02 Aug 2013
Telegraph & Argus 2009
Articles by Emma Clayton
When Keith Pickles was a boy he would practise magic tricks on classmates at Keighley Boys Grammar School.
He went on to become a children’s entertainer, and over the past four decades has dazzled thousands of children with his combination of magic and storytelling. Now Keith is preparing for his final performance – at Bradford Magic Circle’s annual show, Hey Presto, next month.
“I’m bowing out while I’m still enjoying it,” he says. “I really enjoyed working with children because they get caught up in the magic, I work on their reaction. Telling a story engages their attention.”
With so many demands on children’s leisure time these days, Keith says magic doesn’t hold such a wide appeal for youngsters. “They still love tricks, but when I started I was doing shows mainly for six to nine-year-olds. Now it’s three to six-year-olds,” he says. “I used to do children’s birthday parties all the time, especially when Paul Daniels was on TV, but there aren’t so many these days.” It was a London joke shop that introduced Keith to magic 45 years ago. “I sent off for the catalogue and bought some tricks,” he says. “I was 19 when I did my first show, I remember it as if it was yesterday. A woman who ran local clubs asked me to do a show and she introduced me as a ‘top magician’. I was terrified! But I got through it and have been performing ever since.
“I’ve done shows around the country. I’ve been hired for weddings and birthday parties. Someone once asked me to cut her mother in half for her 50th birthday!” When Keith worked for Bradford Council, he entertained his colleagues with card tricks. “I brought magic into training work, it helped to engage people’s attention,” he says. A member of Bradford Magic Circle, Keith says tricks continue to enthral him. “Even if you know how it’s done, you admire the skill involved,” he says. “Magicians tend to be supportive of each other, they’ll go and see each other perform. We’re a friendly bunch!” Bradford Magic Circle has 80 members, aged 18 to nearly 90. “The Northern Magic Circle has a junior section which trains younger members,” says Keith. “There are a lot of talented youngsters, they’re the next generation of magicians.”
The Hey Presto line-up includes young magicians Mandy Fletcher, 13, and Mark Waddington, 19, as well as illusionist Andrew Green, juggling magician Steve Gore and comedy magician Tony Rix, who is the compere. There will be dancing by the Spotlight stage school. The Hey Presto Family Magic Show is at Bingley Arts Centre on Saturday, March 21. For tickets ring (01274) 432000.
Magician Mark Waddington is set to become Skipton’s answer to Houdini. The 19-year-old, who became the youngest ever member of Bradford Magic Circle aged just 13, is well-known locally for being the resident magician and compère at Skipton Waterways Festival. This year, festival-goers will be in for a treat as Mark is planning to escape from a strait-jacket and chains.
“I wanted to perform the act hanging upside down, swinging from a crane over the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, but the insurance costs were just too high. Maybe next year,” he said. Mark has achieved a cult following for his performances, which combine magic with cheeky comedy. You can read more about Mark on his website at www.showmeatrick.com.
"You have done this before, haven’t you?” I ask, nervously, as magician Steve Gore places my hand into the ‘wrist chopper.’ My hand is locked in a contraption resembling a mini guillotine, with a steel blade resting on top of my wrist. As I’ve just seen, the blade is sharp enough to cut a carrot in half. It’s as this point I wonder why I agreed to take part in this version of the ‘sawing-the-lady-in-half’ trick.
One minute I feel the blade on my skin – I still have a red mark to prove it – and the next it has sliced through. I open my eyes and my hand is still intact. I’m as relieved as I am baffled. It’s one of the various tricks Steve and fellow Bradford Magic Circle member Keith Pickles dazzle me with.
The pair are appearing in Bradford Magic Circle’s annual show, Hey Presto next month. It will be the final performance for Keith, who’s been a children’s entertainer for 40 years. “I’m 60 this year, I’m bowing out while I’m still enjoying it,” he says. “With children’s magic I tell a story, it engages their attention. Children believe in magic, although they also like to work out how it’s done. Their usual response is: ‘It’s up your sleeve!’ There’s so much for them now, with computer games and all that, but they still love a magic trick.” It was discovering “black-faced soap and mouth-burning sweets” in a joke shop that got Keith into magic as a Keighley schoolboy. “My first trick was the paddle trick, I still use it,” he says, pulling out two little paddles and moving them at lightning speed so their dots double and disappear.
