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hobson egg bagHaving worked relatively slowly up to this point, Daniels now performs swiftly, matching actions with words: “If the ball was in my left hand, then it can’t be here.  If it wasn’t in the left hand, then it would be there; if it’s up there, it can’t be down here.  If it’s in the pocket, it can’t be there….”  Whilst he is saying this, the ball is jumping unexpectedly from under the cup to his pocket and back again.  It is visual magic and so slickly done that it cannot help but amuse and entertain everybody.  Daniels then repeats part of that sequence as a “television action replay”, both performing and speaking in slow motion.  This, again, is very funny.  It is noteworthy that Jeff Hobson uses the same conceit in his Egg Bag routine: and with equal effect.

Daniels changes the pace again and turns his attention back to Richard.  “Where’s the ball?  I take it out and put it in my pocket.  Where is it now?”  If Daniels had stopped at this question, then there would have been a danger of the trick losing its momentum.  He has already asked Richard “where is the ball?” and Richard got it wrong.  So the audience assume he will get it wrong again, especially as we have just seen Daniels do some unbelievably slick work with the ball and cup.  However what Daniels actually says is: “Where is it now – for fifty quid?”  The audience is intrigued: just possibly Richard might guess right now and win fifty pounds.

fiftyIt is also an example of a closed question.  Richard replies: “Under the cup”.  “Wrong”, replies Daniels, “it’s in the pocket.”  However if Richard had responded with: “In the pocket”, Daniels would come back with “wrong, it’s under the cup.”  The answer in itself is not necessarily funny to the audience – they instinctively knew that Daniels would win and their sympathies are probably more with Richard.  So Daniels continues: “If you had said it was in the pocket, I would have said ‘wrong’, it’s under the cup” (or vice versa, depending how Richard had initially answered).  Now the laugh comes – with the realisation that whatever Richard had said, he would definitely have lost. 

Once again Daniels adroitly changes tack.  He offers to teach Richard the trick.  This, again, engages the rest of the audience: because clearly they are going to learn too.  Daniels now asks the third basic question: “What do you do for a living?”  Again there is a reason for it, as we are about to discover.  Richard replies he is a teacher.  Daniels comes back with his standard response: “Give that up, son, give teaching up.  Get a cup.  You can make a lot of money with this.  I’ve only been up here a few minutes and you owe me fifty quid.” 

orangeAgain a huge laugh, not just because he has incorporated Richard’s profession into the gag; but more particularly because he has reminded Richard that he owes him fifty pounds.  If Daniels had demanded his money straightway after Richard had guessed wrong, it would not have been especially amusing.  But asking Richard what his job is has made the audience temporarily forget about the wager.  The call back reference to the debt owed hits the funny bone.

Daniels then goes into a rather absurd cod explanation of how the trick works: which in itself is funny, as it is clearly nonsense.  Under the misdirection of that patter, he loads the lemon.  And on revealing the lemon, loads again.  The routine ends with great visual magic combined with the perfect applause getter closing line: “If you liked that, you’ll go mad over the orange.”

fifty tricksAs has been stressed, the danger of analysing a routine in this manner might somehow suggest that Daniels deliberately designed the trick from the outset in this fashion.  My suspicion is that the trick only gradually evolved into the finished product: that is, he added, cut and substituted lines and bits of business over many performances.  It is most unlikely that Daniels ever sat down during the course of its construction and rationalised why it was working, or not working, in the manner that I have done. 

A little after I wrote that last paragraph, Daniels’ Chop Cup routine was featured on a British television programme called The Fifty Greatest Magic Tricks.  Interviewed all too briefly about the trick Daniels said: “That took a lot of shows.  That was an incredibly long process.  I was doing a lot of working mens clubs and I guess I did about close to 300 performances before I came home one night and went ‘yes, that’s it – that’s right’.”  It is some comfort to know that my instinct was correct and that great routines do take a considerable period to mature: they rarely, if ever, spring fully formed over night.

stand upDuring these posts I have commented that in my view Paul Daniels' Chop Cup was the best cabaret trick I had ever seen.  When I wrote my book Stand-Up: A Professional Guide to Comedy Magic, back in 2008 I tried to justify this assertion by doing a full analysis of the trick - with reference to various techniques that I mention in the book.  However, on sending it for approval to Paul, he very reasonably didn't want it included: as he intended at some point to talk about, or write up, the trick in depth himself.  I therefore with-held it.

