Tuesday, July 05, 2016


In one of Al Koran’s publicity flyers it is claimed: ‘So great are these powers that Koran was invited to discuss and demonstrate them on Television’s famous programme, Panorama.’ He does not say how that turned out and perhaps with good reason.

But Gus Southall, writing in his A Watching Brief column (The Budget, Feb 1958) did give a very interesting account of what happened. Panorama is one of the BBC’s longest current affairs series. In 1958 it was presented by Richard Dimbleby, the father of David Dimbleby the presenter who later, in 1973, introduced Uri Geller to the world on his own BBC TV show. Richard Dimbleby became one of the BBC’s most noted presenters. He was not unacquainted with the magic world, having played host to other magic acts on TV and been a guest and speaker at The Magic Circle Banquet in 1954. This particular edition of Panorama seems to have been a serious investigation into the nature of Extra Sensory Perception. The person chosen to demonstrate this power was none other than Al Koran. I’ll let Gus Southall continue the story as he switches on his TV to join the show partway through the broadcast.

We switched on in time to witness Al undergoing an ordeal. (and we mean ordeal) which turned out to be a challenge by a Mr. X to test Al’s powers of E.S.P. We can only surmise that Al had been inveigled into this or that something went wrong. 
Both participants, seated at tables, were divided by a curtain. A pack of cards provided by the B.B.C. was introduced and it was stated that these had been in the possession of Richard Dimbleby most of the day. Under these stringent conditions Mr. X at Al’s request shuffled the pack and dealt five cards face up on the table and selected one of the cards. To put it briefly this procedure was complete three times without a definite success from Al.
Then followed a test with a blackboard divided into four parts. Again at Al’s request Mr. X filled these with four designs chosen by Al. Two of those were decided upon by Mr. X and numbered. Al then correctly named the first one but failed on the second one. Throughout the tests Al received no help whatsoever from Mr. X who ignored all of Al’s probing statements. This became clear at the finish when Mr X was revealed as  a Mr. West of the Psychical Research Society. Richard Dimbleby volunteered the fact that at a rehearsal in the afternoon Al had been correct twice in three attempts with similar tests. On being asked if he would submit to further tests in the future, Al readily agreed.
We hope not as there is so little to be gained and so much to lose.

Donald. J. West was the Research Officer of the Society for Psychical Research. He was a professional criminologist and the author of several books on parapsychology. In 1963 he became the society’s President . He had been interested in E.S.P. experiments since at least 1946 and had written papers on the telepathy and the mediumship of Helen Duncan. Incidentally in one of Koran’s pieces of publicity (Register Republic flyer 1971) he claimed to the be son of Helen Duncan.

West had also conducted experiments in Card Guessing with only chance results, something that went against the grain of his contemporaries who at that time placed a great deal of hope that card guessing experiments would lead to proof of ESP. Donald West was assisted in that work by Denys Parsons who would later, in the 1970s, join the New Scientist panel to investigate the Geller phenomena. West was a serious researcher who was sceptical of demonstrations of ESP. West's thorough attitude put him in a good position to test Al Koran. 

It is fascinating to speculate how Koran planned to achieve his effects given the conditions he would face along with the possibility of a very public failure. It’s hard to make an assessment on the card guessing test but as regards the blackboard experiment maybe a glance at Part Two of Corinda’s Thirteen Steps to Mentalism would provide a clue, especially Part Three of that volume. Interestingly, it was published the same year as the broadcast.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Monte Mystery

The line of thought here began when I heard an interview with Cy Endfield in the Patrick Page Audio Archive. He was talking, in a vague and perhaps deliberately ambiguous way, about Bob Hummer’s Mathematical 3 Card Monte which was marketed in 1951 as a manuscript. There have been many adaptations over the years perhaps the best known being Al Koran’s. Koran turned a trick with three playing cards into a trick with a note under one of three cups. It’s worth seeking out if you don’t already know it.

Cy Endfield’s interview led me to think again of what might be done with some of the ideas in the original Bob Hummer trick. For example, you could try this:

Have someone cut the deck into three packets. You turn your back. They look at the bottom card of one of the packets and then replace it on the table. They then switch the positions of the other two packets so you can’t know which packet was chosen. You are now able to turn around and point to the packet containing their card.

