Mark Leveridge


by Mark Leveridge

When Duncan said that he wanted to feature me in the Magic Profile I thought it best to send along an independent and impartial interviewer who could cut through the hyperbole and get straight to the facts. With this in mind, I sent along myself to interview me and I recorded the resulting conversation. Here's it is...

MYSELF: So, Mark, despite your youthful looks you've actually been around the magic scene for a long time now, haven't you?

ME: Yes, it seems like forever, but although I have had a lifelong interest in magic, I suppose you could chart my real 'start' from 1977 when I did my first lecture. I was studying at Bristol University at the time and had been devising a number of close up ideas and routines for the previous two or three years and it was thanks to an introduction by Tony Griffith to Freddie Firth of the Zodiac Society that I got my first chance to show those ideas to others.

MYSELF: And is that when the selling starting too?

ME: Yes, I suppose it did. I put together some lecture notes which I lovingly typed out on my mother's typewriter and which I then secretly ran off in the University reprographics department, and I made up 6 of two or three of the items in the lecture for sale afterwards. I remember that at the start I used to package the tricks in plain brown envelopes!

MYSELF: So did you sell any?

ME: Yes, a few bits and pieces which was encouraging. Looking back on it now I can't believe I had the nerve to do it really, because I was totally unprepared in many ways, but you have to start somewhere. As I gradually started to do more lectures I got a little more sophisticated - I moved on to packaging the tricks in freezer bags the tops of which I stapled up! Progress!

MYSELF: At what point did the mail order start? Was it a conscious policy to encourage extra sales through the post right from the outset?

ME: No, not initially. It all started when a few people who had been at my lectures began to send afterwards for things they had not bought on the night, or others who had not been there ordered later on. This gradually pushed me into a whole new area of mail order and I suddenly had to consider packaging, postage, paperwork and all the other things that are associated with that type of business. I also started to advertise on a regular basis in Abra Magazine, just the lectures to begin with in the Smalls section, then a little later moving to a regular display advert. That encouraged the mail order side and it built steadily in the early 1980's into a healthy business.

MYSELF: Did you go straight from University into being a dealer and lecturer full time, or did you have a proper job first!?

ME: No, after I'd got my degree I did a one year PGCE teacher training year and started work teaching in a comprehensive school, but the magic was getting ever more time intensive and after a couple of years of trying to give both sides of my money earning life enough time, it became clear that I was going to have to choose one or the other if I was to ever make any progress. The final decision was made when I won the IBM Close Up Competition in October 1981, and on the back of the resultant publicity and bookings I went full time in December of that year and have been doing that ever since.

MYSELF: What would you say has been your magical inspiration?

ME: Well, I think you need to get lucky sometimes in life in order for you to realise your potential, and a number of factors have helped me enormously. When I was a youngster in the 1960's I hardly met another magician as I lived rather in the wilds of Kent, and I certainly had almost no idea where to buy magic equipment from. I remember buying a few books ordered specially from WH Smith's (Bruce Elliott's 'Magic 100 New Tricks' and 'The Classic Secrets Of Magic', plus one or two others), but essentially I had to rely on my own creativity in order to have new things to play with. So, I got into the habit of trying to invent my own tricks and I learnt to type because I wanted to keep a record of the things I'd thought of, and I used to produce little booklets of my ideas. What I didn't know was that that was exactly what I would end up doing for a living later on! So it was an excellent training for me.

MYSELF: Have you still got those booklets?

ME: Yes, I have. The paper has gone a bit yellow with age but I can still lay my hands on them. Of course, much of what I typed up was re-inventing the wheel, but it was a useful exercise. When I went to University I got another lucky break when I met Chris Payne. Chris was something of a magical child prodigy as he had won the Magic Circle Young Magician Of The Year as well as the IBM Close Up Competition and he had performed at many major events and had rubbed shoulders with most of the magical greats of the time. Chris and I became good friends and he showed me all the latest close up moves and effects, things that I had no idea existed. Armed with these I set about devising a number of new things, hence the formation of my first lecture a couple of years later. Chris remains a close friend to this day and I cannot thank him enough for all the years of support, help, encouragement and advice.

MYSELF: Is there one particular style or type of magic that you admire or that you try to incorporate in your own work?

