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Me and Paul Daniels Part VI

What is the legacy of Paul Daniels?  I think there are four principal ones.

Emil JarrowFirstly, I suspect he was the first magician in the UK who showed that it was possible to combine great magic with great comedy.  Now clearly there had been plenty of comedy magicians before Daniels - one thinks of names like Carlton, Fred Culpitt, David Nixon, Billy McComb; but Daniels was surely the first to achieve laughs on a level that a stand-up comedian might achieve whilst simultaneously performing superb magic.  Dai Vernon used to say that there were only two magicians (both US based) he ever saw who got "belly laughs", Frank Van Hoven, 'The Man Who Made Ice Famous' and Emil Jarrow.  I have always thought that Jarrow, unlike Hoven who was more of a burlesque act, was similar to Daniels; both relying on small magic combined with sleight of hand to achieve their success; and both getting those "belly laughs".

Secondly, there were numerous magicians who were clearly influenced by Daniels.  Some of them in a very direct way - the most obvious, and best known, was Wayne Dobson, who achieved his own television success with three series of Wayne Dobson - A Kind of Magic, before his career was cruelly cut short with Multiple Sclerosis.  Sadly there was no love lost between these two great magicians - with Paul accusing Wayne of stealing much of his material; and Wayne retaliating with his own unsubtle insults.  Objectively, if you compare the two acts, there isn't a great deal where there is a direct overlap.  But there is little doubt in my mind that the structure of Wayne's main Ventriloquism routine (which made his name) was very much based on Paul's own routine.

Wayne DobsonBoth started with having two men on stage.  Both involved borrowing money (and both used the same gag to pocket the money).  Both vanished one of the borrowed notes.   Both pretended the trick had gone wrong.  Both then went into another routine - Wayne Vent, Paul Electric Chairs.  And finally both recovered the note in an unexpected place.

It is a similar structure that plenty have followed - including me.  And it's not just my generation.  When Pete Firman, arguably the leading comedy magician performing today, did a TV spot on The John Bishop Show back in 2015, he used exactly the same format.  Two men on stage, money borrowed (same gag as Wayne & Paul had used to retain the money), note vanishes, into a comedy chain escape routine and finished with the recovery of the note.  It is because of that construct surely that Daniels tweeted (with commendable hyperbole) after watching it: "Keep getting asked if I saw Pete Firman's act. Yes. Great act.  I know it is because I have been using that patter and trick for 49 years!"

StuffDaniels, though, had an indirect effect on some magicians who were completely opposite to his style.  Geoffrey Durham has stated that part of the reason he developed his character of the Great Soprendo was to be the antithesis to those magicians who came out of the Ken Brooke school of magic (such as Wayne Dobson and Paul Daniels).  John Lenahan, the host of the ground-breaking TV series, Stuff the White Rabbit, deliberately took the mickey out of Paul Daniels in appealing to his Comedy Club audiences.  Similarly Penn & Teller, when they first appeared in the UK, made derogatory remarks about Daniels - to emphasise their differences (something that Penn has subsequently apologised for).

Thirdly, magic on television today - and the resultant huge upsurge in the popularity of close-up and mind-reading in the UK - probably wouldn't have come about if it hadn't been for Daniels.  For once The Paul Daniels Magic Show was taken off air, magicians had to try and find something completely different - if they wanted any chance of getting on television.  No longer was the 'invited audience in the studio watching a comedy magician' acceptable - either to the viewers or the programme makers.  So instead of 'invited audience', we had people stopped in the streets; instead of a 'studio', we had 'real life environments'; and instead of 'comedy magician' we had 'monosyllabic mystery men' (Blaine or Dynamo) or 'mind readers' (Derren Brown).  The results couldn't have been further away from what Daniels had given us.

chop cupAnd the final legacy? - well that is personal; and increasingly private.  Occasionally I do talks in schools.  And I'm often asked who was my greatest influence as a magician.  My response was always the same: Paul Daniels.  However recently I have stopped saying his name because the kids have never heard of him and have no idea who I am talking about.  

My friend Alan Hudson, himself a comedy magician who of course, like we all do, owes so much to Paul Daniels, claims to have seen more magic shows than anyone else of his age - and I wouldn't argue with him.  He recently selected on his blog his five greatest magic shows of all time.  And Paul Daniels wasn't included. 

But then he was too young to have been around in 1981 when Daniels stepped on stage at London's Prince of Wales theatre with just a single cup and a ball and changed my life forever.

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