This is not a major mental mystery but it’d be easy to make it a little more involved by adding additional switching moves as per the original Hummer trick. The Hummer trick works by knowing the position of one of the three cards being shuffled around. When the performer turns back to face the spectator he notes the new position of the memorised card and is now able to deduce which of the three cards was chosen.

But in the version I’ve just suggested the performer doesn’t see any of the cards. However, he does see the three packets. And all you have to do is memorise the position of either the largest or smallest of the packets. Doesn’t matter which as long as that one packet is easily distinguished from the rest. It’s unlikely the spectator will cut three perfectly even packets so you have a very good chance of making one of them your key.

Let’s say the middle packet is your key. The position it finishes in after the spectator has swapped the other two packets will tell you the location of the noted card. For example. If the key is in the same position, then it means the selected card is on the bottom of that packet. If the packet is on the left, then it means the selected card is on the right. If the packet is on the right, then the selection is on the left. It’s simple logic and, as I say, you can add some extra swap moves that you either track (as per the Hummer original) or simply bring the three packets back to their original position without the spectator realising it. I’ll leave that to you.

The idea of using packets of cards as opposed to single cards made me think there were additional effects to be had. A spectator could look at a card in one of the packets, assemble the packets and then you might be able to reveal not only the name of the card but its position in the deck. That would be something worth working on. I was discussing this with Shiv Duggal when a simple solution came to mind. And you might just get away with it as a magician-fooler in your next card session. Here it is:

EFFECT: The magician shuffles the deck and places it on the table in front of the spectator. He asks the spectator to give the deck several cuts. The magician then turns away and asks the spectator to cut the deck into three packets. He does.

The spectator is asked to choose one of the packets and look at the top card. He memorises the card and then buries it in the packet. To make sure the magician can’t possibly know which packet has been moved the spectator is asked to swap the other two packets with each other.  Then he asks the spectator if he still knows which packet contains his card. He does. ‘Good. Now I want you to swap that packet with one of the others.’ The spectator does this too. ‘Do you still know which packet contains your card?’ The spectator says he does. The performer cautions the spectator to keep a poker face for the rest of the trick. And then the performer turns around.

The performer slowly moves his hand above the three packets. ‘There are three packets and I can tell you three things about your card. First, it’s in this packet. Am I right?’ The performer touches one of the packets. The spectator acknowledges that the performer is correct.

I can also tell you that your card is….the Ten of Spades. Am I right?’ Again, the performer is absolutely right.

‘And finally, I can tell you that it’s…. eight cards down in the packet. Am I right?” The spectator says he has no idea. So the performer begins counting cards from the top of the packet to the table. And sure enough the Ten of Spades is the eighth card down.

METHOD: Here’s the disappointing bit. You use a Svengali deck. I love Svengali decks. You can riffle shuffle them without spoiling the set up. You can also overhand shuffle them, faces towards the spectators, and they will be absolutely convinced that it’s an ordinary deck. This is a technique worth knowing. You simply spring packets off from the right hand thumb and fingers into the left during the shuffle. The overhand shuffle is actually a series of very convincing cuts. It’s a technique that has mostly been forgotten by magicians.

When you put the deck face-down on the table, you show the spectator how to cut it and complete the cut. Fingers and thumb at the short ends of the deck so they will always cut a short card to the top, of course. Basically you are training him to do the next cutting phase which will happen when your back is turned. Have him cut the deck several times ostensibly to mix the cards. Then turn away from him.

Ask the spectator to cut the deck into three packets. This will put your force card, Ten of Spades in our example, on top of each packet. The spectator chooses a packet, looks at the top card and then slides the card into the middle of the packet.

Have him swap the other two packets. This is just a red herring to have your brother magicians thinking about the Hummer trick. It’ll help take them away from the idea that a Svengali deck is used. Then ask him to swap his chosen packet with one of the other packets. This should convince him that you have no idea which packet he chose.

Turn back to the spectator and, as casually as you can, look at the three packets on the table. Two will have short cards on top. One will have a long card. If you have to, square the packets but it’s generally obvious which cards are long and short. Point to the packet with the long card. That’s the chosen packet.