However I thought it might be of interest, so am now reproducing what I sent to Paul over the course of a couple of posts.  Even if you don't have a copy of my book to refer to, I hope it will make sense.

If I had to choose only one trick by one performer as being the perfect stand-up routine, then I would select one that uses an assistant sitting in the audience.  It is Paul Daniels’ Chop Cup.  It is worth analysing in detail, not just for Daniels’ brilliant use of the assistant; but also for the manner in which he uses many of the principles that have been discussed in previous chapters.

don alanThe Chop Cup is a single cup variation on the Cups and Balls and was invented by Al Wheatley.  It was first popularised by Don Alan and quickly became, and still is, a classic close-up trick.  As far as I am aware it was Paul Daniels who first performed it with success to larger audiences: and if he was not, he has certainly stamped an indelible mark on it.  The Chop Cup is certainly not a trick that instantly suggests itself as a stand-up item.  You require a table; the props themselves are relatively small; and the angles, particularly on the final loads, can be tough.

Daniels begins by engaging somebody’s attention in the audience and asking for their name and where they are from (“Richard from Hastings”).  He then takes out his Chop Cup and places it on his table.  He asks Richard if he knows what it is?  Richard replies “a beaker”.  Paul responds with: “A beaker it may well be in Hastings; but from where we come it’s an aluminium cup, lad”.  This is an absolutely brilliant line that just on its own deserves further scrutiny.

  • You will notice that prior to this, Daniels has asked his assistant two out of the three basic questions: his name and where he is from.  He discovers that Richard is from Hastings, which is a town in the South of England.  Paul Daniels comes from the North, as big a contrast as you are likely to get in terms of culture and geographical location.  Straightway he incorporates where Richard lives to make the line even funnier.

  • Asking his assistant what is the Chop Cup is a classic standard response question.  Although Daniels does not know exactly how he is going to reply – Richard could say bowl, goblet, chalice, beaker or even cup - he can be virtually certain that he will not respond with “aluminium cup”.  And even if he does say this, Daniels will still be covered: the way Daniels pronounces ‘cup’ (more like ‘coup’) is very different to how a Southerner would say it.

  • It is a perfect character-situation line, telling us so much about Daniels.  It demonstrates that he is quick witted and therefore always likely to get one over his assistant; he is from the North and proud of his roots (seen by his pronunciation of the word ‘cup’ and the use of the word ‘lad’); and, above all, he is funny without causing any possible offence.  All in all it would be virtually impossible to imagine any other magician getting anything like the mileage that Daniels extracts from this single line. 

cupDaniels then introduces the Chop Cup ball and tells Richard to “follow the antics of this, a little white ball.”  Having done a few quick moves he leaves the ball on top of the inverted cup: the line that is to follow is another example of a standard response question.  “Richard, where is the ball?”  Richard replies: “On top of the aluminium cup”.  In this performance this is even more of a perfect answer for Daniels than the usual “on top of the cup”. 

Richard thinks he has now got one over Daniels by stressing the word “aluminium”. This, though, is mere verbal misdirection on Daniels’s part – he has moved on from what  type of cup it is.  Back comes Daniels with: “Wrong – it’s on the bottom: the cup is upside down.”  Having got a mega laugh with that line, he then follows it up with a perfect topping gag: “Perhaps my speed is baffling you”.  As Daniels is doing absolutely nothing at that point, this makes the line doubly funny.

[To be continued]

What is the legacy of Paul Daniels?  I think there are four principal ones.

Emil JarrowFirstly, I suspect he was the first magician in the UK who showed that it was possible to combine great magic with great comedy.  Now clearly there had been plenty of comedy magicians before Daniels - one thinks of names like Carlton, Fred Culpitt, David Nixon, Billy McComb; but Daniels was surely the first to achieve laughs on a level that a stand-up comedian might achieve whilst simultaneously performing superb magic.  Dai Vernon used to say that there were only two magicians (both US based) he ever saw who got "belly laughs", Frank Van Hoven, 'The Man Who Made Ice Famous' and Emil Jarrow.  I have always thought that Jarrow, unlike Hoven who was more of a burlesque act, was similar to Daniels; both relying on small magic combined with sleight of hand to achieve their success; and both getting those "belly laughs".

