Thursday, March 17, 2016

Paul Daniels

Today we are greeted with the sad news that Paul Daniels has died. There is no need to recount his accomplishments here, his contribution to magic is well known. And the media is justly filled with tributes. But I'll reprint some words from an article I wrote in the April 2014 edition of Genii magazine. And include a video of a performance that made such an impact on the world of magic. You'll see Paul Daniels at 19.29 on the above video of his acclaimed performance on The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club.

I can still remember the first time I saw Paul Daniels perform. It was on a television programme called The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club. It’s embedded in my memory as one of those moments when you know that something about magic has changed. Like watching David Copperfield’s first TV special, David Blaine’s Street Magic or seeing Derren Brown’s theatre show. It was 1975 and like every other teenager interested in magic I looked out for the TV variety shows on which, occasionally, a magician might perform a guest spot. At the time I was oblivious to Ken Brooke’s predictions that Paul Daniels was one to watch. I hadn’t read Paul’s series of articles on club magic in Abracadabra magazine. And wasn’t there when he won the Zina Bennett Trophy for Micro Magic at the IBM convention. When Paul walked on I had no idea who he was. When he left I knew it was a performance I’d never forget. It was a bravura performance, which just happens to be a word very much on Paul Daniels’ mind. But more about that later.

 To appreciate how different Paul was you have to understand that the face of magic in Britain was represented by David Nixon. Nixon had been a familiar figure on television ever since his appearance on the panel game What’s My Line? in the 1950s. Nixon’s manners were forged in that era. He was polite. Respectful. A gentleman. And prefaced every request for help with the promise that he wouldn’t embarrass his volunteer.

 Paul Daniels made no such promises. He didn’t issue requests he gave orders.  He didn’t wait for approval. He commanded attention with a combination of sharp wit, cutting humour and slick conjuring. His performance on Wheeltappers went from deft card shuffles and chop cup to a torn and restored note that appeared in a packet of Polo Mints held high in the air, for an embarrassingly long time, by a spectator who was glad when it was all over. The audience loved every second of the twelve-minute spot. So did I. It all felt fresh and contemporary. 

Paul Daniels changed the face of UK magic. He took it from the working men's clubs to having pride of place as one of the BBC's highest rating entertainment shows. He will be sadly missed and forever remembered.