You can also reveal the name of the chosen card because that’s your force card. Ask the question about how many cards down in the deck he placed his card. He will have no idea but it’s probably around the middle. Look at the packet and name any even number that is just above what you estimate to be the middle of the packet. The force cards in that packet are at even numbers.

Count down to the even number and you should find that it is the selection. You’ll know that before you turn it over because, once again, you can see which cards are long and which are short. However, there is the possibility that the spectator placed his card above the number you are counting to. Again, you will know this either during the deal or by the time you get to the number. At that point you repeat your claim, ‘The ten of spades is eight cards down in the deck,’ but lay a slightly different stress on the words. Count off the even number and then point to the next card purposefully before holding it away from the deck and then turning it over. That’s all there is to it. Could be a sneaky little item in the right hands. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, the plot might lead to other non-Svengali manifestations of the trick.

When I told Shiv Duggal about this idea and he pointed me in the direction of a lovely trick from Joshua Jay. In the advertising it specifically says that it doesn’t use a Svengali. So not the same method at all. It is a really wonderful piece of impromptu magic. It’s called Impossible Three and is well worth noting. You watch the performance and buy the trick here.

Friday, June 10, 2016


There has been some discussion among magicians recently about the similarities in performance between the new winner of Britain’s Got Talent, Richard Jones, and previous contestants in America’s Got Talent. One of the effects in question concerns the cutting of a celebrity silhouette from a piece of paper.

The trick was marketed by Oz Pearlman, one of the AGT contestants, as 21st Century Phantom in 2008. Credit was given to Annemann and Percy Naldrett for the original effect. A review by W. S. Duncan in M-U-M magazine said, ‘While it would be easy to accuse Mr Pearlman of grave robbing in his production of this effect, I think a more honest assessment would call it resurrecting.’ The trick was a close-up version of The Phantom Artist published by Annemann in The Jinx (Summer 1937 Extra) and later in Annemann’s Practical Mental Effects  (1944). And in fact it was Annemann who was doing the resurrecting, pointing out that the trick had previously been published by Percy Naldrett as The Celebrity Trick. Which actually wasn't quite true.

The trick was the work of H C Mole, a magician from Aintree in Liverpool with several books to his name. Like Richard Jones he also had a connection to the military in that he organised hundreds of shows for troops in the Boehr War (Mole was born in the 1870s) as well as the first and second World Wars. He wrote about this aspect of his work in magic articles and pamphlets. But he also had another skill and one that might show why he came up with an effect in which a portrait was cut into a sheet of paper. He was a pioneer in the performance of rag pictures.

In this curious art the performer would create a picture from bits of cloth on an easel. Patter, rhyme and music were added to make it entertaining but perhaps what made it interesting to audiences is that the pictures were astonishingly good. You can get an glimpse of the kind of pictures H C Mole made in Abracadabra magazine (28th February 1948). In an article he wrote entitled Rag Picture Wrinkles there is a photograph of a tourist postcard set alongside a photograph of his wife putting the finishing touches to their rag rendition of the postcard. The similarity is amazing.

H C Mole didn’t read The Jinx. And it wasn’t until he read the Potter’s Bar series in The Budget, in which Jack Potter listed published tricks, that Mole realised his trick had been reprinted by Annemann. Mole wrote an article for Abracadabra magazine (24th June, 1950) entitled Piracy. He complained that Annemann had lifted his copyrighted material, saying, Is it not time, though, that such bare-faced robbery should be stopped, for I am not the only sufferer in this respect?’

H C Mole died in 1952 leaving a legacy of interesting books and articles including Those Entertaining Years (1950, a reminiscence of his magical life. The profits went to Benevolent Funds of the IBM. In one story he recalls his wife’s reaction to the Biblical tale in which Aaron cast down his rod and it became a serpent. This prompted the Egyptian magicians to do the same. ‘It’s funny,’ said Mrs Mole, that they all knew the same conjuring trick!’

There is one more thing to mention about H C Mole and The Celebrity Trick. It was published in 1919 by Percy Naldrett in a book called The Magic of To-Morrow. Meaning that the trick that helped Richard Jones win Britain’s Got Talent was almost 100 years old. How very prescient of Mr Mole.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


I don’t know much about The Great Marlo other than he worked as a mind reader with his adopted daughter Georgina (sometimes referred to as Georgette). Oh, and that he was the informant for journalist Leslie Helliwell when it came to the attempted but unsuccessful exposure of The Piddingtons. David Marlo seemed a performer of rare ambition if the following is anything to go by. It’s a piece written by Norman Rashleigh in his column In The News published in The Budget magazine.

