Secrets of Magic
Saturday 8.35pm 2nd August 2003
Reviewed by Duncan Trillo
Introduction, taken from the MagicWeek News page. Number 163, 9th August 2003:
British magic hit an all-time low on Saturday night (August 2nd) with the transmission of Secrets of Magic. I had to have a good think before deciding to go ahead and review the show as I know all the magicians involved, both in front of and behind the camera. Most are really good friends, some I've known for 20 years. Between them they have been responsible for some of the finest televised magic I've ever seen and MagicWeek has supported their work and will no doubt support future projects too. But I thought Secrets of Magic was so bad. In my article/review I've tried to explain why I believe magic is so very special and why it should be treasured. 9.8.03
Based on the show's dire multiple-choice format, here's one for the producers to ponder.
Secrets of Magic was made because...
A. There's lots of money to be made out of exposing magic on television
B. Now is the perfect time to cash-in on magic's current popularity
C. We don't care what magicians think
D. All of the above
This is not going to be a straight-forward review, it can't be. I really want to try and convey why I thought the programme was so wrong and why it should never have been made.
I think its makers have completely forgotten what magic is all about...
I love watching magic. I've loved it ever since I was a little boy. From seeing the "Chinese Wallet" in the school playground to watching the brilliance of Al Goshman and Richard Ross at Ron's Day, to the spectacle of Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, to just the other night at The Magic Circle when a friend said "Duncan come and look at this" as he introduced me to a visiting magician who was performing some amazing sleights with a deck of cards.
And I love performing magic. I've done it for 25 years all over the world. For me magic is very special. I treasure it, and think how lucky I am to be a part of it. I respect "magic" - its creators and performers, past and present, and the very art of magic itself. That's why this type of show leaves me so incensed.
Years ago I used to perform in Covent Garden and battled with angle problems (with a silent act) but managed, just about. Today, when I do an after dinner cabaret, I often come up against those same angle problems, with difficult room layouts and people sitting on either side of me, but I try my very best to minimise the possibilities of anyone seeing something that they shouldn't. I'm not perfect, but...
OF EXPOSING MAGIC ON NATIONAL TELEVISION IS ALIEN TO ME and always has been. I
just don't get it. I don't understand how anyone who has grown up with
magic can do it. Don't they understand that it's not the METHOD that has
an impact on an audience - it is the EFFECT! That as soon as you expose
the method you completely devalue the magic, your performance and your art.
No matter how you dress it up, as in this production. And exposing bogus
methods, as was sometimes the case, doesn't make it "alright" either
(that's just a red
herring). Nor does the "sucker trick" argument hold any water - not for a split-second. This wasn't a "sucker trick" with a clever twist in the
context of a full performance of magic - this was a series of
contrived exposures, packaged, pumped out, and sold as Secrets of Magic.
MAGIC IS SPECIAL
Some of my most vivid early memories are associated with magic. I'll never forget a pre Christmas trip to London and a visit to Harrods toy department when I was about eight years old. There was a magic counter manned by a magician in full get-up: tux, frilly dress shirt, bow tie, the lot! This was the first time I'd seen a real magician. With a flourish I was invited to "pick a card" which I did, and then to "press the button on the back." I pressed on the back of the card, and it changed into a different card! It really did.
It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen! I absolutely loved it!
My parents bought me a deck, not to be opened until Christmas... but I couldn't wait. Somehow these cards could change into other cards… but how? During the long car journey home I had to have a look. I remember my heart sinking when I opened the box and pressed on the back of a card… it didn't change. I tried another card, it didn't change either. I was really disappointed.
It wasn't until I read the instructions and
started to practise that I realised just how special these cards really
were. The secret was actually quite simple, but the effect was far from
simple, the effect was pure magic! I took the cards to school and had great fun showing card tricks
to friends, but I never told them the secret.
Eight years old and I knew that it was wrong to reveal the secret - that would spoil the fun.
SECRETS OF MAGIC
Now, years on, and my heart sank again. Secrets of Magic spoilt the fun. Exposing actual and bogus methods left, right and centre. 'Performance' didn't come into the equation, the magicians were the producers 'props' and 'exposure' was the star of the show.
It was as if they'd set out to rip the soul out of magic.
What were the producers, who have been
responsible for some excellent productions in the past thinking about?
What right do they think they have to dilute something that I, and thousands of others, really care about, reducing it to nothing more than a cheap laugh on a third-rate game show?
Why are magic producers making this programme and why are magicians appearing on it?
There were many exposure sequences in the show, here is one of them: A young woman from the audience joined a magician at his table. He showed her three coins and an empty metal goblet which was covered with a silk. He placed the first coin into his pocket, magically it travelled to the goblet (invisibly) landing with an audible "clink." The second coin vanished from within the folds of a small piece of paper, and it too could be heard "arriving" in the goblet. "That's amazing" said the spectator. Finally the third coin just disappeared - one moment it was in his hands, the next - gone! The goblet was uncovered and there, inside, were the three coins. Magic! It looked very good and by this time the woman was clearly enchanted - she loved it! This was good magic performed by an excellent magician. Job done, or so you would have thought...
The trick was then thrown over to three "TV personalities" to dissect before they were invited to select method A, B, C, or D from a 4-way multiple choice list. Then the studio audience were invited to vote A, B, C, or D as well. This really was dreadful stuff.
"Three years at drama school for this" eyes
rolling skyward, said a panelist, clearly
Then the magician exposed the method, in this case half bogus and half actual, but all very plausible (either way that's irrelevant of course), then he repeated the whole thing again, using different methods to "fool" everyone. So what! You could carry on all night doing that. The whole concept is so flawed.
Why are they making an exposure show in the first place?
Why are they prostituting magic?
Next, a magician was seen walking along a platform on Waterloo Station trying to round-up a few passers-by to show a card trick to, before explaining how it's all done of course. Magically the 'card behind train window' (later exposed) was far stronger than the shoe trick seen in the "fooled you" sequence that followed (that wasn't exposed), but none of the production team spotted that because they were so focused on exposing methods as opposed to presenting effects (i.e. from a lay viewpoint: picking a card is "fair and square" and its appearance on an incoming train's window "magic" but making someone's shoe appear on board a train that was drawing into a platform, nominated by the spectator, in the hands of another magician, is instantly dismissed as being too impossible and therefore "stooged"). Three key magic methods were exposed in the card/train sequence.
An illusionist's 'switch', that is used by some of the world's top illusionists convincingly, every day of the year, all over the world, was exposed, and so it went on...
This programme shouldn't have been made. It showed a total lack of respect for both the magic community and the viewing public. Throughout the entire production there was an underlying arrogance that was palpable. No one likes a smug magician.
The viewing figures were poor (Summer slump hits BBC1) but I understand that six more shows are in the pipeline (it's common knowledge that the BBC has been clutching at straws recently, and doesn't it just show).
As I was writing this I thought, "Should I let them have their say to balance things out?" and then I thought, "No, they had their say on Saturday night, now it's my turn."
Sorry guys, but it's just not on.
© Duncan Trillo, 9th August 2003. (Revised 26th March 2016.)