Early Influences on the Kid…..

I wonder how many British magicians were influenced into a study of magic in the same way I was? My first exposure to magic was a hand puppet on television called Sooty, who along with his friend Sweep, performed magic shows that went desperately wrong. This seemed to exasperate the elderly gentleman who always hovered at an arms length from them.  I don’t remember much of what they did but it was loud, fun and messy!  That was just fine by me.

When Sooty waved his magic wand it would often cause bodily injury to the elderly gentleman who’s name I later discovered was Harry Corbett.  The magic words Sooty used to achieve his grand illusions were;  “Abracadabra”, “Hey Presto” and my favorite “Hocus Pocus Fish Bones Choke Us!”  To this very day I gleefully use the “Fish Bones Choke Us” in my magic show and it still gets a good chuckle.

This was the extent of my early exposure to the art of prestidigitation and as far as I remember it left me with no burning desire to grow up as either a magician OR a hand puppet.  No, I had it pretty clear in my mind that I was going to emerge from childhood as a caped crusader who could change outfits in a phone booth and became unrecognizable when I put on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses.  Several years later when it was discovered that my short sightedness necessitated the full time use of horn-rimmed glasses, my dreams of being a super hero were dashed.  Until the advent of contact lenses I was stuck as Clark Kent.

With magic the furthest thing from my mind, I accompanied my parents on our annual holiday to Portrush in Southern Ireland.  It was your typical family holiday with ice creams, Cadburys flakes and speedboat rides.  The thrill to me was not the sandcastles, bucket and spades or swimming in excessively cold water.  No, it was here I had my first taste of show business and realized I wanted to become a performer.

My epiphany came in the form of a hypnotist named Edwin Heath.  He had a full evening show in the local theatre just blocks away from our hotel.  I loved that show and everything about it!  Men barked like dogs, women imagined that their clothes had disappeared and all manner of mayhem was unleashed twice nightly. The piece de resistance (which was not, as Mr. Heath pointed out, a French girl who struggles) was when an audience member was suspended between two chairs while the hypnotist sat on his unsupported stomach.  This feat amazed me and seemed unexplainable unless you believed in his strange and wonderful powers.Little did I know that this ‘trick’ was to come back and haunt me for years to come.

Again and again I begged my parents to take me to the show. Spoilt child that I was, again and again they obliged me.  I sat in the dark and dusty auditorium enough times to realize that the members of the audience that appeared onstage were different every time and there was no sign of trickery.  It appeared to me then, as I know fully believe, that it was indeed hypnosis.  At the beginning of the show Mr. Heath performed a test with the entire audience to select those most susceptible to his hypnotic skills. This test involved clasping your hands together and by his persuasion being unable to unclasp them.  I tried it and got suitably stuck. I dashed to the front of the theatre, but when I went onstage for the unclasping I was quickly returned to my seat.  As a hypnotist, he was no idiot and the last thing he wanted was a ten-year-old boy onstage.

This was my first experience with hypnosis, but in years to come another ‘professional’ hypnotist would reach through the years and do more than just entertain me.

~ by Nick Lewin on December 15, 2009.

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