Tag Archives: magic

Magician Paul Daniels on a naked man, Margaret Thatcher and self-confidence

Paul Daniels in his Thames-side village this week.

Paul Daniels talked  to me in his Thames-side village.

In yesterday’s blog, magician Paul Daniels remembered appearing on the BBC TV programme Have I Got News For You.

I was once interviewed for a researcher job on Have I Got News For You. I had been hit by a truck a short time before the interview. I was still concussed. During the interview, I accidentally hit the back of my head on the wall as I sat down. The interview did not go well. I think I may have talked gibberish. I did not get the job. I was, however, a researcher on ITV show Game For a Laugh.

“I worked with your son Martin P.Daniels when he was presenting Game For a Laugh,” I told Paul Daniels this week.

There is a YouTube clip of Martin appearing on Paul’s iconic BBC TV magic show.

“He had to be Martin P.Daniels,” Paul told me, “because there was a very old gay actor who hadn’t worked forever but he still paid his Equity subscription and, as a performer, you weren’t allowed to have the same name as someone else.”

“I notice Martin is now billed as Martin Daniels without the P,” I said. “I presume the old guy died?”

Honest James Callaghan in 1979

Honest Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in 1979

“No,” said Paul. “Equity died. They made some major mistakes. I can remember an actress suing a production company because she had got a job as one of the vestal virgins and, when she turned up to do the play, she was eight months pregnant. The director said I can’t use you and Equity went to court on her behalf. That is when I stopped paying my Equity subs. I thought: You’re just getting union silly now. I remember I once did a show for (the then Prime Minister Jim) Callaghan…”

“For why?” I asked.

“For money,” said Paul. “Why does anybody work in this business? We were in an ante-room and he asked me How’s it going? and I said Well, it’s going better for me than it is for you – It was his ‘Winter of Discontent’ – and he said Well, that’s because my government has given in to every union demand.”

“That was very honest of him,” I said, surprised.

An inspiration: Margaret Thatcher

Great orator: Margaret Thatcher

“Very honest,” agreed Paul. “But why didn’t he tell the nation? He told me: We’ve priced ourselves out of the world market. When Maggie Thatcher came along and famously stood up to the miners and unions in general, it was really easy. I admired her at the time. She was a great orator and a great controller of the crowd. She was as good as you get in showbusiness. But I was well aware that she wasn’t being The Iron Lady. We had no money, so you could demand all you liked, but nobody could give you any money because we didn’t have it. That was what broke the unions. The unions broke themselves. It happened in showbusiness with the Musicians Union. They priced themselves out of the market with silly rules. It was insanity.”

“Magic is strange…” I started to say.

“It’s supposed to be,” said Paul.

“But the strange thing,” I said, “is deciding you want to be a magician… because that means deciding you want to con people as a profession. You want to have power over people by having them misunderstand reality.”

“No, no. You don’t,” said Paul. “Magic in its proper sense is the defiance of all natural laws. What we do is not magic; it’s conjuring. We are actors playing the part of fabulous magicians: creatures of fable.”

“What is conjuring, then?” I asked. “Just fake magic?”

Paul Daniels, magician, aged 14

Paul Daniels, aged 14, three years into his magic stage career

“Yeah. Yeah. It’s magic for muggles. Why did I want to do it? Because… Well, first of all I was eleven years old when I started and I was very shy. I was VERY shy until I was 32. I was performing but, offstage I was… What is it?… It’s an awareness that you hold secrets, data that they don’t have and that you can, for moments, take them into a wonderful world where anything is possible.”

“But,” I said, “if you are a very shy 15 or 25 year old, is it also a way of being in control of a world that would otherwise control you?”

“You can do magic on yourself,” said Paul. “Of course you can. But the best fun of magic is when you’re doing it to/for/with someone else. it’s the look on their faces. Magicians’ applause is the moment of silence when the trick’s finished and the audience thinks: Wha-a-a-a-t-t?”

“So comedians,” I said, “get a kick out of audience laughter and magicians get a kick out of silence and astonished faces?”

