For 100 years, magicians’ assistants have been feeling a little “saw”!
Sunday 17th January 2021 was the centenary of possibly the most famous magical illusion of all – Sawing a Lady in Half.
First performed in public in 1921 – just 12 years after the founding of The Order of The Magi, by P.T. Selbit at Finsbury Park Empire theatre in London, the illusion has since been adapted countless times.
Some magical historians have suggested that the illusion is much older than PT Selbit’s performance, citing the famous French magician Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin’s Memoirs, written in 1858, where he described a sawing illusion performed by a magician named Torrini. However this description of the illusion is sometimes considered to be a piece of fictional writing.
Blackpool Magic Convention is just a few days away now, and many members from The order of The Magi will be travelling from Manchester to Blackpool to enjoy the packed schedule of shows, lectures, and more that is on offer at the world’s biggest magic convention.
Every February, 4,000+ magicians descend on “The Vegas of The North” for a long weekend of magical fun at The Winter Gardens. With three days of wizardry, plus an auction of magic tricks and books, it is the event of the year for magicians.
So what are our top tips for Blackpool Magic Convention?
Wrap up warm, and wear comfy shoes!
Blackpool is in the north of England, and is a seaside resort. It’s likely to be cold, and windy. Whilst all the activities this year take place inside the Winter Gardens, the chances are you won’t be sleeping there, and you will be on your feet for quite some time over the weekend. Take a warm jacket / coat (preferably waterproof) and wear shoes that are comfortable.
Plan your Schedule!
There is so much going on over the weekend, that you are likely to be spoilt for choice. And it would be impossible for the organisers to arrange a schedule that allows everyone to see everything throughout the weekend. We estimate that the convention would need to be on for at least 7 days, to make this possible!
Thankfully the organisers have released a free smartphone app, with a full schedule of the shows, lectures, and more, so you can plan your weekend in advance. It is worthwhile checking out the lists of activities, and if you are not sure whether a lecture or show is going to be “your thing” you can always check out the long list of artistes in the app.
It doesn’t finish when the Winter Gardens Shuts…
Whilst the events stat at around 9am and go on throughout the day until midnight or later, there is always more magic to be found. Many magicians meet up each night in the bar of their B&Bs to chat about the day, show each other tricks, and socialise.
However, there is one place that is famous for Magic in Blackpool during the weekend of the convention – The Ruskin Hotel – where hundreds, possibly thousands of magicians will gather after the convention finishes, to enjoy several more hours of magic, mentalism and the occasional beer! Be warned – it will be extremely busy, but it is worth the visit.
Don’t forget to Eat & Sleep!
We don’t want to sound like your parents, but…
It’s a long weekend with lots of beer flowing, and some very late nights. Whilst you might want to try and be the last person in the hotel bar at 6am, don’t forget that you will need some sleep… and food. It would be a shame to miss a day of the convention because you are catching up on sleep after a very wild night.
Similarly, you aren’t going to get the most out of the weekend if you don’t eat. Thankfully Blackpool has plenty of cafes, restaurants, takeaways, and pasty shops, catering for almost everyone.
Take your Time in the Dealers Hall
We’ve all done it! Wandered around the 150+ magic dealers, and bought something on impulse, only to regret it almost straight afterwards. The dealers are there for the full three days, and most will have plenty of stock with them. Walk around, have a look, watch the demos, and ask questions. Just because you have watched a dealer demonstrate a magic trick, don’t feel that you should have to buy it immediately.
Take some time to consider if you will really use that trick; If it is suitable for you, and your act; or if it will end up in that drawer of unused props. Talk to other magicians and get their advice, and even check out reviews of the effect on sites like The Magic Cafe.
Dealers know that many magicians won’t buy a magic trick until they have walked around the dealers hall at least once. Some magicians won’t buy anything until the Sunday afternoon.
Waiting until Sunday can be a gamble though – sometimes effects that have been advertised as “limited quantity” might sell out early on at the convention. But the flip side is that one or two dealers will reduce their prices on certain items on the Sunday afternoon, just to save them taking stock back with them.
And don’t forget that the dealers are situated around the convention – including the Horseshoe, and Balcony!
Don’t forget your Photo ID!