Told with sly humour this brief but enlightening article is from the September 1953 issue. If you want to see The Great David Marlo in action you can go straight to the British Pathe website and watch the buried telepathy stunt that Norman Rashleigh refers to. You’ll find it here.

Judging by the obsession for big broadcast magic stunts the Great Marlo wasn't so much misguided as merely ahead of his time.

David Marlo has been trying to get into television. His act, with the aid of his eighteen year old daughter is, we are told, 20 per cent mindreading and 80 per cent showmanship. He has performed various spectacular stunts with the idea of catching the BBC’s eye. He buried Georgette seven feet under the ground and let her read his mind from there. The BBC took no notice, but Georgette spent fourteen weeks in hospital. He sent Georgette 2,000 feet up in an aeroplane and she picked up his thoughts. The BBC took no notice. Marlo is working on a new stunt. His daughter will go out to sea in a motor-boat which will be going at a speed over 40 miles an hour and so fast that it will be impossible to signal it. “I shall take up my stand by a pigeon loft and the local dignitary will read out to me from any book a message of between twenty and fifty words. When the boat is two miles out at sea I shall transmit this message to Georgette by mental wave and she will write it down and send it back to the shore by pigeon. If the BBC still take no notice I shall send Georgette up in a helicopter at half-time over a football match. I shall transmit any chosen message to her and she will parachute this message to the ground. If the BBC still take no notice I am teaching my daughter to swim. She will dive into a swimming bath carrying the type of ball-point pen that writes under water, between her teeth. She will stay under water long enough for me to transmit a message and she will write that message down under water.” The reporter says that he hopes the BBC will use Mr. Marlo’s act before he sends Georgette to the moon.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Fans and followers of David Berglas will be pleased to know there is now a website devoted to the life of this legendary performer. It is an ongoing project developed by Professor Richard Wiseman and the University of Hertfordshire. There you will find interviews with David about his early years together with many photographs from his archive. To quote the introduction for the website:

For decades 'International Man of Mystery' David Berglas amazed the world with a series of seemingly impossible stunts. Now in his 90s, David lived through some of the most dramatic and traumatic events of the twentieth century. Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire) recently recorded David describing some of his early experiences, including living in Germany during Hitler's rise to power, attending the 1936 Berlin Olympics and working as a postwar Nazi hunter.

You'll find plenty of interest about the man who has created some of the most impossible effects in magic. Go here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Michael Vine told me about a very interesting trick performed by Ron Wilson, ‘The Uncanny Scot.’ Ron asked Michael to take a deck of cards, hold it under the table and give it a shuffle. With the cards still under the table, Michael then looked at the top card, remembered it, and placed it anywhere in the middle of the deck. Satisfied that there was no way Ron Wilson could know anything about his selection, Michael brought the deck back into view. Ron asked him to take out one of the Queens from the deck and hand it to him. Ron put the Queen to his ear as if the card was whispering to him. He listened. And then announced the name of Michael’s card. Ron had never touched the deck. It was completely baffling.

Michael thought about the trick and did a little research. When he next saw Ron he said, ‘Annemann’s $1,000 Test Card Location.’ And Ron smiled. 

Annemann published the $1,000 Test Card Location in his booklet SH-H-H—It’s a Secret in early 1934. It was a good enough trick to headline the advert for the book. He said it was based on a principle he read ‘in one of Ellis Stanyon’s magazines back around 1907.’ I can’t find anything for that date but did find mention of the principle in the July 1913 issue of Stanyon’s Magic magazine. Stanyon was writing about stacked decks and how they could be given an Overhand Shuffle by the spectator and yet still be useful to the magician:

It amounts to this: As a last resource you allow the pack to be shuffled and take the chance of having a card selected from a portion of the pack where the shuffle has not separated it from its adjoining cue card.