“Yeah,” said Paul. “It’s a weird thing now. At the Balham Comedy Festival next Tuesday, I’m doing stuff with which I’m not too familiar. Some of it is new; some of it I haven’t done for a very long time and…”

“Before I started recording this chat,” I said, “you said your act in Balham involves sitting on a toilet in some way.”

“There’s an element of that involved,” said Paul.

“You said you were shy until 32?” I asked. “That is a very specific age. What happened?”

Paul’s publicity for the Balham Comedy Festival

Paul & Debbie’s publicity for the Balham Comedy Festival

“I did a hen party in Essex. A man walked on dressed as a Viking and, after about ten minutes, all he had on were his furry boots and horns on his head and he’s waving his willy around and, like some people become Born Again Christians, I became a Born Again Extrovert. At that moment, I realised no matter how tall, short, fat, thin, bald or whatever I became, I could never look as bloody stupid as he did. And that was it for me. No point in being shy.”

“So you gained your self-confidence overnight?” I asked.

“Yes. I was already good at my job. But that released me. I just went for it after that.”

“Are horns and a willy-warmer going to be part of your act in Balham?” I asked.

“I can do that,” said Paul. “A friend, in fact, gave me a willy-warmer reputedly knitted by his Auntie Maureen and it had no end on it because she couldn’t quite remember how long it was supposed to be.”

“You’ve won many awards,” I said, “including Golden Rose of Montreux and Cock of the North.”

“Cock of the North,” explained Paul, “was my first real award and I think that says it all,”

“What’s the greatest magic trick?” I asked.

“Well,” said Paul, “if I’m in the audience, I like to watch levitation, because it’s artistic, it’s beautiful and we’ve all dreamt about flying. But I don’t think there is one greatest of anything. Magic is like singing. It’s down to the singer. It’s down to the presenting every time. I can give you a violin and say There’s the stick and you pull it across the strings and that’s how it works. But that’s not music. I can show you how a magic trick works, but that’s not magic.”

On YouTube, there is a clip of Paul Daniels taking a leaf out of Edgar Allan Poe’s book and cutting his wife, the lovely Debbie McGee, in half with a pendulum.

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Magician Paul Daniels on how “Have I Got News For You” re-appeared his joke

Paul Daniels with the lovely Debbie McGee

Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie McGee live by the Thames

Magician Paul Daniels performs at the Balham Comedy Festival next Tuesday. It is billed as “a show full of magic, comedy and amazement” with Paul and his wife – the lovely Debbie McGee.

“So your Balham thing involves a toilet?” I asked when we met this week.

“Oh, I’ll just wander on and have a chat,” he told me. “If I’m going to do an after dinner speech, for example, Debbie won’t let me write it, because I ad-lib better. I float free. I’m kind of a jazz comedian, a jazz magician. I don’t have a set route. I have this belief that, whatever happens, I’ll get out the other end.

“I have a sort of routine with the magic – it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But, with the beginning and middle, I can kinda drift into stuff and I don’t mind if I’m distracted or the audience wants to know something. I’ll wander off what I’m saying, but I’ll find a way back.

“In the early days, when I played the working men’s clubs, I was winning comedy awards which is long-forgotten because, when you get to the BBC, it’s all: Oh no, you’re the magician. Jokes must be edited out. 

“Of course, you always over-record a show. Louis Theroux came to interview us and stayed three months. You over-record and then edit it down. We used to over-record my TV show by about 10 minutes. But, I mean, Have I Got News For You is like a…”

“Oh God!” I said. “Don’t! I sat through one recording. It was endless. I think it took over three hours.”

“Yes. Just to find 30 minutes of something funny,” said Paul. “Which is weird, because they’ve got it all written down anyway. I mean, Punch magazine published the script once.”

“Why did you go on it?” I asked.

“Because I couldn’t figure out,” explained Paul, “why my very funny friends weren’t funny when they were on it.

“I went on and I told a good gag about Bush and Blair and the War – about having ‘wargasms’ – I said they weren’t allowed to have sex any more because of Clinton, so they had wargasms instead.

“My longest, oldest friend was sitting in the front during the recording and, when he saw the show go out, he told me: You don’t do any gags! You did loads of gags when we were there. Where were they? He was going to write and complain. He’s like that.