The organisers of Blackpool Magic Convention are insisting that anyone with a pre-booked ticket presents photo ID on arrival. According to their (very useful) Facebook page, Driving Licences, Passports, Bus Passes, and Work IDs are all acceptable, as long as the name on the ID matches the name on the ticket. This of course might cause issues for those who booked their tickets using their stage names without thought.
Leave the Fire Wallet in your Pocket!
Yes, it’s a magic convention. Yes, it’s a weekend of fun. Yes, we all get excited about Blackpool…
But the poor bar maid who is trying to serve 50+ magicians at the bar is really not going to be impressed when a wallet bursts into flames as a magician pays for their beer! The chances are, she, and every other barstaff in the town will be subjected to fire wallets at least 100 times every day!
Save them the pain, and let them get on with serving someone else who is desperate for a drink.
You know who would like to see a trick? Other magicians…
No matter what your level of experience, don’t be afraid to watch other magicians perform at the convention, and elsewhere, and to show a favourite trick or two of your own. Bar Staff, and Hotel Receptionists might not appreciate lots of magic (but if they ask to see a trick, feel free!), but your fellow magicians will.
You can learn something from any lecture
A big part of the convention is the wide range of lectures that have been arranged. If you find yourself with some spare time, go and see an extra lecture – even if it is about an area of magic that you wouldn’t usually focus on. There is always something you can learn from the masters of their craft.
And whilst we are on the subject of lectures… please don’t sit through a lecture riffling playing cards or messing about on your phone. It can be distracting for others!
Stuff to pack that you might not have thought about
No doubt you’ve already considered taking the usual things – clothes, wash kit, mobile phone, wallet, cash card etc. Here a a few items you might not have considered yet…
- Pain Killers (for the morning after a night in the Ruskin)
- Bottled Water (great for the hotel room)
- Pot Noodles (again, a great addition to the hotel room when you realise you haven’t eaten all day, and it is 3am)
- Phone Power Bank (is your phone’s battery really going to last all day?)
- Hand Sanitizer
- Throat Sweets & Mints
- An Extra Pack of Cards
- Quality Toilet Roll (a must when travelling for our webmaster!)
- Pen & Paper (for making notes at magic lectures, jotting down items you’ve seen in the dealers hall etc)
Enjoy The Magic of Blackpool
It is a long weekend, with lots going on… and if this is your first time going to Blackpool Magic Convention, you are going to love it!
Enjoy the magic!
And if you see a member of The Order of The Magi, say hello!
(or the link between a group of Manchester magicians & The Sex Pistols!)
Recently, one of our members was lucky enough to be able to obtain a programme from a 1952 production by members of The Order of The Magi, entitled “Hackin’ The Hempen” (subtitled ” A Magical Fantasy”). We are still looking into the origins of such a bizarre show title, and whilst various theories have been suggested, we are keeping an open mind at this time.
The show took place at The Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester on Saturday 18th October 1952, just 1 year after the venue reopened after being damaged in 1940 during the Manchester Blitz.
The Free Trade Hall
Located on Peter Street, The Free Trade Hall is an important part of Manchester’s history. Built in 1853 – 1856, on the site of the Peterloo Massacre (1819), the venue would play host to many famous names over the years – Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and Winston Churchill, and would be the permanent residence to The Hallé Orchestra.
The Lesser Free Trade Hall
The Lesser Free Trade Hall was a smaller venue, upstairs within the same building, which was to later host the Sex Pistols famous concert in 1976, that inspired many bands including the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Happy Mondays and Oasis; as well as being partly responsible for Manchester’s iconic music scene, including The Hacienda, Madchester, Factory Records, and the indie scene:
The Programme and The Show…
As can been seen from the scan below, The programme, costing 3d was decorated with a lovely line drawing of a bearded wizard, dressed in mystical looking robes, surrounded by a cauldron, skull, spell books and other magical items. This drawing was in fact part of the letterhead used in the 1940’s to decorated the society’s “Magi Magazine”.
