05 Jul 2013
THE BOB EATON MEMORIAL LECTURE
30 members and 1 guest turned up on Friday 7th September to hear Steve Short give an excellent talk on the life and career of popular 50’s/60’s/70’s TV magician, David Nixon. Most of the audience was of the age who remembered David; but it was nice to see 3 younger members who would not have been born by the time he died. Steve had certainly researched David’s life, having spoken to his wife, children and many associates. Having recently purchased Magic Books by Post, Steve is presently working with Eddie Dawes on producing a book on the life of David Nixon, which I am sure, will be well worth buying when it is released. Steve came with a powerpoint presentation as well as clips from David’s TV shows – a very professional production. Steve explained that he had decided to research the life of David Nixon as he had been a big influence on his early career.
David Porter Nixon was born on the 29th December 1919 in Muswell Hill. His father was a lawyer whose hobby was magic. In 1922 the family moved to Westcliffe-on-Sea (next door to Southend in Essex). His father took young David to the theatre to see such acts as Maskelayne & Devant. David remembered that the first magician he had seen was Stanley Collins, who was a gentleman magician whose style David emulated throughout his career. His interest in magic started when, like many youngsters of the day, he was bought an Ernest Sewell Magic Box by an auntie one Christmas. Steve revealed that a school report from 1932 had said that David’s manner was too relaxed. Rather ironic in that this was how we all remember David Nixon the magician.
During his teenage years David suffered from pneumonia, which prevented him serving in the forces during the Second World War. Upon leaving school he worked for the Henley Telegraph and in 1938 joined the Magic Circle. Besides being a magician, he was also an accomplished double bass player and he played in a local band. During the war, as he couldn’t serve on the front line, he joined ENSA. It was here that he developed his magic act and style.
After the war in 1947 he joined the Fol de Rols in Scarborough, where, as well as his magic act, he sang, danced and worked front of house. In 1949 he married a singer, Margaret Burton, who died in 1952. It was in 1949 that he first appeared on TV in “Café Continental”. In 1951 he was at the Windmill Theatre, and in 1952 he remarried – this time to Paula Marshall who he worked with in his act.
His big break came in 1954 when he was invited to join Lady Isobel Barnett, Barbara Kelly, Gilbert Harding and host Eamonn Andrews in the quiz show, “What’s My Line”. This popular quiz show (in which the panel had to guess the job of the contestant after they mimed what they did) ran for many years.
In 1955 David’s son Nicholas was born. Unfortunately in 1956 Paula died in a car crash after suffering a heart attack as she was on the way to see David in a show. She was only 28. In 1960 he married Vivienne Robinson (daughter of a well known bandleader of the time) and in 1961 his daughter, Mandy, was born.
He went from strength to strength; winning Magic Circle Awards; appearing in a succession of TV shows, pantomimes and summer seasons. He compered “Candid Camera”. In 1967 he had a new companion on his shows who is still around today – Basil Brush. In 1970 Ali Bongo became magical consultant for his TV shows and devised over 200 tricks for David. Ali confirmed that David was a gentleman who never got mad, regardless of what was going on. Besides all this he also enjoyed his hobbies – chess, trains, playing the double bass, his boat on the Norfolk Broads. He was an inventor who invented the coin sorter used in banks.
He was never out of work, being on the TV every year. He became King Rat in 1976. However he was a heavy smoker – 40/60 cigarettes a day; and in 1976 discovered he had cancer. This was cleared, but came back. He died on the 1st December 1978, just short of his 59th birthday. Just 3 days before he had recorded a Basil Brush Show. His personality, warmth, charm, quick wit, treating the audience well and creating a great team around him ensured that he was remembered fondly by everyone who knew him and many who did not.
Steve said that David was the father of TV magic and in the second half we saw several clips from some of many shows. Starting with how Eamonn Andrews caught him for This Is Your Life; other clips showed him working with Anita Harris (a regular on his shows) and Lyndsey De Paul (both singers from the 70’s). There was superb comedy magic routine showing off his comic timing, as well as David performing Sympathetic Matchboxes and Dizzy Limits which he had said were his favourite effects in close up and illusion.
Steve received a well deserved long round of applause. This was a superb evening enjoyed by everyone. I am sure Bob Eaton would have enjoyed this presentation.