects - appearing in a flash from nowhere, shooting flame from the fingertips - but not on actual tricks as we know them. But poor old Jerome Flynn was learning the Die Box and the Multiplying Bottles and the Tissue to Flowers, and having to learn the timing and come up with the goods every night.

And he's done brilliantly. He's acquired a real understanding of how magic works, and he's a real whiz with a thumbtip!

Funnily enough, my first ever magic advising job was on Macbeth. It was a production about 20 years ago starring Deborah Findlay as Lady Macbeth, and it was directed by Roger Michell, who later went on to direct Notting Hill. I had to make the witches disappear, which we did using a big hessian cloak and a stage trap, cause apparitions to rise from a cauldron (Okito Floating Ball techniques worked very well for this), and make Banquo's ghost turn up at the feast (a sort of reverse De Kolta Chair). It was wonderful be in the audience watching my own tricks! And even better to hear them gasp!

It can be frustrating working as a magic adviser. Actors can be lazy (I sometimes believe that they think there's such a thing as magic!) and directors can take you for granted. But if you come to the production early enough, and learn to work well with designers, it's a very fulfilling way to work as a magician.

There isn't much written on the subject, but one of the introductions to the Tarbell Course has a wonderful little article about it. Look it up. It is worth your time.

Geoffrey

Road Mage: Dear Geoffrey,

Thanks very much for such a fascinating and long response. I will defiantly take a look at the article you mentioned and will of course give my regards to Chrissy.

Thanks once again,

Owen




Graham: Mr Durham,

Anyone who has witnessed the work of, say, Eugene Burger or Ricky Jay will have seen that by concentrating on the framing of a piece, a basic "Pick a card and now I will find it" effect can be raised to the level of a miracle. The emotional investment of the audience brought out through the narrative skills of the performer.

Tuesday's "Countdown" demonstrated this with your talking about "impossible objects". Making the link between a coin in a bottle and optical illusion prints. Brilliant!

So now the question. Framing: what are your points of reference and inspiration?

kind regards,

Graham Nichols

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

Thank you for your question - I have greatly enjoyed your input this week.

I'm not sure I'd call it framing (I don't know what I'd call it!) because it is really just an instinctive response to the challenges thrown up by any given piece of material. Nobody ever wanted to see a trick, so you need to give the trick life by giving it a context and place to be.

When I decided to do the Coin in Bottle on Countdown (an intellectual quiz show let's remember) I knew that I couldn't put the money in and then take it out in the usual way. The rhythm of the show somehow wouldn't allow it. It needed to be given a context of some kind.

So then I thought about putting the coin in and not taking it out, and I experimented for a while with the cap in the bottle instead, but reckoned the coin was stronger... And then I realised that the coin in the bottle is actually an impossible object, which can be handled by the spectator.

So then I tried putting it into a little piece about impossible objects, and it began to look a bit more promising. I tried about four or five different ideas for impossible objects, until I finally came to the conclusion that to make the coin in bottle the climax of the piece, I should use two pictures of objects and make the last one a physical artefact that could be examined.

At last I had a context in which the trick might have some life.

So I commissioned Peter Crush to make me a £2 coin that could be seen in close-up (i.e. without a grooved edge), and it arrived two days before the recording and I went ahead and did it!

To be honest, I'm quite surprised that you liked it. I thought it was a fairly commonplace little spot without a great deal to recommend it. So I'm especially grateful for your kind remarks.

As I've been writing this, I've worked out that I think I would prefer the word "hook" to the word "frame". I think that (exactly like a song or a joke) you need a hook. You need it for everything in show business. It probably doesn't matter greatly what it is, so long as you've got it. A witty or interesting little context for the trick to live in. That's all.

Geoffrey




dk_the_magician: Mr Durham,

Saw your lecture at Watford some time ago and took a great deal away also got me thinking liked the use of the old footage of magicians. It was so refreshing to see a lecture that was not all just “me, me, me” and give room to some of the masters we younger magicians will never get to see.

We had a long running thread on when things go wrong and outs etc some time ago. Judging by the number of shows, and years you have been performing, Murphy’s Law states there is a high possibility something has gone wrong while you have been performing. I fine we can learn so much about how a professional plans for all eventualities, I’ve heard of magicians that carry a complete back up of there whole act.

Questions

What was the worse moment you have had while performing?
Have you any back up plans or precautions you follow for the “just in case”?
And lastly do you think you can over plan and over rehearse?

Darren

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Darren

A very good topic, and yes, of course, things go wrong all the time!

At the end of Magic As a Hobby, Bruce Elliott alludes to this, and says, "But these things will happen and the time will come when they won't upset you in the least, when you will be able to turn the worst accident to your advantage."

Oh, I wish!

I guess I have occasionally managed to turn a mishap round in that way, but it's been very rare. The most I can say is that at least two or three things go somewhat awry every time I do the two hour show (how could they not?) and I honestly don't think the audience ever knows that anything is amiss.

I'm on my summer break at the moment, but the last time I did the show about ten days ago, my beloved old Egg Bag (with which Ken Brooke taught me the trick in 1976) split at the seams while I was in the middle of the trick. I was worried enough to check afterwards, but it did appear that nobody in the audience had noticed anything wrong.