ME: I suppose I have always liked magic that is straightforward, both in plot and in method. While I have great admiration for those performers who dedicate much of their time to perfecting extremely complex or difficult sleights, I have always tried to find ways to achieve strong magic without having to resort to excessive finger flinging, as I feel that too often the method can, if you're not careful, get in the way of the plot. I was heavily influenced by Tony Griffith in my early years as he has an unerring ability to look at a plot and find the most practical and easy way to achieve it, and I really like that approach.

MYSELF: So do you try to cut out all difficult moves?

ME: Not exactly. I think there's a balance that needs to be made between effect and method. I set out with the 'perfect' effect in mind and try to devise a method that gets as near to the 'perfect' plot as I can manage it. If this can be achieved by very simple methods, then that is the way that I will go. But if the plot is compromised too much unless elements of sleight of hand are used, I am quite happy to incorporate some, provided that they can be done 'under fire'. I have no interest in having a method that I can only achieve in front of the practice mirror - it has to be something which is practical in real performance.

MYSELF: How much performing for lay people do you do?

ME: As much as possible! I can accept bookings for children's parties right through to business events, and having a broad spectrum like this means there are plenty of avenues for me to work in.

MYSELF: Do you have a favourite type of show - children's or adult close up?

ME: Not really, I like both, but actually would not like to do either exclusively. I enjoy the variety that working one minute for adults and the next for children gives me. However, I have to admit that I would also not like to only be a performer, as I really enjoy all the aspects of running the mail order business and the lecturing etc too.

MYSELF: You've been lecturing for over 25 years now, do you still enjoy it and if so, why?

ME: Of course I still enjoy it! Lecturing has taken me all over the world to as far afield as Australia, Singapore and the United States and to virtually every club in the UK and I still get a real buzz from it all. Some people told me when I went pro that since my hobby was becoming my job it would remove the gloss from it and that it would all become stale. I must admit I haven't found that. I never get up in the morning and think, "Damn! Another day of magic!" I have met so many nice people on my travels over the years and have been lucky enough to perform and lecture in all manner of venues and situations, and I see it still as a constant challenge to my own standards - can I work this venue with success? The sales aspect of it all is now important, of course, as I have to try to only take on projects which will show a reasonable financial return for my time and effort, but with lecturing I still keep to the principle that a 'lecture' should have everything properly performed and fully explained and not be a glorified dealer dem.

MYSELF: Is that a problem for you sometimes, being a dealer as well as a lecturer, in that some clubs may worry that they will pay you for a lecture and only get a dealer dem?

ME: I always make it very clear to any booker exactly what they will be getting. I offer a dealer dem evening as a separate thing anyway, but if I am lecturing then I make sure that everything included in the lecture can either be made up by those watching or that it uses widely available props. Nothing is ever included if the only way you can do it is if you buy the marketed version. Provided that the magicians can make up the items if they wish, I see nothing wrong with then offering some products ready packaged for those who would prefer to buy the thing complete - the difference is that they have a choice to either buy it or make it themselves rather than having to buy it.

MYSELF: You sponsor The Magic Circle's Young Magician's Club close up competition each year, don't you? Do you like to encourage youngsters to get involved in magic?

ME: Yes, very much so. I suppose because I didn't have any support when I was young and starting out in magic, I feel that I missed out, and so I like to help others get going if I can. I used to run Junior Magic Clubs for both the Bath Circle Of Magicians and also the Exonian Magical Society and I was a regular supporter of the Home Counties Junior Day when that was running. While I am not in favour of wholesale exposure of magical secrets to just anybody, I do feel that there needs to be a bridge between the total beginner and the 'real' magic world, if you like, and while I accept that many youngsters will start with magic and then give it up, I do not see that that is any reason to deny those who will eventually carry on the opportunity to learn and enjoy magic. The success of The Magic Circle Young Magician's Club is evidence that there is a large body of interest out there and we would be fools not to try and harness some of that enthusiasm as new blood is always needed to keep us all on our collective toes!

MYSELF: If you had to pass on one piece of 'wisdom' to a young up and coming magician, what would it be?

ME: That's an almost impossible question to answer in many ways because we are all different and need to pay attention to different things, but I suppose if I had to offer one catch-all piece of advice it would be to suggest that while the tricks and their methods are important, the biggest thing to work on is developing a performance style and personality that fits you. If the audience likes you as a person they will probably like the magic that you do.

MYSELF: Well thank you ME for giving up your time to chat this morning. We must get together sometime for a meal.

ME: Nice idea - provided that I don't have to come, of course!


MagicWeek 2003