Tag Archives: unions

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Magic, Politics

Margaret Thatcher, UK trades unions and my first job in television production

An NUJ card was easier to get than an ACTT card

I had an NUJ card because I wrote words

Margaret Thatcher became British Prime Minister in 1979.

In 1979, I was working at ATV in Birmingham as a Scriptwriter in their Promotion Dept. I had to be in the NUJ (the National Union of Journalists) because I wrote scripts. I wrote scripts for the announcers but I could not edit promotion trailers because that area of work was controlled by the ACTT, the technical union for film & TV workers.

It was impossible to work in specific jobs in TV without being in the appropriate union.

In 1979, I realised that 14th November 1980 would be the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Coventry by German aircraft. The raid destroyed 75% of the city. So I suggested to Brian Lewis, head of documentaries, that ATV should film a programme about the raid. Coventry was in the ATV region.

He was interested in the idea and asked me to do some preliminary research on the background to a documentary film, but made it clear that I could not be employed or credited as a researcher on any production, because I was a member of the NUJ, not the ACTT.

At the time, the ACTT seemed more of a protection racket than a union. The employers had to do what the unions demanded or their TV signal would be taken off air and the TV companies would make no money. The workers had to pay the union money in order to work. If you were not a union member, you were not allowed to work. Most television and film work was a closed shop and there was a Catch-22. You could not get specific jobs unless you had a union card. It was highly difficult to get a union card without already having the specific job.

I did some preliminary research for the Coventry film and talked to director John Pett who had been assigned to the project. ATV, being an honest company, paid me for my work. But I could not work on the production and got no credit. That was fine. That was the way things worked at the time.

The hour-long documentary was made, with two ACTT researchers working on the production. It was transmitted on the ITV network as Moonlight Sonata in 1980.

The ACTT - more of a protection racket than a union

ACTT – more protection racket than union

Eventually, I managed to get an ACTT union card as a Researcher by getting a job on the ATV children’s TV series Tiswas.

Much later, I was able to get a coveted ACTT card as a Director in the Promotions Dept at Central, the successor to ATV. It was a long, complicated and slightly Byzantine process to get the card. At around the same time, Margaret Thatcher stopped union ‘closed shops’.

So I needed an ACTT director’s card to work as a director… I eventually got one… but, by the time I actually got a director’s card, I could have worked without having one.

Margaret Thatcher destroyed the unions’ closed shops.

Good for her.

And good everyone else except the power-crazed union bosses of the time.

Now she is dead. Her funeral is today.

So it goes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Television

Showbiz and TV talent shows before Margaret Thatcher

I had lunch last week with the highly entertaining Derek Hobson, host of ITV’s seminal talent show New Faces, which was responsible for the ‘discovery’ of Michael Barrymore, the wonderful Marti Caine, Jim Davidson, Les Dennis, Lenny Henry, Victoria Wood etc in the pre-Thatcher 1970s. He reminded me about the old union-dominated days at ATV (where I worked a various times). Lenny Henry was chosen by the producers to be on New Faces and it made him a star, but it took a whole year before he was seen on screen because the unions only allowed card-carrying Equity or Musicians’ Union members to appear on the show.

Derek told me that, when Yorkshire TV recorded its classic sitcom Rising Damp, which was screened on ITV as six-part series, the company used to schedule recordings for seven episodes per series on the basis that one entire episode would always be lost due to Luddite practices during the recordings by the all-powerful ACTT union. I well remember their pre-Thatcher power. The ACTT was less a union protecting its members, more a protection racket threatening employers and running a heavily enforced closed shop.

As a member of the National Union of Journalists at ATV, I suggested a documentary to be transmitted on the 40th anniversary of the 1940 Wartime bombing of Coventry (and provided research and sources) but I was not allowed to be employed nor credited as a researcher on the show because I was not an ACTT member and researchers could only be ACTT members.

Derek also told me the story of a singer who triumphantly performed on one edition of New Faces, wowing the judges, the studio audience and the viewers at home. The response was immense. On the Monday after the show was transmitted, the singer received a phone call from the manager of two of the biggest music acts of the time – acts with a similar style. The manager wanted to sign the singer to an exclusive management contract. The singer was overwhelmed and flattered to be approached by the high-profile and highly successful manager; he  thought his career was made and his life would be transformed. But, in fact, the manager wanted to sign the singer because he saw a potential threat to his two existing acts. The singer was too similar; he was given ten duff songs in a row to record, his potential career was destroyed and the manager’s two existing acts continued to prosper with no threat of competition.

So it goes.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Politics, Television