He went on to say:

In support of all this I have shuffled the pack no less than six times, purposely dropping half the cards on one occasion, and even then failed once only (in six times) to name the card. Even after more and repeated shuffles, I find that I can, as often as not, name the drawn card. This fact in respect to the genuine shuffle of an arranged pack, is one of the prettiest things in conjuring I have ever discovered - it’s the hitherto considered impossible achieved absolutely.

Annemann used this principle in his $1,000 Test Card Location. The deck is stacked in Eight Kings or Si Stebbins order. He handed the deck to the spectator and asked him to shuffle them. He hurried the spectator along by saying, ‘Ready?’ and then asked them to cut the deck once and complete the cut. Then look at and remember the top card and then bury it in the centre of the deck. 

The shuffle doesn’t entirely mix the cards. It breaks the deck up into chunks. The final cut is likely to be in the middle of one of those chunks. Annemann took the deck back, glimpsed the face card and used it to deduce the name of the card that was once on top of the deck.

Annemannn didn’t say much about the presentation of the trick. He just took the deck back and named the card. That’s where Ron Wilson comes in. Ron had been performing The Whispering Queen routine since at least 1956 because there’s a reference in the May 1956 issue of The Linking Ring to him performing it at Ring 116 in Windsor Canada. It was a favourite trick and he explained it in full in the January 1971 issue of Genii magazine. The effect is as follows:

Spectator is asked to take a deck of cards into the next room out of sight of the performer. He is told to shuffle and cut the deck, place a card in one of his pockets without looking at it, and return to the performer who simply asks the spectator to give him one of the ‘Queens’ from the deck. Putting the queen to his ear, performer then tells the spectator the name of the card in his pocket.

Of course to take a Queen from the deck the spectator needs to turn the cards face-up. That’s when you glimpse the face card of the deck and use it to deduce the identity of the selection. Ron Wilson said the trick was ‘an adaptation of an Annemann idea.’ He also mentions that it’s a good idea to perform the trick at the table and have a spectator shuffle the deck beneath the table. The reason being that he’s unlikely to use a riffle shuffle in these circumstances. And shuffling under a table helps ensure that the shuffle won’t be a thorough one. This is the version that Michael Vine saw Ron Wilson perform. 

Annemann and Frank Lane had a bit of a spat over the principle used in the $1,000 Test Card Location mainly because Frank not only used the principle himself but because he alleged Annemann hadn't given proper credit to Stanyon. The dispute seemed to arise because after Annemann's publication Frank Lane published his own trick using the Stanyon idea. See his Three Pellet Card Trick described in A Real Magic Show (1935). Frank Lane said Stanyon had published the principle in 1901. But I haven't found that reference either.

In the Genii magazine Ron Wilson said he'd been performing The Whispering Queen for 25 years which takes it back to the middle of the 1940s. But there’s a curious addition to this story and I found it in the March 1976 issue of The Magigram. There Harry Carnegie described two Billy O’Connor effects and one of them is The Whispering Queen where he wrote, ‘This is really Annemann’s $1,000 Test Card Location, but with the Billy O’Connor touch.’

The presentation and method is similar to Ron Wilson’s.  Someone is sent into a corner of the room with a deck of cards. They shuffle it, cut it and look at the top card. This is placed in the middle of the deck as per the original Annemann trick. They return, give the performer one of the Queens and the Queen whispers into the ear of the performer and reveals the name of the selection. Billy O’Connor showed it to Harry Carnegie in 1938, which is four years after Annemann published SH-H-H—It’s a Secret.

NOTES: I wonder whether there is any advantage is glimpsing the top card of the deck rather than the bottom card. I’m envisaging a situation where the cut isn’t just made in the middle of a chunk of cards but at some natural break. If so, then maybe it’s even better to check the top card. Of course, you could check both.

The inefficiency of a short Overhand Shuffle is very useful when performing Out of this World. The deck is stacked with the two colours separated. The spectator can give the cards an Overhand Shuffle. You take the deck back and pull out two Indicator Cards, one red, one black, which you set on the table. This gives you an opportunity to check the arrangement of the deck. More often than not only the centre cards are mixed. As you pull out two Indicator Cards (which might well be the only two cards out of sequence) you’ll find it a very easy matter to get the deck back into red and black order. Give it a try. As Stanyon pointed out, you’ll be surprised how much shuffling the deck will withstand. In fact even if you, the performer, Overhand Shuffles the deck, there’s no need for a special False Shuffle, the spectators will be convinced the deck has been thoroughly mixed.