You ask if I have contingency plans. Well, yes. There is actually a ready-set-up Egg Bag on the side every time I do that trick - but that is because I do it with a fragile blown egg, and I need to know I can reach for a new prop any time I like. There is also a spare of every trick I use in the show in a flight-case specially set aside for the purpose. My Stage Manager looks after it, and can come up with the right new prop at a moment's notice.

Nothing utterly disastrous has so far happened in theatre show. I think the worst experience I've ever had was on a live TV about twelve years ago, when I performed my 4 pint Hydrostatic Glass over a TV presenter's head. The whole thing went wrong (I still don't know why) and he got absolutely drenched. Not only that, we were at the beginning of a chat show, and the foam-filled sofa got utterly waterlogged. Every guest for the hour after me was sitting in a quagmire.

There really is nothing you can do to save that situation, except to say, "Does anybody want to buy a trick?"

You ask if a magician can over-plan, or over-rehearse. Over-rehearse, definitely. Rehearsal can only take you so far, and after that you need to need to get out there and learn your craft with real people in real situations. Over-plan? I'm not sure ... I think planning is a very useful thing to learn. If you have a plan for when things might go wrong, it's common sense that you'll handle it better when they do. But like everything, it's possible to take it all to far. Spontaneity is a vital ingredient in every good magician's work, and we must never compromise that.

Geoffrey

Aged Magician: Many of the people who watched the TV presenter get soaked were convinced that that was part of the effect!!

dk_the_magician: Thank you Mr Durham, some great advice.

Darren




Huw Collingbourne: I just received an email from Dover books to say that they have now reprinted Scarne's Magic Tricks:

http://www.doverpublications.com/mg0703/

The publishers add: "We're always interested in publishing more books about magic" and to that end, they want suggestions for other out of print titles.

Dover, of course, already publishes many classics including The Royal Road To Card Magic, Bobo's Modern Coin Magic and Annemann's Practical Mental Magic. Over the past few days you have recommended a few out of print books. If you were Dover's commissioning editor, which titles would you want them to reprint?

Best wishes

Huw

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Huw

Well I have no idea who owns the copyright on this stuff, and I'm not sure I'd want all of it in regular bookshops, but here is a small selection out of the top of my head:

MY BEST J.G. Thompson Jnr (a delightful book consisting of the best tricks of the leading magicians of the day - round about 1945, I would guess).

MARVELS OF MYSTERY John Booth (an excellent volume of cabaret magic by the then unbelievably young and precocious magician.)

PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATIONS Al Koran (His first book, and probably his best.)

AL KORAN'S LEGACY Hugh Miller (a lovely book of Koran material published after his death.)

THE FINE ART OF MAGIC George Kaplan (The best-kept secret in all magic - a fantastic book. Vernon's thinking before Vernon was published.)

OKITO ON MAGIC Theo Bamberg (An excellent book by one of the great old-time masters.)

LESSONS IN CONJURING David Devant (The title says it all.)

HARBINCADABRA Robert Harbin (All Harbin's articles for Abra written from the early 50's onwards. A goldmine.)

ROUTINED MANIPULATION Lewis Ganson - 3 volumes (Another goldmine - the best stand-up and close-up tricks of the day (1960s?) written up with a brilliant attention to detail.)

And finally

THE MAGICIAN'S OWN BOOK W.H. Cremer (Written around 1865 at a guess - a wonderful, hilarious volume of stuff good, bad and indifferent. "To Make Boiled Crabs Walk Out of a Dish". "To Blow Off Your Hat". "To Hold Up a Pail of Water on Two Knives Thrust into a Melon". It's a treat - and I'm actually doing a trick from it on TV quite soon!)

I hope you get something from this. I'm sure there are lots more I could have chosen.

Geoffrey




Road Mage: Dear Geoffrey,

I'm currently studying Drama and Theatre Studies, at Trinity College Dublin - under the kindly tutoring of your friend Chrissy Poulter. Anyway I've become very interested in the relationship with Theatre and Magic and the ways in which the two art forms meet - I was wondering since you worked on the magic side of the new Tommy Cooper stage show in London, in what ways do you feel magic and theatre could meet. Do you think it might be possible to say make illusions work in a production of classic plays such as Macbeth for example.

Thanks a lot!

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Road Mage

Thank you for the message - and please give my best to Chrissie Poulter when you next see her.

Well, absolutely! I think that magic and theatre are inextricably linked, and they have huge amounts to learn from each other.

Working with actors as a magic advisor has been a big part of my life for over twenty years now. I have worked on TV shows (Dr Who, for example) and stage musicals (Oliver! at the London Palladium, Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyceum among many others), with comedians (The Fast Show, The League of Gentlemen etc) and on a lot of straight plays. The show about Tommy Cooper is the latest of these. It is unusual in that I worked with just one actor, and my brief was to teach him a huge amount of material. In all, Jerome Flynn learned about 90 minutes of magic, of which about 75 minutes ended up being used in the show.

