Magic

Years back, my exec producer wanted to run a magic strand on one of my shows. The idea was, frankly, half-baked, but we met up with a leading young magician to discuss possibilities. The magician was Dominic Wood, now co-presenter of the BBC’s Saturday morning slot.

He came in and did a bunch of simple tricks for us, but of course for a science show I needed to know how they were done. Which was fine by Dom… but the others involved elected to leave the room. Which of course meant that Dom and I spent a jolly half-hour or so discussing the nature of magic and why people actively don’t want the secrets revealed.

It occurred to me at the time that a corollary of Clarke’s Law – that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic – is that magic is simply technology one has yet to understand. Which, curiously enough, persuaded me that putting magic in a science show wasn’t as half-baked an idea as I’d thought. Except there was still a fundamental problem – that of reconciling peoples’ desire to be deceived by magic, with a show that aims to reveal. That is, a science show.

For Dominic’s part, he was rather keen to tell all, on the grounds that when you know how the trick works, and it still works for you, you know that what you’re watching is the performance and not the trick. Also, he was fed up with shinning up drainpipes to place playing cards on the outsides of windows without anyone ever appreciating the sheer effort involved. “I wish I could read minds – it’d be a lot easier.”

I mention all this because BBC2 are running a new history of magic series (no website at the BBC that I can find). The first programme, tonight, covered mentalism – from psychics to the rehabilitated-after-his-Russian-roulette-farce Derren Brown. And entertaining enough it was… except that I’m absolutely none the wiser about anything much. Which, since the show was a documentary, I consider somewhat akin to a cheat. See, for me the show ducked the fundamental question of whether to reveal secrets or not. Or rather, it came down firmly on the safe side of telling us nothing.

Which rather begs the question of what it was about. A history, yes: but not a history of the development of techniques, since we never learned about the techniques. So merely a procession of names and a few acts, then? Pity.

We never did do the magic strand in the science show. I still think that was the right decision.

2 thoughts on “Magic”

  1. You are quite right about BBC2’s MAGIC: there is little disclosure of magic methods in this series. However Magic is not, and has never been billed as, a history of the techniques of magic. Although you are wrong to say the programme you saw on Saturday incorporated no disclosures at all (it included two or three), as a rule, we the production team were forced to undertake NOT to diclose any magic methodology, if we wanted the co-operation of any magicians in the series – particularly any members of the Magic Circle (which includes nearly all of them). If you have ever had any dealings with this organisation you will know that if they ask their members not to co-operate, then that is what will happen. The brief for this series was to make an entertaining portrait of the world of magic as it changed through the ages, showing how these changes reflected the wider interests and changing knowledge and beliefs of the times. This is what we have done, and there has never been a documentary series that does this before. We have done intense research and interviewed all Britain’s top magicians, reconstructed key magic moments of the past AND created lots of entertaining new magic to boot. If this isn’t enough for you, then there are plenty of websites that will tell you how they think it’s all done (few are accurate thought…). I think you will find it quickly loses interest for you, and you will feel disappointed when you know how it’s all done. The choice is yours, and its all out there, but prepare to find it has all lost its magic for you.
    Kerry Richardson
    Series Producer MAGIC

  2. Oh – and of course we deal with the ISSUE of disclosure of methods in the series. But not in the first programme…. Patience….

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