Secondly, there were numerous magicians who were clearly influenced by Daniels.  Some of them in a very direct way - the most obvious, and best known, was Wayne Dobson, who achieved his own television success with three series of Wayne Dobson - A Kind of Magic, before his career was cruelly cut short with Multiple Sclerosis.  Sadly there was no love lost between these two great magicians - with Paul accusing Wayne of stealing much of his material; and Wayne retaliating with his own unsubtle insults.  Objectively, if you compare the two acts, there isn't a great deal where there is a direct overlap.  But there is little doubt in my mind that the structure of Wayne's main Ventriloquism routine (which made his name) was very much based on Paul's own routine.

Wayne DobsonBoth started with having two men on stage.  Both involved borrowing money (and both used the same gag to pocket the money).  Both vanished one of the borrowed notes.   Both pretended the trick had gone wrong.  Both then went into another routine - Wayne Vent, Paul Electric Chairs.  And finally both recovered the note in an unexpected place.

It is a similar structure that plenty have followed - including me.  And it's not just my generation.  When Pete Firman, arguably the leading comedy magician performing today, did a TV spot on The John Bishop Show back in 2015, he used exactly the same format.  Two men on stage, money borrowed (same gag as Wayne & Paul had used to retain the money), note vanishes, into a comedy chain escape routine and finished with the recovery of the note.  It is because of that construct surely that Daniels tweeted (with commendable hyperbole) after watching it: "Keep getting asked if I saw Pete Firman's act. Yes. Great act.  I know it is because I have been using that patter and trick for 49 years!"

StuffDaniels, though, had an indirect effect on some magicians who were completely opposite to his style.  Geoffrey Durham has stated that part of the reason he developed his character of the Great Soprendo was to be the antithesis to those magicians who came out of the Ken Brooke school of magic (such as Wayne Dobson and Paul Daniels).  John Lenahan, the host of the ground-breaking TV series, Stuff the White Rabbit, deliberately took the mickey out of Paul Daniels in appealing to his Comedy Club audiences.  Similarly Penn & Teller, when they first appeared in the UK, made derogatory remarks about Daniels - to emphasise their differences (something that Penn has subsequently apologised for).

Thirdly, magic on television today - and the resultant huge upsurge in the popularity of close-up and mind-reading in the UK - probably wouldn't have come about if it hadn't been for Daniels.  For once The Paul Daniels Magic Show was taken off air, magicians had to try and find something completely different - if they wanted any chance of getting on television.  No longer was the 'invited audience in the studio watching a comedy magician' acceptable - either to the viewers or the programme makers.  So instead of 'invited audience', we had people stopped in the streets; instead of a 'studio', we had 'real life environments'; and instead of 'comedy magician' we had 'monosyllabic mystery men' (Blaine or Dynamo) or 'mind readers' (Derren Brown).  The results couldn't have been further away from what Daniels had given us.

chop cupAnd the final legacy? - well that is personal; and increasingly private.  Occasionally I do talks in schools.  And I'm often asked who was my greatest influence as a magician.  My response was always the same: Paul Daniels.  However recently I have stopped saying his name because the kids have never heard of him and have no idea who I am talking about.  

My friend Alan Hudson, himself a comedy magician who of course, like we all do, owes so much to Paul Daniels, claims to have seen more magic shows than anyone else of his age - and I wouldn't argue with him.  He recently selected on his blog his five greatest magic shows of all time.  And Paul Daniels wasn't included. 

But then he was too young to have been around in 1981 when Daniels stepped on stage at London's Prince of Wales theatre with just a single cup and a ball and changed my life forever.

pd maliniAs noted in previous postings, I saw Paul Daniels live at various times throughout his career.  Perhaps his most unusual and innovative venture was a show called Paul Daniels presents The Magic of Max Malini.  Max Malini was a famous American magician (1873-1942) who earnt his living as an itinerant performer, travelling around the country and abroad and doing his tricks in different hotels and other venues.  He was not a theatrical performer, rather he specialised in private parties.

One can see why Malini appealed to Daniels.  Both men were small in stature and had strong, dominating personalities.  It would seem that Malini performed at the drop of a hat to anyone and in every situation: he was never 'off', whether performing or telling amusing stories.  And this was true of Daniels too.  Malini by all accounts was a master of misdirection and sleight of hand, performing skills that Daniels certainly would have considered himself an expert in.