It was also unusual in that I was teaching actual tricks - magic with a beginning and a middle and an end. That's very unusual in magic advising. Normally I am required to work with actors on effects - appearing in a flash from nowhere, shooting flame from the fingertips - but not on actual tricks as we know them. But poor old Jerome Flynn was learning the Die Box and the Multiplying Bottles and the Tissue to Flowers, and having to learn the timing and come up with the goods every night.

And he's done brilliantly. He's acquired a real understanding of how magic works, and he's a real whiz with a thumbtip!

Funnily enough, my first ever magic advising job was on Macbeth. It was a production about 20 years ago starring Deborah Findlay as Lady Macbeth, and it was directed by Roger Michell, who later went on to direct Notting Hill. I had to make the witches disappear, which we did using a big hessian cloak and a stage trap, cause apparitions to rise from a cauldron (Okito Floating Ball techniques worked very well for this), and make Banquo's ghost turn up at the feast (a sort of reverse De Kolta Chair). It was wonderful be in the audience watching my own tricks! And even better to hear them gasp!

It can be frustrating working as a magic adviser. Actors can be lazy (I sometimes believe that they think there's such a thing as magic!) and directors can take you for granted. But if you come to the production early enough, and learn to work well with designers, it's a very fulfilling way to work as a magician.

There isn't much written on the subject, but one of the introductions to the Tarbell Course has a wonderful little article about it. Look it up. It is worth your time.

Geoffrey

Road Mage: Dear Geoffrey,

Thanks very much for such a fascinating and long response. I will defiantly take a look at the article you mentioned and will of course give my regards to Chrissy.

Thanks once again,

Owen




Graham: Mr Durham,

Anyone who has witnessed the work of, say, Eugene Burger or Ricky Jay will have seen that by concentrating on the framing of a piece, a basic "Pick a card and now I will find it" effect can be raised to the level of a miracle. The emotional investment of the audience brought out through the narrative skills of the performer.

Tuesday's "Countdown" demonstrated this with your talking about "impossible objects". Making the link between a coin in a bottle and optical illusion prints. Brilliant!

So now the question. Framing: what are your points of reference and inspiration?

kind regards,

Graham Nichols

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

Thank you for your question - I have greatly enjoyed your input this week.

I'm not sure I'd call it framing (I don't know what I'd call it!) because it is really just an instinctive response to the challenges thrown up by any given piece of material. Nobody ever wanted to see a trick, so you need to give the trick life by giving it a context and place to be.

When I decided to do the Coin in Bottle on Countdown (an intellectual quiz show let's remember) I knew that I couldn't put the money in and then take it out in the usual way. The rhythm of the show somehow wouldn't allow it. It needed to be given a context of some kind.

So then I thought about putting the coin in and not taking it out, and I experimented for a while with the cap in the bottle instead, but reckoned the coin was stronger... And then I realised that the coin in the bottle is actually an impossible object, which can be handled by the spectator.

So then I tried putting it into a little piece about impossible objects, and it began to look a bit more promising. I tried about four or five different ideas for impossible objects, until I finally came to the conclusion that to make the coin in bottle the climax of the piece, I should use two pictures of objects and make the last one a physical artefact that could be examined.

At last I had a context in which the trick might have some life.

So I commissioned Peter Crush to make me a £2 coin that could be seen in close-up (i.e. without a grooved edge), and it arrived two days before the recording and I went ahead and did it!

To be honest, I'm quite surprised that you liked it. I thought it was a fairly commonplace little spot without a great deal to recommend it. So I'm especially grateful for your kind remarks.

As I've been writing this, I've worked out that I think I would prefer the word "hook" to the word "frame". I think that (exactly like a song or a joke) you need a hook. You need it for everything in show business. It probably doesn't matter greatly what it is, so long as you've got it. A witty or interesting little context for the trick to live in. That's all.

Geoffrey




dk_the_magician: Mr Durham,

Saw your lecture at Watford some time ago and took a great deal away also got me thinking liked the use of the old footage of magicians. It was so refreshing to see a lecture that was not all just “me, me, me” and give room to some of the masters we younger magicians will never get to see.

We had a long running thread on when things go wrong and outs etc some time ago. Judging by the number of shows, and years you have been performing, Murphy’s Law states there is a high possibility something has gone wrong while you have been performing. I fine we can learn so much about how a professional plans for all eventualities, I’ve heard of magicians that carry a complete back up of there whole act.

Questions

What was the worse moment you have had while performing?
Have you any back up plans or precautions you follow for the “just in case”?
And lastly do you think you can over plan and over rehearse?

Darren

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Darren

A very good topic, and yes, of course, things go wrong all the time!

At the end of Magic As a Hobby, Bruce Elliott alludes to this, and says, "But these things will happen and the time will come when they won't upset you in the least, when you will be able to turn the worst accident to your advantage."

Oh, I wish!

I guess I have occasionally managed to turn a mishap round in that way, but it's been very rare. The most I can say is that at least two or three things go somewhat awry every time I do the two hour show (how could they not?) and I honestly don't think the audience ever knows that anything is amiss.

I'm on my summer break at the moment, but the last time I did the show about ten days ago, my beloved old Egg Bag (with which Ken Brooke taught me the trick in 1976) split at the seams while I was in the middle of the trick. I was worried enough to check afterwards, but it did appear that nobody in the audience had noticed anything wrong.