The Front Inside Cover
Centre Pages – The Show
The centre pages detail the order of the evening’s show, and the performers. It appears that the show’s premise was a “History of Magic & Entertainment” starting with Zoroaster, moving through the Magic of Egypt (The Temple of Osiris), Alchemy, Punch & Judy performed by The Order of The Magi’s President Fred A. Taylor – “The Swazzle Man”, and 19th Century Music Hall. The first half of the show was closed by no other than Magical Legend Ken Brooke.
It is interesting to see that the show’s interval lasted only 5 minutes. Today, even in the smallest of venues, it is impossible to imagine that an interval would last any less than 15 minutes. Was the director being optimistic, or are modern day audiences more demanding of a longer break?
The second half of the “Magical Fantasy” is dedicated to up to date, and futuristic Cabaret. We can only assume that Tommy Hill “The Ballunatic” was a balloon modeller, and that Jack Shepherd & Syd Walton performed in drag as “The Widdingtons” – “Two minds with not a single thought!”; no doubt a parody of the famous contemporary Australian Telepathy duo “The Piddingtons”.
The penultimate part of the evening was Frank Cleaver’s “Flying Saucer” subtitled “Magic of the Future”. It would certainly be interesting to see if he had indeed predicted the future of magic!
After over 2 hours of magical entertainment, the show was to close with a Finale of the entire company, followed by “The Queen” – The National Anthem – a tradition that has died in most theatrical productions in the past 60 years.
This is the only online record of The Order Of The Magi’s production “Hackin’ The Hempen” from 1952. So it seems fitting that we include a full list of all the cast, the majority of whom would have been members of the only Magic Society in Manchester. Perhaps it will help anyone in the future researching any of the magicians, either for personal or professional reasons:
Frank G. Brown – Zoroaster
Reginald Boncey – The Inebriate
Stella Sweet – The Dancer
Len Ainsworth – The High Priest of Os-Ra
Syd Taylor – An Acolyte
Harold Swindells – The Alchemist
Fred A. Taylor – The Swazzle Man (President of The Order of The Magi at the time)
Douglas Ettenfield – The Man
Joyce – The Maid
Edgar Horner – Chairman
Dennis Birch, Stephen Birch and Pat Birch – The Birch Brothers – The Singing Waiters
Leslie Greenhalgh – The Man With The Hat
Arthur Horner – The Pianist
Ken Brooke – The Professor
Tommy Hill – The Balunatic
Jack Shepherd – Vera Widdington
Syd Walton – Gladys Widdington
Oscar Paulson – Tricks & Chatter
Frank G. Clever – Magic of The Future (The Flying Saucer)
Of course, a programme for a such a magical performance wouldn’t be complete without credit to those behind the scenes who helped to put it all together.
Production – Will Hughes
Properties – Mal Davies
Electrician – H. Macartney
Stage Managers – George Wade & Norman Crook
Effects and Music – Geoff Lawrence
Show Devised & Arranged by Will Hughes, Syd Taylor and Harold Swindells
The Order of The Magi desires to express its appreciation of the invaluable help rendered by the following –
Miss Stella Sweet
Mr. Frank G. Brown
The Birch Brothers – (Dennis, Stephen and Pat)
The Staff of The Free Trade Hall
Mameloks of Oxford Road for the loan of musical items
O. Z. Seferian for ticket work
The Inside Back Cover
The last page of the programme gives us a clue as to the length of the performance, declaring “Carriages at 9.45pm approx”.
Reading and researching this programme has been an opportunity to learn a little more about The Free Trade Hall in Manchester, The Order of The Magi, it’s members, and activities nearly 70 years ago. Without currently having any more information about each act, it is an opportunity to imagine what magic tricks were performed that night in Manchester City Centre, and if a similar show was to be performed today with the same programme, how each act might differ. There will be more information on the show in at least one issue of The Order of The Magi’s society magazine “The Magi” from 1952, and hopefully soon we will be able to provide you with more details.
There is no doubt however, that any of the performers on Tuesday 18th October, 1952 could imagine that the stage they were performing on would be host to one of the world’s greatest punk bands just 24 years later.
Can You Help with our Research?
It would be great to hear from anyone related to any of the magicians, or other performers, who took part in “Hackin’ The Hempen”. We would love to see photos of the performers (especially any promotional material etc). Perhaps you have an 1952 issue of The Magi Magazine that details the planning of the show, or features a report of each act’s performance?