Daniels was good friends with Ken Brooke, a magic dealer.  And Ken liked to relate the story of a magician wanting to buy a book and that he suggested Malini & his Magic by Lewis Ganson.  The potential purchaser flicked through it and said he wasn't interested.  Ken then performed a trick which completely fried the magician.  "Where can I buy that from?" he asked.  "It's on page 35 of Malini & his Magic" was Ken's response.  I'm sure Daniels must have heard that anecdote.

malini and his magicBarry Murray, who worked with Daniels on BBC's The Paul Daniels Magic Show, gave Paul the idea of playing Malini in a dedicated show. However the finished product was solely down to Paul's self direction.  The first time Paul did it was at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2003.  There it lasted one hour; but when I saw it in London, the following March, he had expanded it to a two hour show including an interval.

The ticket price was £57; here again Daniels was following Malini, who was very good at honing in on wealthy private clients for his magic.  Possibly he was also following the example of Ricky Jay, who four years previously had charged an unprecedented £45 for a ticket to see Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants.

If ever a show summed up the strengths and weaknesses of Paul Daniels, this show did.  To start with the positive: many of the audience the night I was in seemed to know Daniels - this included the ex-politician David Mellor and his wife.  Daniels was great with the by-play with these people and his relaxed style and chatting his way through tricks gave it a cosy and intimate atmosphere. 

By far his best, and most amusing trick, was the Coin Game, the very trick that Ken Brooke had performed from the Malini & his Magic book.  It is essentially a 'con bet' although it is presented as pure skill on the magician's part.  Daniels made the audience members stake money which, having won, he said would go to charity.  It was a throwback to his Bunco Booth days on The Paul Daniels Magic Show and, as such, suited Daniels perfectly.

The main problem with the show was that it appeared so under-rehearsed.  At times Daniels would refer to a sheet of paper he had with the tricks listed on them.  He would look down at it and say something like: "what comes next – oh yes, we’ll do this now".  In the middle of one trick he told Debbie to go to the dressing room and fetch a prop he had forgotten.  Most of the patter was descriptive, rather than having any specific lines to go along with the tricks.  He had plenty of technical difficulties too - which again almost certainly resulted from lack of practise. 

maliniAnybody who wants to go back and read my original review of this show on Magic Week may be rather taken aback by the above.  Was I being disingenuous?  Partly, yes.  I had to write something, as I had been given a free ticket; but couldn't see there was anything to be gained by criticising the show at the time (although one magician has never forgiven me to this day, claiming that my review had persuaded him and his family to go). 

However I feel I made the right decision.  Magicians like myself might find plenty of faults; but there was no doubt in my mind that the non-magicians in the audience had genuinely enjoyed the "Daniels's experience".

Furthermore, if I had been overly critical, it surely would have sounded like professional jealousy or sour grapes.  On the same day as my review appeared, there was a round-robin email from Debbie McGee, in which she effusively sung the praises of the show.  She wrote: "I have known Paul now for 26 years and have seen him perform, literally, thousands of times in every kind of venue. I have never seen  him give a better performance than on this night [this was three nights before I saw it].  He was relaxed, in control and quite amazing.  The audience, mostly made up from lay people and dotted with British stars from entertainment, were totally baffled and that amazement was very real.  A standing ovation came at the end."  And this was followed up with a PS:

"We just had a phone call from Mike Margolis, who worked on the David Nixon show for six years. Mike said that he learned more about the true Art of Magic on Monday night than in all of those six years.  'I have worked with so many magicians, but that night I saw real magic at work.  Thank you'. "

Sometimes you just have to bow to the inevitable and I'm glad I did on this occasion. 

legend leg endThe final time I saw Daniels performing live was in his Legend to Leg-End tour in September, 2013 at the Millfield Arts Centre in London.  By this stage in his career, Daniels was very much playing to diminished audiences.  This venue contained about 100 people, and was about one third full.  The reasons for his decline in popularity could be for several reasons: the fact that he hadn't been on television in any serious capacity for many years; the failure to introduce new material into his live shows; a style of performing which was considered rather dated; or just a public image which he presented of being outspoken and not someone you necessarily warmed to.