You ask if I have contingency plans. Well, yes. There is actually a ready-set-up Egg Bag on the side every time I do that trick - but that is because I do it with a fragile blown egg, and I need to know I can reach for a new prop any time I like. There is also a spare of every trick I use in the show in a flight-case specially set aside for the purpose. My Stage Manager looks after it, and can come up with the right new prop at a moment's notice.

Nothing utterly disastrous has so far happened in theatre show. I think the worst experience I've ever had was on a live TV about twelve years ago, when I performed my 4 pint Hydrostatic Glass over a TV presenter's head. The whole thing went wrong (I still don't know why) and he got absolutely drenched. Not only that, we were at the beginning of a chat show, and the foam-filled sofa got utterly waterlogged. Every guest for the hour after me was sitting in a quagmire.

There really is nothing you can do to save that situation, except to say, "Does anybody want to buy a trick?"

You ask if a magician can over-plan, or over-rehearse. Over-rehearse, definitely. Rehearsal can only take you so far, and after that you need to need to get out there and learn your craft with real people in real situations. Over-plan? I'm not sure ... I think planning is a very useful thing to learn. If you have a plan for when things might go wrong, it's common sense that you'll handle it better when they do. But like everything, it's possible to take it all to far. Spontaneity is a vital ingredient in every good magician's work, and we must never compromise that.

Geoffrey

Aged Magician: Many of the people who watched the TV presenter get soaked were convinced that that was part of the effect!!

dk_the_magician: Thank you Mr Durham, some great advice.

Darren




Huw Collingbourne: I just received an email from Dover books to say that they have now reprinted Scarne's Magic Tricks:

http://www.doverpublications.com/mg0703/

The publishers add: "We're always interested in publishing more books about magic" and to that end, they want suggestions for other out of print titles.

Dover, of course, already publishes many classics including The Royal Road To Card Magic, Bobo's Modern Coin Magic and Annemann's Practical Mental Magic. Over the past few days you have recommended a few out of print books. If you were Dover's commissioning editor, which titles would you want them to reprint?

Best wishes

Huw

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Huw

Well I have no idea who owns the copyright on this stuff, and I'm not sure I'd want all of it in regular bookshops, but here is a small selection out of the top of my head:

MY BEST J.G. Thompson Jnr (a delightful book consisting of the best tricks of the leading magicians of the day - round about 1945, I would guess).

MARVELS OF MYSTERY John Booth (an excellent volume of cabaret magic by the then unbelievably young and precocious magician.)

PROFESSIONAL PRESENTATIONS Al Koran (His first book, and probably his best.)

AL KORAN'S LEGACY Hugh Miller (a lovely book of Koran material published after his death.)

THE FINE ART OF MAGIC George Kaplan (The best-kept secret in all magic - a fantastic book. Vernon's thinking before Vernon was published.)

OKITO ON MAGIC Theo Bamberg (An excellent book by one of the great old-time masters.)

LESSONS IN CONJURING David Devant (The title says it all.)

HARBINCADABRA Robert Harbin (All Harbin's articles for Abra written from the early 50's onwards. A goldmine.)

ROUTINED MANIPULATION Lewis Ganson - 3 volumes (Another goldmine - the best stand-up and close-up tricks of the day (1960s?) written up with a brilliant attention to detail.)

And finally

THE MAGICIAN'S OWN BOOK W.H. Cremer (Written around 1865 at a guess - a wonderful, hilarious volume of stuff good, bad and indifferent. "To Make Boiled Crabs Walk Out of a Dish". "To Blow Off Your Hat". "To Hold Up a Pail of Water on Two Knives Thrust into a Melon". It's a treat - and I'm actually doing a trick from it on TV quite soon!)

I hope you get something from this. I'm sure there are lots more I could have chosen.

Geoffrey




Graham: Mr Durham,

It takes very little imagination to realise that you spend a lot of time researching effects in order to constantly feed your TV requirements. What is the average time-scale from effect location to finished performance?

kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

Well the times vary, of course. But generally speaking I think I do spend longer than some magicians researching and sorting out an effect.

For television, I have a notice board by my desk, and when I have an idea, or I see a prop advertised or (more usually) when I decide to try and put together one of the classics, I write it on a piece of paper and add it to the rest. When the job comes in, I sort through the pieces of paper and decide on a course of action. Countdown is slightly different in that I do six shows in one day, and that means six new tricks, and I need to keep them varied. So I usually have the Countdown tricks planned a fair way ahead of actually being booked for the show.

Given that I know what I'm getting together, I research and try props out, and I often find myself in a permanent state of daydream. I sometimes sleep with the prop by my bed. I always have it on my desk. And slowly ideas start to come. A TV trick is normally about two or three weeks from start to finish.

But the point of TV is that it is completely ephemeral - I do the trick once and I will never do it again. So it doesn't actually make emotional or economic sense to spend months getting the trick right only to put it in the bin. Getting a cabaret or stage trick together is a completely different ball game , because they are my life's work, and those tricks take AGES.