If you can help us in our research in any way, please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org
Unsurprisingly, after 110 years, our archives hold many interesting items, many of which have a great historical value to magicians, that may have been long forgotten, if it wasn’t for the foresight of the committee to save them.
Several documents within the collection refer to the forming of an affiliation between various Magic Societies in the U.K. (and around the world) with one of the most famous magic clubs – The Magic Circle.
The affiliation was active between 1921 and 1944, before becoming The National Association of Magical Societies (N.A.M.S).
Five years after the formation of N.A.M.S. The Order of The Magi hosted a weekend-long event in Manchester, for representatives of other Magic Societies consisting of Dinner, Committee Meeting, Shows etc.
In 1949, the National Association of Magical Societies included the following clubs as members:
In “A Message from the Chairman of the Committee of Management” at the back of the N.A.M.S. Souvenir Programme, Robert Edmanson wrote:
On 7th June, 1952, Magic Magazine “Abra” reported that The National Association of Magical Societies was to be liquidated, with the remaining funds to be distributed amongst the thirty six member societies.
Further Images from the Souvenir Programme of March 12 – 13th 1949:
An amateur magician accidentally turns his wife into a sofa and his two kids into armchairs. He starts to panic.
He tries every trick in the book but none work so, in desperation, he decides to take them to hospital. Once at the hospital, the magician spends a sleepless night while the medical staff run numerous tests on the unfortunate woman and children.
Finally, the head doctor comes out into the corridor to speak to the magician. “How are my family?” he asks worriedly, “Are they alright?”
The doctor replies, “they’re comfortable…”
The Order of The Magi is one of the oldest magical societies in the U.K. and has an extensive archive of historical documents dating back to the establishment of the society in 1909.
Here is a article published in “Wizard Magazine” about inaugural meeting of The Order of The Magi just 1 month after it’s founding:
A Manchester Magical Society
A month ago Mr. G.W. Panter, M.A. (Member of Inner Magic Circle) conceived the idea of forming a Magical Society for Manchester and district.
With this end in view, he arranged with Mr. Waite, magic dealer, of Peter Street, Manchester, to display a notice asking all those willing to join to give in their names.
As a result of this, on the 11th inst. a most enthusiastic meeting was held at the “Cities Hotel,” Deansgate, Manchester, at which about 30 conjurers attended.
It was decided to form a Magical Society, and Mr. G.W. Panter, M.A. was unanimously elected President, Mr. Waite, Hon. Treasurer and Librarian, and Mr. T.H. Halsall, Junr., Hon Sec. (pro tem.).
Mr. Panter spoke about the objects of a magical society, and referred to the success of the British Magical Society, and the Magic Circle; he also read a very interesting letter which he had received from Mr. Fred Walker (Hon. Sec. of the B.M.S.), wishing the new society every success.
Mr. T.H Halsall, Junr, (Hon. Sec.) also read several letters from conjurers anxious to join., but, owing to engagements, unable to attend the meeting.
Speeches were given by Mr. Fredrick W. Collins, Mr. L.M. Varney, Mr. Waite, Mr. Thomas French, Mr. Wildman, Mr. Ritherdon, Mr. J.W. Riley, and others, who all spoke as to the advisability of working together.
Business being suspended, Mr. A. Buckle obliged with a few card tricks, introducing a very pleasing and novel effect by fanning a quantity of cards and making them grow smaller, and finally disappear, bringing them back again to their original position, electing a round of applause for this clever sleight.
Mr J.W. Riley then being called upon gave a monologue, entitled “Oh Memory” in which the speech and mannerisms of an old man were portrayed to the letter.
Mr. Sugden then gave a recital from “The Merchant of Venice,” the rendering of which proved him to be a talented artist.
Mr. E. Wilburt gave the passing of 12 cards from hand to pocket, which as an example of Digital Dexterity left nothing to be desired.
Mr. T.H. Halsall Junr., then presented the passing of coins from left hand to tumbler held in right hand; he proved himself to be a master of coins, and Mr. Whitehead showed no mean ability with cards in the Four Ace Trick.
