Ken Brooke—the ultimate pitchman.
I really don’t think that there is anything much more exciting in magic than attending your first magic convention. There may be other great conventions you attend, but none of them will be quite the same. This first magic convention was the IBM convention in Southport, in the mid-sixties.
What made it especially special for me was that I would be spending time with my mentor and hero Ken Brooke. Not only was Ken one of the magic dealers at the convention but he was also to be featured in one of the shows. This convention was my first great opportunity to study the ‘demming’ technique for which Ken was famous. I discovered why he was considered legendary in this area.
Arriving at the convention, I received my registration package and proudly put on my convention badge. This badge would grant me admittance to the multitude of fascinating events listed on my official program. I marveled that this amount of magic could be packed into three and a half days. I was determined to see and do everything, and if they had only had invented ‘Red Bull’ in those days I might even have succeeded!
My very first stop was the Dealers Room, which seemed like an Aladdin’s cave to this youngster. The room was crowded with small booths dedicated to the various dealers in attendance. Each booth was filled with displays of tricks that I had previously only been exposed to in magic catalogues. Seeing these tricks ‘Live and in Person’ was overwhelming, I could wander from booth to booth and mentally select the props that I was convinced could make me a star!
Of course, this was my early years in magic, I hadn’t by then realized it’s not the props or tricks that make the magician but quite the reverse. However, when you begin your magic journey, the size and brightness of your props seemed like a sure fire fast track to success. In fact, I’ve seen quite a few magicians since then, who still haven’t figured this out, even years after they should know better.
It was easy to spot Ken Brooke’s booth. It was surrounded by the biggest crowd in the large room, all pushing forward to get a better view of what was going on. I later discovered that other magic dealers suffered instant cases of deep depression when they discovered their booths were located to close to Ken’s whirlwind of attention! Ken’s presence was an electric factor to all the conventioneers.
A great magician, Ken Brooke was also a supremely gifted salesman at a magic convention; he made the Energizer bunny look like a slacker! Ken had the style and attack of a grifter selling his wares at an outdoor London street market. He talked, shouted, did shtick and performed magic; he sold a lot of magic too. The wad of money cash and checks in his back pocket grew bigger and bigger by the hour.
You never knew what Ken would do next! He would ask for ten magicians to buy a prop ‘blind,’ “Give me a ‘tenner’ and I’ll give you piece of magic you’ll use for ever,” he would say. After the hundred pounds was in his back pocket he would pass out ten wrapped packages with strict instructions, “Don’t open them now! Don’t let these other cheap buggers know what you got…” I don’t think anyone ever grumbled over what they received! In fact often they would receive items worth two or three times their investment.
Another favorite ruse of Ken’s was to refuse to sell someone some item that they wanted. “It’s no good for you.” He would say, “You couldn’t do it, if I sold it to you anyway!” Needless to say this would cause the magician to keep working at it until he ‘persuaded’ Ken to allow him to buy the item. He mercilessly worked the crowd surrounding his booth and played them like an instrument. I remember it fondly as being pure theatre and far in the way the greatest show at the entire convention.
I attended many events during the convention but I was drawn back to the dealer’s room like a magnet to see what Ken was up to next, and I was not the only one. Long before the convention was over Ken had sold out the entire stock of product he had brought with him to Southport. You could almost feel the sense of relief from the other magic dealers present when this happened.