If I am to do a thing every night of my working life, I need it to be right, because I need it to please me in some way. That doesn't apply to a TV trick.

So for the stage tricks, it really can be a huge operation. There are exceptions: my Rubik Cube routine took about two days; my Spirit Paintings was less than a week. But the average is months, sometimes it can be years.

An extreme example was my Himber Ring routine, which I started working on in about 1979. I tried routines based on the work of Billy McComb and Ken de Courcy, and they just weren't for me. It's a trick that needs to have a lot of your own heart and soul in it, and they just weren't there. By about 1982, I was ready to go with another routine I was proud of, but something stopped me. I put it away, and in 1984, I started working on it again.

Well, it was 1990 when that routine finally saw the light of day. The great impetus had been designing my own Himber Ring, and having it made up by a jeweller. I loved that ring! The trick went well, and I did it quite happily for about a year, and then I started to have little niggles about it. There were things I just didn't like. There was a switch that was technically difficult to do, and happened when the props were "hot" - i.e. when the audience was actually staring at them. It began to make me a bit edgy.

It was my friend Roy Johnson who pushed me into making the change. He saw a show I did in about 1998, and said that he got a feeling as I was doing the trick that perhaps I wasn't happy with it. I realised he was right. We started working together on it, I changed the premise of the trick completely, and ended up in 2000 with something I have not seen fit to change at all since. Not one iota.

So that was 21 years!

I put the old Hindu Sands into the show in January of this year. I've done it differently every time, and so far used eight different pots! I recently bought an antique pot which I have a feeling may be the right one, and it is being doctored by my prop maker now... so fingers crossed it's not another 21 years!

Geoffrey




Sean: Hi Geoffrey

I know you do quite a bit of TV. My question is, if you had your own, maybe weekly TV show, and had 30 minutes to do whatever you wanted in whatever format you wanted, what would you do?

Which format would you like your show to take? Would you just show off effects, or would you do more interactive kind of magic which people could sort of work along with? What kind of things would you include?

Thanks

Sean

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Sean

I'd love to answer this more fully than I'm able to. Unfortunately any ideas for new shows that I post here might not turn out to be my ideas for long!

I've made pilots for TV shows on numerous occasions, and often been close to hosting my own show. It probably sounds dumb but I am actually fairly pleased that it has been that way - my work tends to be shown off best on shows in which people aren't necessarily expecting a magician.

Having said that, I can say that TV is crying out for shows in which hosts and stars behave generously towards up-and-coming talent, and in which the top of the bill shares the honours with a team of clever people.

And television needs a magic show (compare with early David Blaine, but not his style) in which the spectator and his/her response to the trick is properly exploited and featured. I really am sick of magicians looking winningly at the camera ("Now aren't I clever?") while the poor benighted spectator is left standing there like a lemon.

So I think I would like more reality in magic shows (as opposed to pseudo-reality), more generosity in the stars, and, in answer to your question, swifter and more interactive magic items.

Geoffrey




John Mcdonald: Mr. Durham,

Will you be attending, performing, lecturing at any future conventions?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi John

No conventions coming up that I know of, though I am in discussion with a couple of organising committees.

Watch this space!

Geoffrey

John Mcdonald: Would love to see you at a convention. I have really enjoyed reading all your replies this week.

Geoffrey Durham: Thank you, John. If I do one in the near future, do say hello.

Geoffrey




Chabang: You have briefly touched on your future plans in answer to other topics - so my question is rather obvious....

What have you got planned for the future; is there a master plan you're working to, perhaps a burning ambition to drop magic and become a TV chef

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Tom

No plans to be a TV chef! No concrete plans of any kind, in fact.

As I think I've said elsewhere, I'm not an ambitious person. I'm at present going flat out to get the theatre bookings for next year, and then I plan to take 2005 off doing other things. I hope to do some travelling. I've been working very hard lately.

I'm also intending to sell a lot of magical stuff during the next 18 months. I have a lot of books (many I have are duplicates of each other) and a great number of tricks, and I intending making some space by letting some of them go.

I'm always talking to TV companies about ideas for the future, and there are a few of those chats happening at the moment. There's a possibility of a game show, which I'd love to host if it came up.

But my main task is being a decent father to my kids, and I'm taking them off to the sun in as couple of weeks, and I can't wait!

Geoffrey




Unklepaul: Hello Geoffrey,

I wonder if you could advise on how one can obtain performance videos of classic acts by magicians such as yourself, Paul Daniels, Dai Vernon, Ali Bongo etc?
I am currently performing a children’s act, and it is my hope to be able to expand my current repertoire and introduce classic magic such as the zombie, linking rings, multiplying bottles etc...the sort of magic that I grew up on, but is sadly lacking in today’s magic scene.

I can obtain the tricks, and there are books available, but it’s by watching other performers doing their acts that I feel I would be able to see the potential of such material and develop myself.

There are countless instructional dads/videos (though few if any cover traditional stage magic), but I’m after classic performances for pleasure and inspiration.
Have you any ideas?

Thank you for taking time to read this, I hope you may be able to advise.

All the very best

unklepaul

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Unklepaul

Yes, you're right. The dealers do less and less to serve the stage magician, and it can be quite alarming to discover just what isn't available any more.

