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.