I, MYSELF AND ME
by Mark Leveridge
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!
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?
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
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
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!