“I said: Oh! It’s alright… But one week later, my wargasm joke was in the show told by the presenter (Angus Deayton).”

“I’m shocked,” I said.

“Good,” said Paul. “That’s my job.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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A spectacular Lions party in Kiev with sword fights and Red Hot Chilli Pipers

(This piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Honestly! I had to have breakfast in Kiev to hear about the current protection rackets of Glasgow gangsters and Glasgow Council officers. Other people’s lives!

Stuart McKenzie - master of spectacular events in the Ukraine

Stuart McKenzie – master of highly spectacular events in the Ukraine

But, really, I was in Kiev to attend the annual Burns Night celebration which, it seems, is never held anywhere near Burns Night in the calendar.

The only thing I can say about it is that Stuart McKenzie (stepson of the late Scots comedian Jimmy Logan) sure knows how to throw a charity party. I was at last year’s celebration, which was wonderful, but this year he has outdone himself.

Iconic Scots TV presenter Dougie Donnelly flew over to present 11 acts, 55 entertainers, multi-lingual addresses to the Haggis and genuine sword-fighting.

The Lions Club in Kiev is the biggest in Eastern Europe and, judging from last night, no wonder they manage to raise around $300,000 every year for charity, with this annual event contributing mightily.

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers playing in Kiev last night

Red Hot Chilli Pipers left Kiev reeling & rocking last night

Classical music, bagpiping, the aforementioned swordfighting by The Clann, Dutch singer Mark Enthoven and the extraordinary Red Hot Chilli Pipers.

Plus 38 ‘silent’ auctions in which people bid for everything from a $500 Muhammed Ali autograph to a $3,000 two-day training prize for up to 15 people… plus ten ‘live’ auctions which started with an $11,000 bid and ended with the auction of a $23,000 holiday-for-two in the Seychelles (all money going to charity).

The various holiday auction prizes included two separate Seychelles holidays, two Kenyan holidays and a $7,000 London holiday all put together by Fred Finn, the Guinness Book of Records’ title holder as ‘most travelled person’.

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Zap, the magician, mystifying a glamorous guest last night

Fred had also arranged for the magician Zap to perform table magic during the show. I am ashamed to say I had never seen Zap before but, as a close-up magician, he is flawless. One trick involves taking a low-value note given to him by a punter and changing it into a high-value note ‘before your very eyes’.

Fred told me: “I took Zap to Kenya where he changed low bills into high ones and some of the guys there got a bit rough and took him outside to make him do it for all their money. And then there was the occasion with the UK celebrity where he turned £5 into £50 and the celebrity just walked off with the £50…”

Andrei Trilev got into the Chilli Piping spirit of last night’s event

Profile of publisher Andrei Trilev air guitaring

The six hour long but astonishingly fast-moving Burns Night event yesterday evening was quite something.

I was on an interesting table with, among others, Andrei Trilev, founder of the ultra-glossy Profiles magazine. He is a man unafraid to join in the fun.

And let’s not even mention the Scots croft in the foyer, the Scots castle set on stage or the live sheep.

Not surprisingly, Stuart McKenzie co-owns Ukrainian events company Pulse.

He has been in Kiev since 1994 and his company interests now include entertainment, events, logistics, marketing, property, research and training and his attitude is far from that of the cliché dour Scot.

His view is:

“The best marketers are in the game early and are always on the lookout for the next selling opportunity, the latest trend, the next unmet need. It’s enough to keep you awake at night – but from excitement, rather than from fear.

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

Some of The Clann members fighting during last night’s show

“My crystal ball has been in the repair shop for a long time. I have absolutely no inkling of what the future holds. Don’t ask me what the trends will be in 2015. I do not have a clue. I can say this, though, with absolute certainty: the future will be glorious for the optimists; the creative marketers who will set the trends and stand to profit from the opportunities that they represent!”

It was announced that, after 18 years of being involved in organising this annual Burns Night celebration in Kiev, it may be Stuart McKenzie’s last. If so, Kiev social life and local charities will be poorer for it.

