Phases and Stages (My magical journey) Part Two.
In the mid 1960s I marketed myself assiduously as a kid’s party magician and saved every penny I made to buy tricks and tuition from Ken Brooke. Almost every week, gigs permitting, I would take the train to London and continue my magical education from Ken. His tuition fee was an astronomical guinea (one pound and one shilling) for each half hour. The best money I ever spent.
The routines I studied one-on-one with Ken included, The Linking Rings, The Multiplying Bottles, The Nemo Rising Cards, Sponge Balls, Coins Through Table and best of all his Electric Chair/Paper Balls Over Head routine. I also got to meet many wonderful magicians during these years including, Tony Slydini, Fred Kaps, Tommy Cooper, Billy McComb, Pat Page, Maurice Fogel and a host of others. It was quite simply the perfect way to become a magician and I look back on it with great happiness. Ken became a dear friend and mentor right up until the sad moment of his death.
By now I was performing in cabarets and clubs in Southern England and I used my salary to work my way through a little advanced education at London’s ‘Guildhall School of Music & Drama.’ I’m not to sure what I really learned studying classical theatre but I’m absolutely sure that I learned a great deal more working in London nightclubs such as ‘The Blue Angel’ and the ‘Celebrity Club.’ I would often perform 4 or 5 shows a night and it was one of the greatest learning experiences in my entire life.
Another proving ground for me as a young performer where the numerous pubs and clubs scattered throughout the suburbs of London. These gigs were usually formatted as talent contests and have left me with a deeply rooted dislike and mistrust of all forms of competitive booking. I guess those gigs left scars that haven’t quite healed over yet.
I mentioned that I met Billy McComb and I was a huge fan of his work from the very first time I saw him perform the Gypsy Thread at a London Society of Magicians event at the Conway Hall. I also met Billy after a cabaret show in Sussex and found him to be a wonderfully warm and friendly person. However Ken was no fan of McComb and I did not really strike up my great friendship with Billy until 1974 when I had moved to Los Angeles.
Why did Ken have such severe reservations about anyone as wonderful as McComb? Well, he did eventually tell me and I once mentioned it to Billy, although he denied it I am pretty sure from his reaction that it was an incident that had actually occurred. What was it? I don’t often tell anyone the story, however if you get me drunk on tequila one night at a convention it might be shared! Sufficient to say that I consider these two men as the finest I have ever met in the magic world.
In 1969 I worked my first cruise ship booking, which took me to the Mediterranean and opened up a line of work that I continue to profitably and pleasurably mine right up to this day. This is one field of work that has really expanded and get better as the years go by and nightclub bookings have declined. It has been very good to me over the years.
In 1973 I met my wife Susan after returning from a cruise gig that took me to Australia and we fell in love and married in the same church I had been named after and was christened in. No, it wasn’t St, Nick’s but a rather more somber St Nicholas. It was the same church that our eldest daughter was christened in quite a few years later.
Susan was from Los Angeles and in January 1974 we moved to California and another whole era of my magical journey began. I was of course very excited to be moving to the city that contained that Mecca of all things magical—The Magic Castle. I had heard a great deal about the Castle from Ken who had struck up a very warm but slightly unlikely friendship with Dai Vernon during one of his visits to the United States.
Arriving in Los Angeles we had $50 dollars to our name and for several months I worked at selling clothing in a mall, this is the only time in my life that I have ever supported myself by doing anything other than magic. I used the time to plan out my future as a performing magician and work on Americanizing my ‘Oh, so English’ show.
Curiously enough I performed at Milt Larsen’s Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica before I worked at the Magic Castle. However. it was not long before I began my magical apprenticeship at the Castle. That is another whole story though.