When I was advising the Tommy Cooper play in the West End of London, I was astonished to discover that it was completely impossible to duplicate the set of Multiplying Bottles that Tommy Cooper used. Unbelievable.

As for DVD and video, you might do well to study the video/DVD catalogue currently put by Stevens Magic Emporium. They are currently selling a lot of fascinating archive material from magicians now long dead. (I'm actually thinking myself of buying a DVD of theirs, which features my beloved Roy Benson!) So you may well discover what you need with them.

Books are really the answer, though. It's all there - the methods and routines of people who really knew what they were talking about. And there's so much more available in books than was ever recorded by anybody, let alone Stevens! And by reading it in a book, you are perhaps more likely to put your own stamp on it, and perhaps less likely to copy something accidentally.

Good luck with your search, though. It's wonderful to hear that somebody is interested in performing the classics. After all, they didn't become the classics for no reason...

Geoffrey

Unklepaul: Many thanks for that Geoffrey,
I shall have a look at Stevens Magic Emporium it sounds just the lead I need.
Thank you for taking the time to reply, it is greatly appreciated.
all the very best

UnklePaul

nippy99: If anyone is looking for the link it is at....

http://stevensmagic.com/




Lukeroberts: When I saw your 'Little Miracles' show, one of the aspects I was most impressed with was the patter and stories, which went with your effects. I have personally had a lot of trouble building patter round effects.
One example of a great chat of yours was the silk to cane, when you told us about the magician you saw when you were younger (..and he did something incredible..!).
I would just like some advice; do you build your patter round the effects, or do you start with a story and build an effect round that?
Luke.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Luke

Well, in direct answer to your question, I always build the patter round the effect, rather than the other way round. The reverse way is actually done when I advise on plays and shows - then I'm working a trick into an already existing script. But it's not that way in my own work.

So for my own purposes, the trick always comes first. Then I decide what I can do to make it entertaining. And then (crucial, this) if I can't find the right talk to make it entertaining, I cut it. Always. I have to be ruthless about things like that.

When I started I found patter books helpful. That is a very uncool thing to say - I know a lot of magicians who despise patter books and who are immensely proud of their ability to turn anything into magical gold. Well, good luck to them. I found patter books helpful. There were two somewhat old-fashioned books by Sid Lorraine (they were old-fashioned even then!) called Patter and More Patter which I considered to be little goldmines - I'm not sure if I'd like them now - and which provided whole scripts for existing tricks. I didn't do the same tricks, but I allowed the scripts to inspire me. I stole lines from them and worked them into my stuff, and it worked. I still use one of the lines to this day (and I'm not telling you what it is!)

So these days I do it in more or less the same way, but without the patter books - though I'm still not averse to using them if I'm in a fix. Every time I think of a good line, I write it in a book. (I find I think of most of my lines in the shower.) And when I come to rehearse something new, I look through the book. And sometimes there's something there to kick me off.

I do the trick for myself, talking to the wall, and try and discern the right rhythm. I put in the line or lines that I want to, and see how they work. They will probably add a rhythm of their own, and that rhythm might be right and it might be wrong. I improvise, still talking to the wall. Ideas may start to come, and when I say something I like I write it down. Sometimes, the pattern of the trick may change as a result of this.

After two or three hours, something may have come out of it to the extent that I have a tentative script. When that happens, I sort of half learn it, and try the thing out on an intelligent friend. That changes everything, because the friend will change the rhythm of the thing simply by being there.

And so it grows. I give myself a deadline, and the time comes when I perform the thing for real people for the first time. I always know as soon as I do that whether to pursue a particular piece of material or not. 15% of my stuff is thrown out at this stage.

But assuming I'm lucky, and it's part of the 85% that stays, I then continue to change it until it's right.

It's strange, but I've noticed that it takes me just about exactly 50 public performances every time, whatever the trick. When I've done a thing 35 times, I start to relax with it, and then after 50 shows, it is set and fixed and I know what I'm doing.

And at that stage, I type out the patter exactly, word for word, and file it on my computer.

If people have never seen me work, they'll probably think that that sounds very rigid and script-bound. Well, I hope that isn't the case. Patter should never sound like patter. It should have the rhythms of everyday speech, and should be indistinguishable from it. It should just flow. My point is that 99% of the time, that takes a lot of work.

The thing I've left out, of course, is timing. You can't teach timing, and God knows you can't write about it. The little trick you mentioned, the Silk to Cane got into my one-man show more or less by accident (it's not normally my kind of trick) and only works because the audience is surprised. I say "and then something quite extraordinary happened". But cane appears during the word happened, not after it. I have made it very casual. And that's why it works, and that's why you remember it.

Good luck with creating your patter. And do remember that it will take much longer work out what you say than it ever did to get the trick right in the first place.

Geoffrey




Daleshrimpton: If I may say so, I think that the perfect example of how you fit words to actions, is your multiplying billiard ball opening.

We are of ,a similar build, and I would never thought of doing the fancy stuff , because my teacher and mentor, Laurie Gleeson , hammered home the silly notion that you have to look right physically to be able to perform manipulations. Whilst this point is true, it’s not a hard and fast rule, as you prove.

