Saturday night TV used to be magic, why don’t they find another me, says Ipswich Regent panto star Paul Daniels
- Credit: Archant
Millions watched The Paul Daniels Magic Show, which ran on BBC1 from 1979-1994. And don’t we miss it? Regent panto star Paul Daniels thinks so, as he told entertainment writer Wayne Savage.
Paul Daniels is refreshingly honest when it comes to talking about the current crop of magicians or the sad state of Saturday night telly.
We’re sitting outside the Ipswich Star Circle Lounge at the Ipswich Regent, where’s he playing The Emperor in Enchanted Entertainment’s panto Aladdin; joking he’s feeling much better than he should be.
Having grown up watching him make all manner of things vanish and reappear, I have to ask, where have the primetime magicians like him disappeared to?
“You have a bit of a problem with modern magicians, they’ve come up through an era of only doing card tricks, close-up magic. Come the moment when they do a party or whatever and some producer spots them and says ‘I’m going to make a TV show around you’ they then find out they can’t really do it.
“They’ve got six tricks and that’s it,” he says.
“The vast majority of these guys are really nice. Your problem is they don’t have a range of magic.”
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He’s amused by the current trends in magic, with modern magicians doing two or three shows a year compared to his 10 or 12.
“I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for me. They can’t do it. As a guy who knows what I’m watching, I’m saying they’re very good, I like them, I like them all, I go to conventions with them, but they can’t really do it and that’s such a shame.
“I’ve got 147 magic shows on the shelves and I look at them with some pride because there’s nothing on air that compares with them.”
Wife Debbie McGee, playing the Slave of the Ring, who I spoke to later, agreed.
“There’s a lot of good magic out there (but) it’s different; there isn’t any glamorous magic at the moment,” she says, as we talk about the decline of variety shows.
“The nearest that comes to it is Strictly (Come Dancing) and that doesn’t suit the whole family. Some men love it but the ones I know, it’s not their bag.
“Their wives and families watch it.”
If any of the BBC1 show’s producers are reading this, Debbie would love to follow in hubby Daniels’ footsteps and compete.
Meanwhile, money, believes Daniels, is why street magic has become “the thing”.
The production company doesn’t have to buy scenery, pay for make-up, etc and the audience is already on the street.
“It’s a very cheap production to make,” he says, questioning whether youngsters would sit and watch the likes of him and McGee on telly now.
“We live in an era of the internet and that’s what they use as an excuse.
“What I really don’t understand is when you get people in charge of the BBC...
“The BBC’s income doesn’t come from advertising, it doesn’t come for anywhere else but the licence payers.
“The licence payers, they should be waving the banner, they should be the ones doing the big shows and saying ‘well, this is what we do, what do you do’. When they (The BBC) moved to Salford, which everyone agrees was a mega mistake, they made one massive error - they forgot that we the people have paid for the studios in London and they sold them off.”
If the BBC bosses phoned him tomorrow, asking him to return to primetime, the multi-award winning magician’s not sure what he’d say.
“I’m 77 and I watch these things and think ‘I’m sorry, but why don’t you find another one of me’? Martin (his son and fellow magician) could do it I suppose and I know a few others who could do it... I know my producer at the time when I was running the BBC,” he laughs, “he didn’t know of another magician who could pick up anything and make it entertaining.”
The one I remember the most was the vanishing camera, where he makes a video camera disappear while in a crate, all the while transmitting what the camera sees.
“That was a concept that came through the post and it was agreed we’d do it. John Fisher, the producer built it and everything, (it was) very expensive. When they used to sell them off to other countries I used to still get paid for it.
“I was the guy that wrote it, under a different name, they never knew,” laughs Daniels, who’s no stranger to Ipswich.
“I’ve done all sorts in Ipswich. I did a huge illusion for my TV show in the quarry.
“I had this wacko idea for a wild escape and Jon Pertwee pushed a button that released the big swinging demolition ball that knocked down the concrete blocks they’d made like dominoes.
“I was tied up in the shed at the end, which got smashed flat. The camera swung back and I was standing on the ball with Champagne in my hand,” he laughs.
Daniels, who’s designed tricks for shows like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, English National Ballet’s The Nutcracker and the film of Return to Oz to name a few, still teaches magic here and there.
“I’ve got so much going at the moment... We took this little tour out, intending it to be little; it all fits in the back of my estate car and that includes bits of scenery and props and that.
“Whatever (the new brand of magicians are doing), I’m the opposite. Much more pleasant.
“I’ve said on Twitter and Facebook, do yourself a favour, buy a ticket for a live show. If you don’t enjoy yourself, I’ll give you your money back because they’ve forgotten how good it is to sit in an audience.”
He’s looking forward to playing The Emperor, joking he doesn’t particularly want to be funny but can’t help it; going as far as expressing an interest in a part in a straight play before letting me in on a few secrets about the tricks he’ll be doing.
The biggest secret about magic though...
“It always depends on the presenter, it’s never the trick - it’s always the person doing it...”