A few of those present gave their experiences with children in the course of entertaining, which were very amusing.
A meeting of the Council was arranged for the 13th inst., at which Mr Halsall, on account of business, wished to resign the secretaryship, and Mr. J.W. Riley, being asked to take the position (subject to the sanction of the members) decided to accept.
Anyone interested in magic residing in Manchester district, and wishing to join the society, are kindly requested to send in their names to the Hon. Sec., J.W. Riley, De Mcglio, Eccles, Manchester
Few professional magicians in the U.K. can deny that they have heard of “The Supreme Magic Company”. It is doubtful there are more than a handful of those who grew up reading the company magazine “The Magigram” or carefully reading through the thousands of effects for sale in their extensive catalogues, that haven’t heard of Edwin Hooper – founder of The Supreme Magic Company, and inventor of many tricks.
One of Edwin and Supreme’s most iconic magical effects had to be “The Rainbow House”. There couldn’t have been many Children’s Entertainers who didn’t own, or long to own this fantastic “mini-illusion”.
For those who don’t know the trick, whilst presentations would vary, the effect went along these lines. The performer would display a large model of a white house with black line details. A sort of 3D version of the illustrations found in colouring books.
This would then be placed inside a square tube bearing a colourful rainbow motif. Then the magician would use his favourite colouring routine by-play. Perhaps using a number of coloured silks which when placed into a bag would magically turn white, or one of the various other colour effects sold by Supreme.
Eventually the tube would be lifted to reveal that the model house was now brightly painted!
If this wasn’t magical enough, it was then time to find out who lived in such a small house. On lifting the house, a live rabbit would be shown to have appeared!
All in all it was a fantastic effect, and a great show closer for many magicians around the country. But why are we sharing this today?
It has come to light recently that Edwin Hooper first discussed his ideas for The Rainbow House at a magic lecture in Manchester for Order of The Magi in 1984, as mentioned in this website’s text. I wonder if on that evening, 35 years ago, he (or any of the magicians who attended) had any idea how popular and iconic the trick would become?
As entertainers, we (hopefully) bring a little joy and happiness to our audience. On the night of Tuesday 22nd May, the heart-breaking news began to break of the terrorism attack at The Manchester Arena after the Ariana Grande concert. I myself had just returned home from what seemed to be a particularly tough gig, but suddenly everything was put into perspective. The feelings of joy and happiness experienced by thousands at Manchester Arena would suddenly be replaced with feelings of fear, worry, terror and tragedy.
At least 22 people went out for a night of entertainment but sadly would never return home. Many more were injured, and thousands of concert goers, the majority of whom were children and teenagers, will never forget the horrific events of that night. It is hard to imagine the effect that night had on the brave staff at the venue who stayed to help, the emergency services who had to deal with the aftermath, and the hospital staff who treated the victims. Ariana tweeted that she was “broken from the bottom of my heart, I am so, so sorry. I don’t have words.” and has announced that she was to postpone the rest of her tour. She and her team of fellow entertainers and crew must be totally devastated that a wonderful night, sharing their talents of music and entertainment, ended so tragically. Finally, many of our members will have family or friends who work at The Arena, or who were affected by the terrible incident. I sincerely hope all are safe and well.
Given everything that happened, it was an extremely difficult decision whether to hold a meeting of The Order of The Magi in Manchester less than 24 hours later. Should we cancel the meeting or carry on in spite of the events the night before? Manchester Comedy Store cancelled a benefit show for fellow comedian Jim Taveré saying that “As much as we feel that people should carry on as normal we’re not sure that today is a good day for comedy”. This was an understandable sentiment in the circumstances.
The decision to hold society meeting certainly wasn’t made lightly, but I personally believe that the right decision was made. In this context, the saying “the show must go on” seems rather flippant, but perhaps it goes just a little way to express the spirit of the people of Manchester, those working in Show Business, and our members. To those who came to Geoff’s excellent lecture, thank you for your support. To those who didn’t (or couldn’t) attend the meeting for whatever reasons, it is of course very understandable. Each of us has to make a decision based on our own personal circumstances, feelings and beliefs.
