Career defining advice I received from the great Ken Brooke.

Nick & KenAs Susan and I develop our online magic business I am often reminded of the times I spent with Ken Brooke during the ‘60s and ‘70s. I now understand a lot more about what I saw him doing then. Ken was not only a marvelous magician but he had a truly uniquely gifted magic dealer as well. During those years he expressed a great deal of wisdom that has stayed with me over the years. Here is one nugget.

One of Ken’s guiding rules as a magic dealer was to try never to just sell tricks but always full magic routine. We have tried to follow his lead in this matter. There are way too many magic tricks and props released, and far too few, well thought out fully formed routines available for a performer to really embrace and add to his show. This goal became our professional creed. Susan and I often feel the presence influence of our dear friends Ken Brooke and Martin Breese as we develop our magic business and they are mighty fine influences to have around.

I was trained by Ken to become a professional magician who could make a good living performing his magic routines. Ken must IMG_4239have done a pretty good job, because between him and Billy McComb I have reached a fairly ripe old age without ever doing any job other than being a magician. Thank you guys! I am now taking my part in the evolution of things by trying to pass on my knowledge.

One of the key pieces of advice Ken repeatedly gave me was not to spend any time mixing with magicians. “They will only mess you up and spoil your magic,” he would say. Ken was so beloved by magicians that I could never fully grasp this very definite injunction from him. He spent all day, working with magicians, performing and teaching them magic. Further more he was the center of attention at every magic convention and a mentor to many of us in the magic world. Eventually I realized that this was Ken the magic dealer and NOT Ken the pro magician talking. These were two were separate aspects of the Ken Brooke that I knew.

When I pressed him on his statement Ken expanded a little on his “ban” on mixing with magicians. He said that the problem was that you started to do tricks that other magicians liked and add details that only other magicians would appreciate. This way of developing is OK for a hobbyist, but the kiss of death for a professional magician.

Ken Brooke 1.2Magicians get bored with seeing the same tricks so they begin to change them in ways that are unnecessary for a lay audience, who seldom get to watch a magician. The best effects are simple and clear-cut. The rule of thumb is that an audience should be able to describe the trick in one short sentence. What they see is what they remember and NOT what was secretly done to achieve the effect.

At a magic convention you will see smiles of approval, and sometimes applause, when the performer does the move or “work” during the effect. If this is the case with a lay audience you are in serious trouble! The variations on classic effects that magicians come up with to entertain other magicians often merely dilute the effect for a lay audience.

Let’s take a basic example. The Linking Rings is a classic piece of magic that has stood the test of time, although in all honesty it has become something of a cliché with lay audiences. Not that they don’t like the trick, but it is often appreciated in a manner closer to the way an audience enjoys watching a juggler perform a skillful trick. The mystery is not as profound as it once was. However it is still fine entertainment even for an audience who subliminally realize that there is a gap in those rings somewhere! Let’s look at a couple of variations of the linking rings that have become popular with magicians and lay audiences.

The linking coat hangers takes the same effect and offers a variation that does little to change the basic trick. To a magician this IMG_4240can be a neat variation on a classic trick, but to a lay audience it is a much less graceful and effective presentation. One of the joys of the linking rings is the bell like sound that the rings can make when they strike each other. The very sound of the rings sells the effect and enhances the illusion that the rings are solid. Not so with coat hangers, it has turned a classic effect into a novelty item. It is no more logical to a lay audience to link coat hangers together rather than silver rings— they are all just magician’s props!

On the other hand, to a lay audience, it is a whole new trick when a magician borrows finger rings from audience members and links them in a chain, indeed this is a huge development in effect. Often an audience of magicians can overlook the vital difference when watching a fellow performer do this variation of the basic effect. “Oh, he just has a Himber Ring,” they sometimes think and often don’t even appreciate a skillful or innovative handling utilizing that prop to achieve the effect. They miss the big picture that is present in a lay audience’s mind and causes the linking finger rings to register as a near miracle.

I could give a dozen more examples, however, let me close by re-stating Ken’s lesson in my own words. Never confuse the reactions from a group of magicians to the reaction of a lay audience over the same piece of magic. If you want to perform for magicians that is great, but sometimes what is the strength in a performance for them can become a weakness to a lay audience.

You can check out my online magic store at where there are full details of my Ultimate Gypsy Yarn and Color Changing Silks routines! Both items sold out their initial releases within days or hours, but they both are back in stock. Go to for video performance footage.

Ken B


~ by Nick Lewin on August 21, 2015.

2 Responses to “Career defining advice I received from the great Ken Brooke.”

  1. Thank you Nick. As you know, I’ve been waiting for more on Ken. I hope those “know-it-all card acrobats and ambush magic mongors” take heed.
    We can only hope.
    Ken once remarked in one of his an adverts; “Don’t try to be clever just to fool the boys down at the club or organization. Who wants to fool those guys anyway?” I guess it adds to their silly reputation and boosts their fragile ego.
    My father once told me; “Tim, if you want to really learn something well, go to the people that know the subject the best. Don’t fool around with those damn clubs or societies!” (Ken had no love for them either!)
    He was right!!
    Received my package. That dye tube you include is the best I’ve ever seen. I’m sure it will last longer than all the others!
    Keep the preaching flowing Reverend Nick. With all the bad magic around, we certainly need it!
    Don’t forget, some one IS listening!

    Best Wishes,

    Tim Glander

  2. Thank you Tim! Those of us lucky enough to have known Ken need to spread his words of wisdom…..
    I am so glad you like the Ultimate Color Changing Silks package, a lot of time, care and love went into producing it in order to get it right!

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