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Me and Paul Daniels Part I

wheeltappersI remember well the first time I saw Paul Daniels.  It was on the The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, a British television variety show produced by Granada Television from 1974 to 1977.  The conceit was that it was set in a Northern Working Men's Club with the audience in a relaxed  and relatively boisterous mood.  I can't remember exactly what Daniels did but I recall being really blown away at the time to see such an exciting performer demonstrating that magic could be funny as well as fooling.

That was on television.  The first time I saw him live was at the International Magic Convention organised by Ron Macmillan, and which took place at a venue in Tottenham Court Road.  This was before The Paul Daniels Magic Show started on BBC 1 television.  Even though he was in front of magicians Daniels was superb, getting huge laughs with his routine involving borrowing money from a couple of men.  Afterwards one of his assistants wrote in complaining to the then weekly magic magazine, Abracadabra, saying that he had been made to look stupid on stage.  He was asked to hold his note up in the air; and every time he put his arm down, Daniels would tell him to lift it up again.

flyerI think it is fair to say that when I next saw Paul Daniels he was absolutely at the peak of his powers.  This was at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London in 1981 in a show called It's Magic.  He did not do the entire show - he had three support acts, a female impressionist, a puppeteer and a foot juggler in the first half; but he did the whole of the second half.  In that show he did all the routines for which he would be known for the rest of his performing life: Cup and Ball (Chop Cup); Six Card Repeat; Linking Rings with a young girl; Equal and Unequal Ropes to a story about the Three Bears; Card in Wallet; Electric Chairs combined with paper balls over the head; and Note in Lemon, Egg and Walnut.

If there is one let-down associated with Daniels, it is that he would never again produce any trick or routine which was as good as any of these.  In Daniels's  case the reason is not hard to see.  He had been grinding his way in the Northern clubs for many a long year, perfecting his skills and repartee with his audience.  As an unknown act they would give him no truck.  He would learn what worked, and what didn't, from the bitter experience of dying on stage and being heckled.

Much later, in an interview he did in The Magic Circular with Anthony Owen, Daniels admitted that it took over 300 performances to perfect his Chop Cup routine.  That absolutely rang true with me; a trick that good (and in my opinion it is the single greatest cabaret trick that I ever saw) could only have emerged from consistent and regular shows in front of spectators who would not give any quarter.  Once he had found fame, never again would Daniels have the opportunity to 'work in' new material under the same circumstances.  And, as a result, nothing ever emerged which was even remotely comparable with his repertoire at the Prince of Wales.

note from walnutBut, wow, what heights he scaled for that show.  Every trick was superbly constructed, the patter fast and witty, the handling of the audience members exemplary, Daniels's persona - with his self-deprecating catch-phrase: 'you will like this - not a lot! But you will like it' - a perfect blend of cheeky and likeable, and the laughs and the magic coming thick and fast.  His Electric Chairs combined with the Note in Lemon, Egg and Walnut was almost a play in its own right, as great a routine as it is possible to imagine with its gradual build up, call backs, spectator management and culminating in hysterical laughs rounded off by a baffling, and focused, finish with the borrowed note found inside the walnut.

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