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“I was there in the theatre that night” – The death of Tommy Cooper, live on TV

The day the magic died – live on nationwide TV

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

In my blog a couple of days ago, comedian Jeff Stevenson remembered the night of 15th April 1984 when comedian Tommy Cooper may have died on stage during the Live From Her Majesty’s TV show – which was screened live by London Weekend Television on the full ITV network.

When she read this, a friend of mine who worked for LWT at the time and whom I shall call Anne O’Nimus, told me:

“I was there in the theatre that night, standing at the back of the Circle.”

She told me: “Bearing in mind that Her Majesty’s is a small theatre, I had a good view but wasn’t close or behind the curtains. I never found Tommy Cooper amusing – I never ‘got’ his act – so I wasn’t laughing and, perhaps because of that, as soon as I saw him collapse, I thought he was ill.

Tommy Cooper at Her Majesty’s on the night of 15 April 1984

“I remember him falling back, clutching at the curtains and falling through them until I could just see his legs twitching and the audience continued to laugh not knowing that he was dying as his legs twitched through the curtain. I think he was either dragged fully back through the curtains or the curtains were arranged in front of him. I mainly remember the twitching legs and realising immediately that the man was ill whilst people around me were laughing and thinking it was part of the act.”

Someone else I know – comedy scriptwriter Nigel Crowle – tells me:

“I was working for the Presentation Department at BBC Television Centre that night, actually running transmission in Pres B, so – as you can imagine – all TV screens were tuned to either BBC 1 or BBC 2. I remember being frustrated that everybody else seemed to have been watching the show live whereas I was cueing up a trail for something like The Two Ronnies.

“In the 1990s, however, I remember talking to Alasdair Macmillan about that night – he had been directing the show. Alasdair said it was one of the worst nights of his life. He knew instantly that something was wrong because Tommy had collapsed mid-act, so they cut to the commercial break early.”

In my blog a couple of days ago, Jeff Stevenson told me:

“The curtains closed and Jimmy Tarbuck, who was the compere, had to stand on stage in front of the curtains filling-in to the audience. He told me later that, as he was talking, he could hear them hitting Tommy’s chest behind the curtain, trying to revive him – and Tommy was one of Jimmy’s heroes. Terrible, terrible.”

Nigel Crowle says: “Then – and this is where in retrospect they should never have returned to the show during live transmission – they made Les Dennis go on with Dustin Gee and do their Mavis and Vera (characters from Coronation Street) routine in front of the curtain, whilst attempts were made behind them to revive Tommy.

“Les Dennis later told me that, as Jimmy Tarbuck told Jeff, it was a harrowing experience because, as he and Dustin were trying to get laughs, (having been told to go on-stage despite knowing that Tommy was in real trouble), they could hear a groaning noise and the sound of people thumping Tommy’s chest a few feet behind them.”

My friend Anne O’Nimus thinks Tommy Cooper died on the stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre that night. She tells me:

“Afterwards, the press kept chasing the story that he died on camera and LWT stuck to their story that he died in the ambulance on the way to hospital.

“Oddly, I read notices of a book recently, purportedly from LWT crew on duty that night, who were also sticking to the company line that Tommy Cooper died later in the ambulance. I think his son stuck to that line as well, so maybe I am wrong.

“But, if so, David Bell (LWT’s Head of Entertainment at the time) and his cohorts were behaving mighty oddly. Everyone clammed-up whenever I asked about it, which was unusual enough. I never knew whether it was because they were afraid that it would put the kibosh on live productions or whether the company might be found to be negligent in some way – which was unlikely, given it was a heart attack. There was no public discussion about it in my presence, even at editorials.

“I felt that they were lying,” my friend Anne O’Nimus told me yesterday, “and I was horrified that anyone would lie about someone’s death – but, then, they said LWT’s Director of Programmes Cyril Bennett fell from that window didn’t they?”

Cyril Bennett was a hugely popular man at LWT and in the television industry. In November 1976, it was said, he was leaning out of the window of his flat in Dolphin Square to see whether his car was there and fell to his death. The verdict was accidental death.

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Magician Paul Zenon, comedian Charlie Chuck and Vic & Bob’s big birthday cake

Paul Zenon outside the cow yesterday.

