David Nixon. The English Gentleman of Magic.
I was recently browsing the Academy of Magical Arts member’s only page on Facebook; I do this quite frequently and am quite addicted to the debates and flares that go on in the postings. It frequently reminds me of the not always so good-natured conversations that once upon a time used to take place at the Castle’s main bar just as alcohol ceased being served at the end of the night!
Last week there was a post by Steve Valentine about one of his early magical heroes when he was growing up in the United Kingdom. I always enjoy listening to what Steve has to say and consider him one of the brightest lights in the magic world. Valentine is hosting the 47th annual AMA Awards Show this year, and should prove a spectacular addition to the proceedings. For details visit www.magiccastle.com/members/calendar.cfm?id=1433
The magician that Steve was talking about happened to also be one of my earliest heroes in magic, the great English magician David Nixon. Steve’s posting contained a link to a fabulous clip on his Vimeo site that I followed with delight. The link is https://vimeo.com/123709180 and it leads to a ten-minute live television performance by David Nixon onstage at the London Palladium. It is a delightful exercise in mastering small magic and performing it to a large crowd.
The footage brought back a flood of memories and it made me realize the extent to which I was influenced by this exceptional performer. To my delight I discovered there were many more clips of Mr. Nixon’s television performances readily available on YouTube. I watched a whole bunch of them in pure delight observing what a true gentleman Nixon presented himself as while performing his impeccable magical feats. If you are not familiar with David Nixon I strongly suggest you view some of these clips. It is wonderful to experience watching so much magic performed by a magician who never once needed to sink to the level of being a smart ass or a jerk; this man was pure class.
I have written about David Nixon before in these pages but can’t resist once again giving a brief overview of his extraordinary career. As a very young man Nixon became a magician inspired by seeing such legendary performers as Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant. Like so many of England’s top comedy/variety performers in the World War 2 era, Nixon’s career took shape with his participation in ENSA, where he performed for the British troops.
In 1946 Nixon became a fully-fledged civilian entertainer and magician. He was quickly accepted, appreciated and became a considerable success as a theatrical performer. Nixon’s easy charm and elegance made him a natural television celebrity and in 1954 he had his first big break when he became a panelist on the British version of ‘What’s My Line,’ and then host of ‘Candid Camera.’
For the next two decades Nixon was one of the most recognizable faces on British television and hosted many different game shows, variety specials and magical series. For a considerable time Nixon was the single most popular magician in the minds of the British public. For many of his magic shows he was lucky (and wise) enough to employ the great Ali Bongo as his magical advisor and on camera cohort. They were a powerful team.
During the ‘70s Nixon created quite an impact with his high tech televised segments that involved a combination of ground breaking green screen video technology and sleight of hand. He was able to create some truly magical moments in his TV shows when he appeared to be interacting with a video projection of himself, much to to the delight of his viewing audiences. I, for one, fondly remember and was deeply impressed watching the highly entertaining footage that was created with his blending of ‘camera magic’ with real life sleight of hand.
Sadly in 1976 Nixon, a very heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and two years later died just before his 59th birthday. It is amazing how much magic he performed and how great was his contribution to the British entertainment world in his relatively short life.
I think it is fair to say that the enormously talented Paul Daniels has inherited and developed the mantle and role that Nixon held in the minds and hearts of the British public. Both men have the ability to hold the attention of audiences with their wit and charm as they perform almost any kind of magical feat. Each of these gentlemen has inspired generations of future magicians with their performances.
In 1970 on one of my very engagements working on a cruise ship, I was delighted to discover that Mr. Nixon and his family were traveling as guests upon the ship that I was performing on. In those days one performed onboard and then quickly departed to present your show on another vessels, and I have no idea if Mr. Nixon saw my show. However it remains, to this day, a source of great regret that I never got to meet my magical hero who had fired my imaginations throughout my youngest years.
Whether working solo, accompanied by the gorgeous Anita Harris or his wildly eccentric puppet sidekick Basil Brush, Nixon was the epitome of the urbane and elegant comedy magician. Thank you Steve Valentine for setting me to work discovering how great a video legacy Nixon left behind to preserve his memory. I hope that I might encourage a few younger performers to discover this master magician. Trust me your time will be well spent.
Since I wrote this blog I have been reminded by my friend Tim Glander about Dr. Eddie Dawe’s excellent book about David Nixon called “Entertainer with a magic touch.” You might want to check that out for a more detailed study of this wonderful performer.