12th September, 1940 - 20th November 2005
Remembered by Ian Keable
With the death of Bob Read, the UK has lost one of its few internationally known magicians who was respected and revered throughout the magic world. He was one of those handful of magicians, such as his great friend Ricky Jay, who was both a superb performer and a supremely knowledgeable collector and researcher. In addition he was as naturally a funny raconteur as I have ever known, both on and off-stage.
As a stand-up performer in an informal setting, Bob Read was unsurpassed. To see Bob Read produce a wine bottle or witness his hilarious Knife through Coat to any audience, whether they were magicians or lay people, was to see him at his best: and Bob Read at his best was better than any other magician around, bar none.
Bob only turned to full-time magic late on in his life, after a very successful career in the wool industry. But he never regretted such a decision. He loved the freedom of the magic enthusiast combined with the financial security of a proper job; and I suspect the magic world benefited from that as he was free to pursue what he wanted to do, and was best at, without the restrictions of the commercial straitjacket.
His collecting speciality was the Cups and Balls and, unlike many collectors, he also knew his subject inside out. His own performance of the Cups and Balls was both funny and wonderfully executed. He had the finest collection of drawings, prints, paintings and cartoons relating to this trick in existence, not to mention a set of original Hofzinser cups. Many of the prints have been reproduced in numerous magazines and books. The first reproductions I saw were in Pabular magazine (initially edited and illustrated by Fred Robinson and Eric Mason), which also chronicles Bob's exploits of blowing away visiting magicians with his impromptu performances in the Marlborough Arms.
Bob's publications include the Penultimate Cups and Balls, The Cups and Balls in 19th Century Graphic Art, Transpo Tumbler, his supreme Knife Through Coat and his wonderful earliest work, Thanks to Pepys. The latter book sums up his philosophy for performing magic, as well as detailing much of his unique repertoire. In 2005, for The Magic Circle Centenary, he produced Bob Read's Magical London, sub-titled An idler's guide to the magical capital of the world - a labour of love and brilliant research. Naturally he was also booked to perform at the Centenary.
Bob suffered his fatal heart attack in the US a few days after he had talked at The 9th Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. He had given (to quote one attendant) a "very, very funny lecture about trying to trace Arthur Watson whose material somehow found its way into Sidney Clarke's The Annals of Conjuring".
When Fred Robinson died, Bob wrote "this is the saddest day of my life". For many people Bob Read's death will probably provoke a similar sentiment. He was truly a one off and we will not see his like again in the magic world.
Ian Keable, November 2005