Dale

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Dale

Well yes, I agree with you. You don't need to look right to perform any particular trick, you just need to be entertaining.

I decided to do the Billiard Balls because it suddenly began to fascinate me, and I knew I couldn't be entertaining with it if I didn't speak. So that was it, really. Took me a long time, though!

Try it, you might like it.

Geoffrey




Daleshrimpton: It get its easier than you think off the shelf once a month, read it, laugh, put the balls away, and slope off to the pub.

Are your Billiard balls solid by the way?
I was told that this is the only way to learn it properly.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Dale

I devised my own routine, based on ideas from all over the place.

Roy Benson said that you should use the largest balls your hands can possibly take (I use solid 2 1/4" Fakini balls) and use your right hand as a "stand" for the balls - producing them from the air with the left, and depositing them in the right (stealing another as you do so). I discovered that this is right for me. It also gets rid of that very common and awful (I think) move whereby the ball is rolled out into the adjacent fingers and apparently appears from nowhere. It just looks like you're using fake
balls to me.

Geoffrey

Daleshrimpton: I use real billiard balls for the odd bits I do with billiard balls.
the weight helps get the things where I want them. Plus if you drop one, it makes the noise that the audience is expecting. A really loud bang. not a tiny thud.




YinHoNg: It wasn't until recently, when I started watching and learning Sam the Bellhop, that I realised just how important the DELIEVERY of patter was. I'm not the most fluent of speakers and do not have that natural flair in telling stories or getting messages across clearly.

What advice can u give on making patter better?

Geoffrey Durham: Hi YinHoNg

Well, I haven't met you or seen your work, so it's well nigh impossible to give you advice, I'm afraid.

The delivery of your chat is absolutely vital. It can be the best, funniest stuff in the world, but if you can't deliver it, it's utterly useless. That's why I talked about timing in the other thread on patter.

What you are doing is expressing your personality. Express it any way you like. Nobody is making you be a patter magician - combine it with synchronised swimming or ballet if you want to - but make sure what you say expresses your personality.

It doesn't matter that you don't have a natural flair for this or that - nobody will know if you don't tell them! Express your magic through what you do have a flair for - starting with the real you.

If you put the trick before your personality, you're done for!

Geoffrey




YinHoNg: Thanks for the reply. Although I was looking more for an answer about the texture and timbre of speaking etc.

I realise that empathising my personality is key, and I always try to. But if you are telling a story, you are telling a story.

I watched Bill Malone and he emphasises words on different parts, and as you have said, he times he words almost to perfection. I love it. It’s almost like symmetry in his speech.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi YinHoNg

I don't mean to be obtuse, but if you are telling a story, it is you who are telling it, and you who matters, and it is pointless telling the story if we don't learn something about you. Otherwise we could employ an actor to tell us the story.

Timbre and texture are vital. What you do as you hit each word, and the ways you emphasise and time the phrases are vital too. I like to hit a medium pitch with my voice, because it helps me express myself.

But that may not be right for you. And I don't want you to be like me. And I don't want you to be like Bill Malone. I really want you to be like you!

Geoffrey




Graham: Mr Durham,

You have stated that you are a Quaker. Do your religious convictions have a bearing on the way that you perform your magic? For instance, Jerry Andrus is unable to miscall a card as it would be a direct lie. Also, Mohammed Ali who loves magic, feels compelled to reveal the method at the end of a trick because of his beliefs (let's hope he doesn't do too much magic then).

I was prompted to ask this as "Try not to lie" was one of the pieces of advice which you gave in a previous posting. This struck a chord with me.

Kind regards,

Graham Nichols.

Geoffrey Durham: Hi Graham

I didn't know that about Jerry Andrus. I'd have liked to ask him about it when I met him a few years ago.

And, no, I wouldn't miscall a card for exactly the same reason. But I adore watching magicians who do (Juan Tamariz is an example) and I don't have a problem with it in principle at all.

It's just that I prefer not to do it.

It is so much easier and neater and straighter and better for me to say "Have a look in that envelope" and show it apparently empty, than to and say "And there's nothing in the envelope" and tell a lie. The two are basically the same thing, and one could be accurately be described as a visual lie - I understand all that. It's just that I prefer to do one than the other.

It's a little difficult to know which comes first with Quakerism. Quakers don't have a creed, and we think that people can only believe what they have experienced, so there isn't a great authority forbidding me to do anything whatsoever. But it probably is true than I like to keep things simple (and so do Quakers) and I have a problem with lying (and so do Quakers) and I generally don't like glitzy, empty showbizzy things (and nor do Quakers). So which came first? I don't really know.

The reason I said in that last reply that I think it's good advice to try not to lie, is simply that I think magicians do themselves no favours by trying to look slick when they're not. It's a problem a lot of us have, because we are basically shy. Better to be yourself.

Geoffrey

Graham: Great advice for life, as well as magic. Many thanks!

Kind regards,

Graham




Chabang: Geoff's time here on the board has drawn to an end and so on behalf of everyone her at Magic Bunny I want to extend our thanks and gratitude for being our special guest for the week and answering the many varied questions in such an insightful and inspiring way.