To be fair to Paul he did at least try to address one of these in this particular show - the repetition of old material.  The only trick which he did that helped make his name as a live performer was his version of the Linking Rings, with the patter about his assistance getting "confidence" to do the trick. 

village hallAfter the opening fifteen minutes of Legend to Leg-End I was fearing the worst.  A disjointed and awkward beginning with Paul and Debbie trying unsuccessfully to ad-lib with each other, was followed by the most bizarre and nonsensical trick that I ever saw him do - involving the Demon Wonder Box and production of a silk.  To make matters worse, he did an Indian accent half-way through, only to discover in a subsequent trick that there was an Indian woman sitting in the front row.

This was followed by a cringe-inducing version of Cards Across, when the two women helpers were told to put their cards down the front of their cleavages; and where he followed up his catch phrase of 'say, yes Paul' with 'good training for the car park'.  I was sinking into my seat with embarrassment.

However after that, matters considerably improved.  He did Harry Anderson's Three Card Monarch (a giant version of the three card trick) very competently, the above mentioned Linking Rings and finished the first half with an entertaining rendition of the Spirit Cabinet, sans Electric Chairs (see previous posting).  The second half, after an opening illusion, only comprised two tricks.  A rather long-winded mind reading effect (which the audience enjoyed though), followed by a borrowed note found inside a candle which also involved plenty of red herrings in the form of various fruits.  This was all done with plenty of laughs and the eventual finding of the note got a good reaction from the audience.

When Daniels borrowed the note and began to fold it up, I knew that he was almost certainly going to switch it for something else; indeed it ended up inside an envelope that was subsequently burnt in a frying pan, so there must have been an exchange.  But, watching like a hawk, I failed to spot it.  It was perhaps at that point that I had to remind myself just how good a magician Daniels was when it comes to sleight of hand magic. 

There was no greater master of the Classic Force (making someone take a specific playing card without their knowledge) than Daniels.  It was the fact that he was so obviously skilled (in a way that his television predecessor David Nixon was not) that partly brought Daniels to fame in the first place.  It was a pleasant feeling to be left with as I emerged from the arts centre - my final memory of him as a live performer was the knowledge that I had been completely taken in by something which, in all probability, was very simple. 

newcastleDespite the small audience in a rather unprepossessing venue, Daniels gave of his all that evening.  He didn't draw attention to the lack of numbers - perhaps at this stage he was used to it.  About a year before, in one of my newsletters, I had written that "audiences have stopped coming to see Paul Daniels".  I got an immediate rejoinder in the form of an email (I don't know who passed it on to him, as he certainly didn't subscribe) from Paul himself: "Having just done a tour with more than enough sell out shows, I do wonder where you get your information from. Audiences have not stopped coming to see my shows, but I know some magicians have, but who wants to do shows for magicians?"

As my sources had been second hand, I wrote an abject apology for my comment in my next newsletter.  But, on the evidence of my own experience, I suspect that I had probably been at least partly right in my assertion, tactless though it was to say it at the time.

high wycombeIn my first posting of this series, I mentioned that I saw Paul Daniels at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in 1981, where he performed for some 18 months.  He had another run in London a few years later - I think it may have been at the Savoy Theatre - a show which I saw a couple of times.  On the second occasion I did something which I have never done before, or since, which was to sneak into the second half without paying.  I just turned up at half-time, mingled with the audience enjoying the break and took an empty seat to watch the remainder of the show.  As far as I can recall, this second half was essentially the same as he did at the Prince of Wales show - Daniels at his best.

The next time I saw him live in front of the general public was at the Swan Theatre in High Wycombe as part of his It's Magic National Tour.  This was in 1993, his penultimate  year before The Paul Daniels Magic Show on BBC 1 would come off air; and included not only Debbie McGee but also his son Martin - so it was very much a family show.

programmeThe majority of the tricks were 'as seen' although there was a prediction effect involving six envelopes.  This became part of his repertoire because I saw it again in a subsequent show.  Mentalism really wasn't Paul's forte and you got the impression that it was very much a 'time filler', enabling him to chat his way through a relatively dull procedural explanation of what he was doing.  The most interesting aspect of the show, though, was a combination of the Spirit Cabinet and the Electric Chairs - which, after this tour, I don't think he ever attempted again.