He produces a pack of cards and I pick one, then he splits the pack into three several times, before putting them back together and spelling out ‘Hey Presto’. After the ‘o’ he pulls out a card – the one I picked. “That’s the Personal Speller,” he says, moving on to a variation of the 21-card trick, in this case the 18-card trick. It’s fascinating watching him handling the cards up close as I try, and fail, to work out how he ends up with mine. He tells me about another kind of trick, this time involving the ‘forced card’ technique; a subtle manipulation encouraging people to pick a certain card. “Paul Daniels is a master of this,” says Keith. “I’ve seen him do it with other magicians, and even they can’t outwit him. He does it holding the cards behind his back so he can’t even see you pick one – that takes tremendous skill.”
It was Paul Daniels who inspired Steve to take up magic as a boy. “I got a Paul Daniels Magic Set. I once met him and he signed it,” he says. “My parents had fish and chip shops and the man who sold the paper wrapping did tricks for me, I was hooked. I started with three plastic cups hiding a pea. Years later, a magician called Alex Wright told me about Bradford Magic Circle. I joined when I was 18 – now I’m 36 so I’ve been with it half my life!” Another member is street magician Dynamo, alias Steven Frayne of Bradford, an international star whose fans include Will Smith, Chris Martin and Jonathan Ross.
Bradford Magic Circle, which meets monthly, has 80 members, aged 18 to nearly 90. “There are professional magicians to ‘hobbyists’ doing card tricks. We’re always learning tricks; magicians still like being fooled. Even when we know how it’s done we still admire the skill involved,” says Steve, who’ll be president of the Northern Magic Circle in April.
I ask them about the Magic Circle code of honour. “It’s a general rule that we don’t reveal secrets,” says Keith. “It spoils it if everyone knows. People fall into two categories – those who want to know how it’s done and those who want to believe it’s magic.”
Is there a difference between a magician and an illusionist? “An illusionist carries more equipment!” laughs Steve. “Magician is the broad term, but illusionists are more about the stage performance than close-up tricks. What comes naturally to one magician takes longer to perfect with another.”
Keith adds: “One of the most difficult tricks is producing a card out of ‘thin air.’ It takes years of practise to get that right, there’s great skill involved.” The broad types of magic are close-up, stage illusions, children’s magic and escapology. “I prefer close-up,” says Steve, pulling out three pieces of red rope, all different sizes, and pulling them through his hands.
Suddenly it’s one length of rope, then various knots appear and he’s sliding them off. I’m tying myself in knots trying to follow it. Before I can say ‘How on earth..?’ he’s holding up three different-sized ropes again!
“It’s called the Professor’s Nightmare, or Unequal Ropes,” says Steve, literally showing me the ropes of the trick. I grasp the basics but can’t imagine reaching his expertise. Sleight-of-hand tricks involve following the reaction of the other person, leading them into thinking one thing while you’re doing something else.
“It’s second nature now but I’ve practised a lot,” says Steve, who can also juggle, stilt-walk and ride a uni-cycle. His day job is running Victoria Gore Optometrist in Queensbury with his wife. When their daughter, Deanna, was two, Steve taught her tricks such as linking rings and spinning plates. Now three, she appears with him at Magic Circle road shows.
I watch Deanna erupt into giggles as Keith pulls a handkerchief from her ear. As Paul Daniels would say: “That’s magic!”
The Hey Presto Family Magic Show is at Bingley Arts Centre on Saturday March 21. The line-up also includes teenage tricksters Mandy Fletcher and Mark Waddington; illusionist Andrew Green; comedy magician Tony Rix and the Spotlight dancers. For tickets ring (01274) 432000. For more about Bradford Magic Circle visit the website at www.bradfordmagiccircle.co.uk