There are several papers that analyse the shuffling of playing cards. For example, this one by David Aldous and Persi Diaconis. I haven’t yet found a paper referencing Ellis Stanyon’s discovery so if you do, please let me know.

Finally, you might have noticed that there is a bit of a difference between Annemann's advert describing his $1,000 Test Card Location and the description in SH-H-H—It’s a Secret. I guess that's called dealer hyperbole.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Bartomoleo Bosco is considered one of the very best conjurors of the 19th century. Robert-Houdin and many others praised his sleight of hand skills and his stage show. In 1851 Bosco visited Britain and I found a newspaper article (The Leader, 24th May 1851) that gives an insight into his impromptu work. It’s a repertoire of tricks that would work just as well now as it did then. 

As Eddie Dawes pointed out in A Rich Cabinet of Magical Curiosities (The Magic Circular: Vol 82, No 890) Bosco’s visit to the UK did not work out as planned. 1851 was the year of The Great Exhibition, 140 days of the most magnificent entertainments and industrial spectacle housed in the specially built Crystal Palace in London. Everyone went there. And, it seems, few people went to visit Bosco’s shows. Recognising this was a battle he could not win Bosco placed an advertisement in The Times (11th June 1851) advising that all shows had been discontinued until further notice until ‘the rage for the Exhibition’ had diminished. Still, the newspaper article gives us a glimpse of the great exhibition Bosco was capable of. Note the psychological force.

I have seen some wonderful conjuring in my time, but never anything equal to that of Bosco, whom I met at a small breakfast the other day. ln the first place, the wonder was enhanced by the improvised nature of the materials he used; instead of the conjuror’s apparatus, he took the knives and forks, the cups, the eggs, the bread, and the radishes that came on the breakfast table, and while we sat opposite and beside him, he accomplished his tricks under our very noses. In the next place he had no accomplice, no mechanism. Sleight of hand enabled him to do all but the clairvoyant tricks. He was among strangers, his only friend present being the greatest living violinist. If you imagine the difficulties under which he laboured in being thus deprived of all ordinary means of deceit, you will see at once that Bosco is not of the ordinary race of conjurors. I will relate one or two of his tricks.

He gave our host a cup to hold in which the green end of a radish was placed; this cup had a cover which our host was told to place on the cup, having satisfied himself that the radish was there. Bosco, observe, stood at a distance of two or three yards, and did not touch the cup. When it was covered he asked if the radish were positively in the cup; then—still preserving his distance, he bade us remark a large ring on his finger. No sooner had we done so, than presto! the ring was invisible—the radish was in his hand, and when our host lifted the cover off the cup there was the ring! A burst of astonishment greeted this; and we begged him to repeat it, which he did—this time with a hall instead of a radish.

He then went up to our host's portrait; looked steadily at it for some time, wrote something on a piece of paper, gave the paper folded up to our host, and desired him to put it in his pocket. He then took a pack of cards, requesting our host to tell him when to cease dealing the cards on the table. At the ninth card the word "stop" arrested him. He then bade us read what was written on the paper, and we found, Monsieur will stop me at the ninth card!

Talk of clairvoyance after that. Another sample of thought-reading was given.    He told four of us to think of any number we pleased, but not to name it. 1 thought of seven; my neighbour of ten; the other two of numbers which I forget, but they were not the same as ours. Bosco then took a pack of cards, and made each of us select one, and each selected a card having the number each had chosen!

Many other wonderful tricks he showed us, for some of which we could imagine a process, but these three were completely beyond even the scope of guessing; and we were told by his friend that when he exhibits in public we shall see things still more striking. What, peculiarly delighted us wan the elegance and ease with which the adroitest sleights of hand were accomplished. In that quality he is formidable. At Vienna the waiters in the cafe refused to take his money unless he placed it on the table, for he paid them and whipped the money from their hands without their being aware of it, till they looked and found their hands empty.    I have given this hasty notice of the Chevalier Bosco to direct attention to him when he appears in public. Had he been a Robin or a Houdin. I should not have gone out of my way ; but at a time when there are so many Wizards in the field, a man to gain attention must have a peculiar talent, and such a talent Bosco has.