In theory it was a good idea: the 'spirits' that caused items to be flung out of the cabinet were so powerful that they also caused the two men, sitting on chairs next to the cabinet checking that nothing untoward was happening, to jump up too. However it was all too much for the audience to really appreciate what was going on; and it became a little confusing, diluting the impact of the Electric Chairs and taking the focus away from the Spirit Cabinet.  The next time I saw Daniels present the Spirit Cabinet, it was without the Electric Chairs.

Overall, though, the show was very entertaining - and it certainly provided value for money with plenty of illusions , including the one which he closed his Prince of Wales show with - the Asrah (a levitation, followed by a vanish).   It was themed around Star Wars in 1981 but in 1993 it was Phantom of the Opera.

weymouth flyerPaul was also in good form six years later when I saw him in Weymouth in the Paul Daniels Magical Laughter Show: this was a summer season show and, to its advantage, was more tightly scripted than the one in High Wycombe.  Paul himself performed no new trick or illusion that I hadn't seen before.  He reprised, again from the repertoire from his Prince of Wales show, perhaps my favourite illusion of his - Backstage with the Magician.  This is where the audience are apparently let in on the secret of how an illusion works by watching it from the rear.  Once again, though, it was very much his note in Lemon, Egg & Walnut and Electric Chairs that was the highlight of the show.

It was interesting that for this show Daniels didn't open with his Chop Cup, but instead his version of the six card repeat.  Indeed, after 1993, I never saw him do the Chop Cup live again.  I guess he thought it was a trick that most people had seen; but, as I said in an earlier posting, for me it was the greatest cabaret trick of all times - and really was one that could bear constant repetition. 

1999 was a watershed year, not just for the millennium, but also I suspect for Daniels's career when it came to live performing.  Never again, after this, would he be able to fill out a large theatre on his own.  Instead he would mainly perform in art centres and municipal halls, at  festivals and even village halls.  He always put a positive spin on this, claiming that he much preferred such venues to West End Theatres. In some ways this was in keeping with his life's philosophy: he always maintained, if the worst came to the worst, that he could earn a living doing tricks down the local pub - and he was quite happy with that thought.

It was always greatly to Paul's credit that if some of us felt sorry for him for his decline in popularity, he never gave the impression that he felt sorry for himself.

daniels magic showPaul Daniels became famous because he was on prime-time television for many years:  The Paul Daniels Magic Show ran from 1979 to 1994.  I am sure I would have seen Paul on various guest spots before he had his own show; but can't recall any specific occasions.  But I do remember him on For my Next Trick with magicians John Wade and Terry Seabrooke.  This was not a good show in that it copied the very successful The Comedians, in which there were extensive cuts from one comedian to another; this worked well with jokes, but not with magic.  If you cut away in the middle of a magic trick, it is easy for the audience to forget the plot - and also, they might surmise that something was hidden from them in the intervening edit.

seabrookeDespite this, there was no doubt that Daniels was the star of the show.  Both John Wade and Terry Seabrooke were at the top of their game; but somehow they looked rather old-fashioned compared to Daniels's quick repartee.  It was perhaps at this point that the BBC realised he could host his own show.

The early years of The Paul Daniels Magic Show were outstanding.  One suspects this was due as much to the guiding hand of John Fisher as the producer and the magical advisor of Ali Bongo - later to be supplemented by Barry Murray and Graham Reed - as it was to Paul's own performance.  Many a good magician has been severely handicapped on television because of the terrible format.  But The Paul Daniels Magic Show played to Paul's great strengths of his relaxed inter-action with the studio audience, seemingly nerveless performing abilities, some great outside stunts (for example, vanishing the elephant and escaping from been crashed into by a racing car), quirky guests (no singers and comedians allowed!) and regular slots that fitted his persona like a glove (the Bunco Booth was the most successful).

elephantThere is no doubt that as the years went along, the standard did deteriorate.  It is hard to exactly put the finger on why that should be so.  I have always maintained that it began to go 'wrong' for Paul when he changed his catch-phrase to 'Say yes Paul'; this in answer to a question he might ask.  This had neither the subtlety nor the humility of his previous 'You'll like this, not a lot'; and displayed a slight arrogance that gradually began to grate with certain members of his audience. 