At times such as these it’s important that we, as entertainers, keep entertaining; bringing a smile to those around us, a little joy and happiness. A world without entertainment would certainly be a terrible place. It can’t undo the terrible events of that night, but perhaps you can change the future, in a small, positive way. The world always needs a little magic!
“Believe something and the Universe is on its way to being change, because you’ve changed, by believing. Once you’ve changed, other things start to follow. Isn’t that the way it works?”
– Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard
Stay Safe & Keep Entertaining
I am sure, like me, many of you will be familiar with this expression without knowing the real significance. It was only on a Classic Greece holiday that I found out just how many words we use every day in the English language actually have Greek origins.
Here are a few examples.
- Antiqua – antique, antiquity, ancient.
- Biblos – book, bible.
- Cosmos – (world) cosmopolitan.
- Dynamis – (power) dynamite, dynasty.
The list goes on, so what has all this to do with magic you are surely already asking. Well now having an interest in the subject I started to look up words relating to our art and found some interesting results.
The first word that came to mind was morph(e) meaning shape or transforming bringing about metamorphosis – the substitution trunk.
Scopos means watcher and leads to horoscope cinemascope etc (oops! etc that’s Latin).
Pyr or pyro means fire, hence pyrotechnics.
In Greek mythology the name Luna is sometimes used as a nickname for any goddess associated with the moon. Remember the Luna Trick – children’s effect a la die box.
I could go on but I feel our website will not have space for more than a page so I’ll finish with a few words from the entertainment world generally.
Cine means motion so we have cinema. The theatre name of Adelphi comes from Adelphoi meaning brothers. Presumably this refers to the brotherhood of actors appearing on the stage. Theatron (theatre) was a place where the audience of a Greek tragedy sat to watch the performance. Finally choreography appears to derive from khorus (chorus) and/or khoreia (dancing in unison). There you have it then, now it’s all Greek to you too!
Webmaster Note: I couldn’t leave this post without adding a favourite of mine – Hippodrome, from the Greek word Hippos – for Horse (and not Hippopotamus, which means “water horse”). Originally a Hippodrome was an ancient Grecian stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. The word was resurrected in Victorian and Edwardian times for buildings constructed specifically for animal & variety acts (such as the World Famous London Hippodrome, and more locally The Rochdale Hippodrome), which often became theatres in later years. Thank goodness they never raced hippopotamuses / hippopotami!
The modern word circus, now associated with entertainments such as clowns, jugglers, acrobats and magicians, originates from Roman horse racing tracks (circuits) which were very similar to Hippodromes. But as that is a Latin origin, and not Greek, it might be best to leave that for another post!
The Helen Moran Memorial Lecture this year took place on 25th April and was presented by John Archer. There was a good turn- out of members and visitors and included Peter Moran.
Helen Moran was a much respected honorary member of The Order of The Magi, who worked very hard behind the scenes. When Helen sadly passed away, she kindly left a bequest to provide the first magic lecture of the Society’s year.
I last saw John at South Tyneside a few weeks ago as a performer and it was great to see a lecture where he showed not only how his effects were achieved but how to and where to obtain the laughs. By the use of various methods he illustrated how a magician screws up can be turned into a positive result with hilarious consequences.
He went on to show the envelope routine that fooled Penn and Teller and brought him a trip to Las Vegas. It was indeed clever thinking and one can understand why they were fooled!
His coincidence routine with a very attention grabbing story was simplicity in modus operandi, but needed presentation work to achieve the right angle. Apart from two decks of cards all it needed was some ******** (you should have been there) and you were off.
His dog pet name was a much improved and simplified working of an effect he has demonstrated at a previous lecture and now a lot stronger.
A mind reading routine of a chosen celebrity went down well.
A routine with ESP cards was another hit. All routines were described in great detail with all the pauses and asides clearly shown. Yes, I can understand why this man fooled Penn and Teller!
On your behalf I would like to thank Peter for continuing the sponsorship to keep in our minds all the hard work and massive input Helen Moran put into this society.
Report by Geoff Newton
(Webmaster Note: Parts of this report, which features in full in the members’ only Magi Magazine, have been edited to keep John’s methods secret. For full explanations, we recommend that you speak to John Archer directly, who will be able to advise which of his lecture note packs contain the relevant tricks)