So, yesterday evening, I was sitting on London’s South Bank with Miss Behave outside the giant upside-down purple cow – the Uddderbelly venue – discussing which acts to book for the two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August. It is on the final Friday of the Fringe and Miss Behave is presenting it.

“Well,” I said, “we already have the Greatest Show on Legs doing the naked balloon dance…”

And then magician Paul Zenon passed by. He had a chat with Miss Behave.

“I’m seeing Charlie Chuck tomorrow,” I said to him.

“Ah,” Paul said. “He phoned me up recently because he says he’s going to be doing more work in Europe and he wants some props for a tour that’s coming up.

“Years ago, I made some props for him because I wanted to have the credit as Charlie Chuck’s magic consultant. He phoned me up because he was doing a four-month theatre tour with Vic and Bob – Reeves & Mortimer – and he wanted some bigger visuals to play the theatres.

“Years before that, I’d been doing kids’ TV and had some props left. One of them was a big megaphone-trumpet.

“It involved a whole routine with a giant birthday card, where you sing Happy Birthday, you show the card, you sing through the funnel, put the funnel on top of the card and then, for the reveal, a big three-tier cake appears underneath the funnel – like a wedding cake, but it’s a birthday cake.

“Nothing can go wrong…

“So I trained Charlie to do this, spent a couple of hours rehearsing it and he did it very well. It fitted his style. Just a daft thing. Singing a song.

“So, the first night of the four-month tour, it comes to that part of the show… He sings Happy Birthday, he shows the card, sings through the funnel, reveals the cake… Big round of applause… And then he twats the cake with a big lump of wood and destroys it and that was the end of the £300 prop on the first night of the tour.”

“That’s Charlie Chuck,” I laughed. “He loves a plank of wood. What did he say afterwards?”

“He didn’t mention it and neither did I,” replied Paul. “I don’t think we’ve mentioned it to this day.”

“And now he wants more props for European shows?” I asked.

“Yes,” Paul said. “So I’m thinking of anything else I can get rid of out of my cupboard, because it’ll just get trashed anyway. He says he’s making the act more visual to move into other territories. Maybe that’s,” Paul laughed, “cos of Health & Safety issues in the UK getting stricter – He has to go elsewhere to swing big bits of wood round near audiences. I think the act’s genius. I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen.”

“Do you want to appear on the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh?” Miss Behave asked.

“OK,” said Paul.

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Christianity and close-up magic tricks at Parliament… followed by naked radio

Radio magic - Lewis Schaffer (left) & Martin Soan (naked)

I had an interesting, if slightly varied, day yesterday.

It started with lunch at the Houses of Parliament and ended with a naked radio chat show near London Bridge.

I had lunch at the Palace of Westminster with Fred Finn (Guinness Record holder as the world’s most-travelled person and blogger for Ukraine International Airlines), Grenville Burn (personal assistant to former Labour Chief Whip Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland) and a barrister who had better remain nameless lest it sound like advertising.

Grenville Burn is a former colonel in the Salvation Army, comes from a family of Salvation Army officers and the only person I have ever met whose opening gambit to me over lunch was “Are you a Christian?” and, when I said, “No,” responded, “Why?”

He is also an intriguingly enterprising man who is involved in the Executives Association of Great Britain and the Mikado Experience which, he tells me, was involved in creating over £70 million of new business last year. He ‘teaches’ Networking – at universities, to directors, for companies. He has some fascinating psychological and schmoozing insights in how to get on in business, something he told me he partially learned by being a Christian preacher… and he is involved in an organisation called BestForBusiness which, he tells me, is already bigger than the Institute of Directors. He is a sophisticated and persuasive man who – perhaps fortunately for me – has not yet started selling double-glazing.

More interesting to me than all that, though, was that he frustratingly told me a couple of extraordinary and totally unpublishable true stories plucked, as they say, from tabloid headlines… and he is a skilled close-up magician – rope tricks, dice, you name it – as well as being impressively fast on the creation of magic squares from any numbers. In years past, he might have been burnt at the stake as the possessor of unearthly powers.