Furthermore one got the impression that Daniels was winging it a little too much; perhaps not as much time went into rehearsing the trick and working out his patter before he actually performed it.  The tricks in the earlier series seemed tighter and didn't rely so much on what was essentially an explanation of what he was doing, whilst doing it.

yentobAlthough The Paul Daniels Magic Show ended in 1994, there was one final series which was called Secrets in 1995.  I remember it well, as it was meant to be the recreation of an ultra-modern setting, supposedly a night club, as a way of resuscitating Daniels's career.  In actual fact it looked like what it was - a television studio with a few tables and chairs scattered around.  As a result the format was basically the same as it had been before; guest acts interspersed with tricks from Daniels himself.  And, of course, by this time Daniels's persona was too ingrained to fundamentally change.  The BBC had had enough.

wipe outEffectively, after that, Daniels never worked for the BBC again.  Given his pre-eminence for so many years that was both surprising and tragic.  Famously, of course, he burned his bridges by having a go in print and on the radio at Alan Yentob and the BBC management.  But you would have thought his undoubted skills - he was an excellent game show host with quizzes such as  Odd One OutEvery Second Counts and Wipeout - could have been used in some capacity other than the rather tawdry Celebrity-type shows which he ended up doing.

But happily we have the legacy of his great early years on television, when Paul Daniels was King of Saturday night television. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, many of those memorable routines and superb guests will continue to be enjoyed by generations of future magicians and lovers of fine entertainment.

wheeltappersI remember well the first time I saw Paul Daniels.  It was on the The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, a British television variety show produced by Granada Television from 1974 to 1977.  The conceit was that it was set in a Northern Working Men's Club with the audience in a relaxed  and relatively boisterous mood.  I can't remember exactly what Daniels did but I recall being really blown away at the time to see such an exciting performer demonstrating that magic could be funny as well as fooling.

That was on television.  The first time I saw him live was at the International Magic Convention organised by Ron Macmillan, and which took place at a venue in Tottenham Court Road.  This was before The Paul Daniels Magic Show started on BBC 1 television.  Even though he was in front of magicians Daniels was superb, getting huge laughs with his routine involving borrowing money from a couple of men.  Afterwards one of his assistants wrote in complaining to the then weekly magic magazine, Abracadabra, saying that he had been made to look stupid on stage.  He was asked to hold his note up in the air; and every time he put his arm down, Daniels would tell him to lift it up again.

flyerI think it is fair to say that when I next saw Paul Daniels he was absolutely at the peak of his powers.  This was at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in 1981 in a show called It's Magic.  He did not do the entire show - he had three support acts, a female impressionist, a puppeteer and a foot juggler in the first half; but he did the whole of the second half.  In that show he did all the routines for which he would be known for the rest of his performing life: Cup and Ball (Chop Cup); Six Card Repeat; Linking Rings with a young girl; Equal and Unequal Ropes to a story about the Three Bears; Card in Wallet; Electric Chairs combined with paper balls over the head; and Note in Lemon, Egg and Walnut.

If there is one let-down associated with Daniels, it is that he would never again produce any trick or routine which was as good as any of these.  In Daniels's  case the reason is not hard to see.  He had been grinding his way in the Northern clubs for many a long year, perfecting his skills and repartee with his audience.  As an unknown act they would give him no truck.  He would learn what worked, and what didn't, from the bitter experience of dying on stage and being heckled.

Much later, in an interview he did in The Magic Circular with Anthony Owen, Daniels admitted that it took over 300 performances to perfect his Chop Cup routine.  That absolutely rang true with me; a trick that good (and in my opinion it is the single greatest cabaret trick that I ever saw) could only have emerged from consistent and regular shows in front of spectators who would not give any quarter.  Once he had found fame, never again would Daniels have the opportunity to 'work in' new material under the same circumstances.  And, as a result, nothing ever emerged which was even remotely comparable with his repertoire at the Prince of Wales.

note from walnutBut, wow, what heights he scaled for that show.  Every trick was superbly constructed, the patter fast and witty, the handling of the audience members exemplary, Daniels's persona - with his self-deprecating catch-phrase: 'you will like this - not a lot! But you will like it' - a perfect blend of cheeky and likeable, and the laughs and the magic coming thick and fast.  His Electric Chairs combined with the Note in Lemon, Egg and Walnut was almost a play in its own right, as great a routine as it is possible to imagine with its gradual build up, call backs, spectator management and culminating in hysterical laughs rounded off by a baffling, and focused, finish with the borrowed note found inside the walnut.

Copyright © 2017 Ian Keable - comedy magician & mindreader. All Rights Reserved.