Ian Saville


Ian Saville was born in the East End of London in 1953 and began conjuring at the age of 11. He entered talent contests, reaching the semi-finals of the Butlins national talent contest (alongside pianist Bobby Crush and comedian Mike Reid), and then became interested in "serious" theatre. Studying Drama at Exeter University, he worked with the touring political theatre group Broadside, and in community theatre. Around 1979 Ian started developing a "socialist magic" act, using magic tricks and ventriloquism to present and celebrate a socialist view of the world. This act, in its several variations, has been performed in theatres, cabaret clubs, festivals, as well as conferences, demonstrations and on picket lines throughout Britain and abroad. Parts of it have also been performed on television - appearances include In Search of Happiness (with Angus Deayton), Jonathon Ross's The Last Resort, BBC's Cabaret at Jongleurs, Channel 4's The Happening and many others. The contents of the cabaret act changes regularly, but standard tricks include "The Class Struggle Rope Trick" and "The vanish of the military-industrial complex."

His full length show, Brecht on Magic, won him the Time Out London Theatre award "for a distinctive combination of wit and showmanship," and was performed on the Olivier stage of London's National Theatre as a special Platform Performance. In 1994 Ian wrote and performed in Left Luggage, a personal look at the state of the left today. He returned to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1996 in a two person show, with singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson entitled Look at it this Way. Leon and Ian also present a show for children - A Dinosaur in my Shoe.

He has a doctorate for his study of political theatre in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite his "Socialist Magic" act he doesn't belong to any political party, though he is active in the peace movement, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and various other campaigns. Ian lives in London with Pam Laurance, "my main pillar of support."

Top Trick?
"It's a pain to prepare, and it's not a very original choice, but, of all the tricks that I do, the Gene Anderson T&R Newspaper is definitely the trick that gets the most response from audiences purely as magical effect. I use a presentation fitting in with my socialist magic patter in which I mistakenly think I have been approached by someone carrying a copy of the right-wing Times Newspaper, and tear it up as in defiance of Rupert Murdoch, only to see my mistake when the restored paper turns out to be The Independent. So the story line doesn't automatically lead to the paper coming back together, and the audience, believing I'm tearing the paper as part of this story, can be very shocked by the flash restoration. I also include a "piece falling on the floor not included in restoration" variation, which is easy enough to do, but means that you end up having to use more newspapers.

I even do this trick for children, but found that the children were less impressed by the magic (well, since I am a magician, that's the sort of thing I ought to be able to do) so the torn out piece is in the shape of a Rabbit that pokes its head out from behind the paper bundle before the restoration. That gets a very strong response."

Top Book?
"My favourite book on my shelf is a copy of Hoffmann's "Later Magic" - a first edition, though not in particularly good condition. I got it from Oscar Oswald, an eccentric and seemingly disorganised magic dealer in Soho, London, when I was about 13. I love the illustrations of ingenious Victorian devices that one would have to employ a skilled metalworker to make up, and the accounts of patter for tricks such as "An Illustration of Free Trade Principles" (which could no doubt be adapted to say something about the Euro) and "Willmann's 'Metropolitan Railway' Trick" (a possibility for Tube Privatisation?). I like this demonstration that Magic has been used as a vehicle for discourse about social and political ideas for a long time."

Top Magician?
"When I was a member of the Society of Young Magicians (an offshoot of the London Society of Magicians set up in the early 60s), we were treated to a performance by Tony Slydini, over from the USA on a short trip. His was the most magical performance I ever saw, with coins passing clearly through the table, and handkerchiefs knotting and un-knotting at will. Though I knew more or less how he did it, his acting skills were such that I preferred to believe his magical explanations, delivered in his off-centre English.

The other magician that I most admired was Tommy Cooper. Was he a magician or a comedian? I don't know, but he was a great performer, and his live show was the funniest thing I ever saw. A strange thing about the way he is received by lay people is the way in which people often say "although he messed the tricks up for comic effect, he really could do very good magic, and was actually highly skilled at that." I suspect that Tommy Cooper was really just an averagely skilled magician (like I am - though maybe not quite that bad) in terms of technical prowess. But lay people feel that if he really wasn't all that good, they have somehow been fooled (in a bad way) by being made to laugh at him messing things up. They feel easier laughing at someone acting incompetent rather than at someone who really might be incompetent. But the real and important skill that Tommy Cooper had was in his sense of comedy and comic timing - much more valuable than any amount of finger acrobatics."

Top Magic Quote?
"Oh dear. I'm afraid I have to fall back on the obvious 'The magician is an actor playing the part of a magician' Robert-Houdin. Widely known, but not always taken into account in the presentation of magic."

Top Magic Moment?
"For me, it was when I did my magic show "Getting Nowhere - Again," which uses magic tricks to reflect on the life and ideas of William Morris, the great English socialist artist and writer, in Morris's own house in Hammersmith.

Also, somewhere buried deep in my memory, is a magician who came and performed at my primary school, when I must have been about seven. The moment of bewilderment, confusion and pleasure when that big die was not in the other side of the box still remains in my memory."



MagicWeek 2001