There is no easy way to link from Christianity and magic tricks performed in the environs of the Houses of Parliament to exposed male genitalia in a radio studio near London Bridge, so I will not even attempt it.

I wrote a blog last week titled How I talked myself out of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s naked radio show.

It seems I was over-optimistic.

Last night, after a meal with comedian Martin Soan, I ended up at Resonance FM for their lengthily-titled weekly radio show The Voice of Americans with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead – a man who could and should never be confused with Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland.

When we arrived at the studio, Lewis Schaffer told Martin: “You can’t take your clothes off. They won’t allow it. Sorry. Apparently OfCom rules say you can’t do naked radio.”

“Well, I’m going to take off my clothes anyway,” replied Martin, “because that’s what I’m doing here.”

“That’s the only reason I’ve come!” piped up my eternally-un-named female friend.

“Do I look good?” asked Lewis Schaffer, stroking his black suit.

“Fuck it,” said Martin. “Being naked is really what it’s all about, isn’t it?. I’m taking my clothes off.”

“Well I’ll take my clothes off too,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Keep your socks on,” advised Martin, taking his clothes off. “You are never naked with your socks on, man. You are never naked with your socks on.”

Martin had had a few drinks with us before arriving at the studio.

“I don’t want to take my clothes off in front of the young women,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’ll take my shirt off.”

“I’ve got no microphone,” said Martin.

“I’m so fat. I’m so fat,” said Lewis Schaffer, taking his shirt off. “Am I too fat? I’m too fat. Who can love a man with a… Let’s see your penis…”

“You can see my penis any time you want,” said Martin.

“It’s a lovely-sized penis,” said Lewis Schaffer with warmth in his voice.

“I think I can retain some kind of calm and I will not freak out for this announcement,” said the Resonance FM girl who had to introduce the show on air. “I will not freak out for this announcement.”

“Have I got a microphone?” asked Martin.

“Would I look good naked?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Am I too fat? Yes I am. Do you understand what I am saying? I am too fat.”

“It’s pointless being naked if I haven’t got a microphone,” said Martin.

“No-one will like me naked,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I dress up nicely. I wear a dark suit. That’s what I wear. A dark suit. Do I look good for my age?” He started to put his shirt back on. He looked at Martin. “He’s got a lovely-sized penis. Me? I’ve gained a bit of waistline; it’s not a sexy look.”

“You’ve got one minute,” said the Resonance FM girl.

“This is just a normal Monday night for me,” said Martin. “Being naked.”

“Take a picture of his penis,” Lewis Schaffer told me.

“You’re listening,” said the Resonance FM girl, “to Resonance 104.4 FM. That was Luscombe’s Choice. Coming up next, Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer of Nunhead.”

Then the opening music – God Bless America – swelled up, the show started, I coughed a bit and Martin stayed naked and got passionate about funding cuts for the elderly in Nunead. It will probably turn up as a podcast at some point. What can I say?

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The comedian and magician who used to tear his name off publicity photos

Mystery man of comedy Ray Presto on stage at Up The Arts

“The first time I met Ray was in 2004 at a Linda Trayers gig in Kilburn where Russell Brand headlined and only three people turned up,” Paul Ricketts told me yesterday.

“The gig was pulled but, Russell Brand still demanded his money (£100), leaving Linda Trayers in tears. Straightaway, Ray saw his opportunity to console Linda whilst at the same time continually asking for a gig.

“If he fancied and wanted to impress any lady or promoter he would do his ‘£5 of my own money’ trick which did have overtone of bribery when he paid over his ‘Bank Of Presto’ note with his own face printed on it.”

As well as being an excellent comedian, Paul Ricketts runs the Up The Arts comedy club in London (with Verity Welch) and booked Ray Presto regularly. I asked Paul about Ray Presto because, when he died aged 74 last week, Ray was said in an obituary to be a “stalwart of the London open mic circuit” and “a regular at clubs including Pear Shaped and, most notably, the Comedy Store‘s King Gong show, where he would receive decidedly mixed reactions from audiences… He returned time after time to the show – until 2009, when he was asked to stop, after a new booker took over.”