You can catch Geoff in his popular one-man show at a theatre near you (check magicweek.co.uk for dates), in his regular guest slot on Countdown and even on C4 Schools programs helping inspire a new generation to read, write and do a little magic.

Geoffrey Durham: Thank you all for a lovely week. I've really enjoyed it, and I'll definitely be looking in from time to time.

Good luck to you all in all you do.

Geoffrey

Sean: Thanks again Geoffrey

MagicSamX: Thank you Mr Durham. It was an honour to have you here.

Admin: Your replies have been so comprehensive and thought provoking. It has been an honour to have a man of your calibre on these boards.

Thank you so very much.

Sasha: Thank you again, Geoffrey, for your time and your words of wisdom.

Best wishes,
Monte




Admin: This has been a most incredible week for Magic Bunny.

Over the past few days I have received numerous messages from a large number of different members, each saying how impressed they are with the quality of replies that have been submitted. I must agree that I have been thoroughly impressed by each and every piece of input from Geoffrey; this gentleman is indeed a gold mine of top-quality experience and excellent professional advice.

I'd like to take this opportunity to offer a public vote of thanks for the huge amount of time and quality of input that Geoffrey has made to this forum. I have learnt so much and I am sure that I speak for our other members in saying that these threads have proven to be a superb source of information on every aspect of the art of magic.

I just wanted to remind our members that the week is drawing to a close and there will be just one final day to submit any last questions in this forum.

MagicSamX: I would just like to say thank you very much to Mr Durham for taking time from his busy schedule to speak with us. Much appreciated. Thank you very much.

Huw Collingbourne: I must say that I have been enormously impressed by Geoffrey's breadth of knowledge, the quality of his advice and his great generosity in sharing so much with us. I've bought books (far too many) that have taught me less of real value than I've learnt from Geoffrey's replies in this forum.

Many, many thanks, sir.

best wishes

Huw

Graham: Ever the gentleman, Mr Durham's answers have imparted a wealth of gold nuggets for me to chew on. I am extremely grateful to him for taking the time to listen and help. I think that the viewing stats bear out the fact that, although gone, the Great Soprendo was a creation very much enjoyed by all. His creator even more so.

Thank you!

Andy D: From one Mr.D to another, I would like to echo my fellow members adulation’s for your wealth of input. icon_biggrin.gif

Timnicebutdim: It's great to see Geoffrey on this board, answering questions in lots of depth and detail - a big thanks to him! I hope you realise I’m having to sit through Countdown each day for Geoffrey’s trick




nippy99: Mr Durham,

May I express my gratitude for your time and effort in sharing your thoughts with us and for taking so much time to answer all our questions at great length.

I wish you all the success in the future and hope you will join us again one day.

Piff Paff Poof !

Best Wishes

Darren

Unklepaul: I would also like to thank Geoffrey for some wonderful replies and thoughtful advice.
I haven’t posted a question but have read every thread and been impressed by the wisdom and friendliness of the replies Mr Durham has posted.
A true gentleman, a fine magician and excellent teacher -what a combination!
Thank you sir!

All the best

unklepaul

Road Mage: May I also add my sincere thanks for such an array of fantastic responses.
It's been a true honour!

Owen

Sean: I'd also like to offer a warm thanks to Geoffrey. The sheer depth of his answers has been astounding and the advice he has given has been truly amazing. Thank you Geoffrey!

Lady of the Rings: Thank you very much for being a special guest for us. Somebody said that they have learnt more on this forum, this week, then they have done on all the other forums put together since they have been here.

I have to say, I agree. I am an aspiring stage magician and your replies have given me a great insight into the kind of things I should be doing.

Thank you for taking the time to give us such well thought out and informative posts.




Geoffrey Durham: Thank you all very much. It's been a pleasure.

Don't stop the posts coming - I'll be very happy to continue through today and Friday, if you would like me to. After that, I'm off doing other things!

Geoffrey

Sean: I'd like to offer another warm thank you to Geoffrey for taking a full week of his time to come here an offer our questions. He has put great effort into them and I for one have read every single one.

Geoffrey has to go for the weekend now and is a very busy man, so no more questions please. I want to leave the forum open for a while so people can add their thanks for Geoffrey, but he will be unable to answer anymore questions.

Thank you Geoffrey

Daleshrimpton: I would like to add my personal thanks to Geoffrey,

It’s great to have had such an all rounder on the forums, who is willing to share some of his experiences and thoughts.

Hopefully He will pop in now and again?

It would be nice to chat some more.

Dale

Sasha: Thanks a lot to Geoffrey and to all of you at MagicBunny who participated and made all that possible. It's been a real pleasure and very useful reading it.

Thanks,

Monte

Gary Scott: This has been an invigorating insight into the world of Geoffrey Durham and his magic. Thank you for giving so much quality input into these forums. I hope you do return once in a while a spread your knowledge throughout the boards.

If I am the Very last thank you...let me leave you with those immortal words.....

" Craaaaaacckkeeeeeerrrrjaaaaaaaaaccccckkkk!!"

Best wishes
Gary Scott





 

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