This intrigued me, because I had never seen his act and the phrasehe would receive decidedly mixed reactions from audiences” sounded interesting. Especially when Fix comedy entrepreneur Harry Deansway wrote in the obituary: “Famed for his strange but smart appearance, unique delivery of out-of-date jokes and magic tricks, Ray Presto often left audiences baffled. Was this a well thought-out character act, or a delusional Seventies throwback? Was he in on the joke? ”

Paul Ricketts told me:

“Ray was the last of the line of strange acts that I saw during the mid to late naughties – which included Phil Zimmerman, Joel Elnaugh, Linda Trayers, Persephone Lewin and Bry Nylon. Some of these acts were knowingly playing with the conventions of stand-up, while others could be seen as deluded in their ambitions.”

“Ray,” Paul told me, “stood apart because he did take himself very seriously. Because of his previous incarnation as a magician he felt he had the experience and stagecraft to make it as a comic. Right from the start he aggressively sold himself as a comedy performer.

“He became a monthly fixture at the Comedy Store Gong Show, cleverly realising that his Happy Days Are Here Again intro music took up at least one minute of the five minutes he needed to survive. His material was made up of inoffensive old jokes – the sort you’d find in Christmas crackers – delivered at a pace that would make Stewart Lee sound like fast-talking Adam Bloom. It was this slow, deliberate delivery which made him distinctive and generated much of the laughter.

“But his self-belief meant that he didn’t like to take advice from anyone. Don Ward of the Comedy Store liked Ray, gave him several 10 minutes spots and wanted him to develop his act from old jokes mixed with magic tricks to include more observations about his life and age. Ray, however, was wary of moving in this direction as he didn’t want to reveal too much about himself. Instead he tried to add more ‘racy’ material – notably a joke about underage sex – which led to him being immediately ‘gonged off’ at the Comedy Store.”

Anthony Miller of Pear Shaped remembers that Ray “became so successful at the Comedy Store that they had to ban him from the gong as he was undermining the object of the Gong Show – to be cold, intimidating and unwelcoming. He told me he didn’t understand why they stopped him doing the gong and seemed a bit put out by it and so I suggested to him that probably someone like him making it ‘human’ was undermining it a bit and that he shouldn’t let that undermine any relationship he had built up with them if they still gave him gigs. To which he replied That is very deep.”

Paul Ricketts tells me Ray was very ambitious, but would hand out publicity photos of himself with the corner torn off, presumably because they were old photographs and had his real name printed on them.

“He was as impatient as any younger comic about his progression in stand-up,” Paul says, “He would badger people for gigs and hand out leaflets and photos to any and everyone. Once he’d been on or turned up at a gig hoping to get on, Ray would heckle some acts by falling asleep in the front two rows. Not only would this disconcert those on stage, it would disconcert the audience who would be scared to wake him up as they weren’t sure if Ray was dead or alive. In any event ‘falling asleep’ would ensure that Ray became the centre of attention.

“Despite me asking Ray many times,” Paul told me, “he wasn’t forthcoming about his past – all he ever said was that he was a magician from Hull.”

Harry Deansway reveals that Ray moved from Hull to London in 2002 “with the aim of getting more work as a writer, but struggled to get published. Off stage, he was a committed atheist and hedonist, having published a book in 1972 called Choose Your Pleasurea collection of essays on the pros and cons of hedonism and self-indulgence. Off the back of this he got regular writing work as a columnist in Penthouse magazine, which he contributed to under his real name David Shaw… Although he will be remembered by many on the circuit, it will not be for what he wanted to be remembered for – as a serious writer.”

Paul Ricketts adds: “I had some political conversations with him and he was a libertarian in the way that he instinctively distrusted Government, especially the tax authorities. This could explain the occasion when he asked to perform his magic act at a children’s centre but changed his mind when he was asked to give his bank account details and undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check.

“On another occasion, he asked me how he could open a bank account under his stage name so he could avoid paying tax.

“All I really knew about Ray was that he had an eye for the ladies, he was ambitious to do well in stand-up and he seemed to have enough money to annually spend the winter months in Thailand and showed me pictures of himself strolling through Thai food markets wearing Bermuda shorts.”

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