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Me and Paul Daniels Part II

daniels magic showPaul Daniels became famous because he was on prime-time television for many years:  The Paul Daniels Magic Show ran from 1979 to 1994.  I am sure I would have seen Paul on various guest spots before he had his own show; but can't recall any specific occasions.  But I do remember him on For my Next Trick with magicians John Wade and Terry Seabrooke.  This was not a good show in that it copied the very successful The Comedians, in which there were extensive cuts from one comedian to another; this worked well with jokes, but not with magic.  If you cut away in the middle of a magic trick, it is easy for the audience to forget the plot - and also, they might surmise that something was hidden from them in the intervening edit.

seabrookeDespite this, there was no doubt that Daniels was the star of the show.  Both John Wade and Terry Seabrooke were at the top of their game; but somehow they looked rather old-fashioned compared to Daniels's quick repartee.  It was perhaps at this point that the BBC realised he could host his own show.

The early years of The Paul Daniels Magic Show were outstanding.  One suspects this was due as much to the guiding hand of John Fisher as the producer and the magical advisor of Ali Bongo - later to be supplemented by Barry Murray and Graham Reed - as it was to Paul's own performance.  Many a good magician has been severely handicapped on television because of the terrible format.  But The Paul Daniels Magic Show played to Paul's great strengths of his relaxed inter-action with the studio audience, seemingly nerveless performing abilities, some great outside stunts (for example, vanishing the elephant and escaping from been crashed into by a racing car), quirky guests (no singers and comedians allowed!) and regular slots that fitted his persona like a glove (the Bunco Booth was the most successful).

elephantThere is no doubt that as the years went along, the standard did deteriorate.  It is hard to exactly put the finger on why that should be so.  I have always maintained that it began to go 'wrong' for Paul when he changed his catch-phrase to 'Say yes Paul'; this in answer to a question he might ask.  This had neither the subtlety nor the humility of his previous 'You'll like this, not a lot'; and displayed a slight arrogance that gradually began to grate with certain members of his audience. 

Furthermore one got the impression that Daniels was winging it a little too much; perhaps not as much time went into rehearsing the trick and working out his patter before he actually performed it.  The tricks in the earlier series seemed tighter and didn't rely so much on what was essentially an explanation of what he was doing, whilst doing it.

yentobAlthough The Paul Daniels Magic Show ended in 1994, there was one final series which was called Secrets in 1995.  I remember it well, as it was meant to be the recreation of an ultra-modern setting, supposedly a night club, as a way of resuscitating Daniels's career.  In actual fact it looked like what it was - a television studio with a few tables and chairs scattered around.  As a result the format was basically the same as it had been before; guest acts interspersed with tricks from Daniels himself.  And, of course, by this time Daniels's persona was too ingrained to fundamentally change.  The BBC had had enough.

wipe outEffectively, after that, Daniels never worked for the BBC again.  Given his pre-eminence for so many years that was both surprising and tragic.  Famously, of course, he burned his bridges by having a go in print and on the radio at Alan Yentob and the BBC management.  But you would have thought his undoubted skills - he was an excellent game show host with quizzes such as  Odd One OutEvery Second Counts and Wipeout - could have been used in some capacity other than the rather tawdry Celebrity-type shows which he ended up doing.

But happily we have the legacy of his great early years on television, when Paul Daniels was King of Saturday night television. Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, many of those memorable routines and superb guests will continue to be enjoyed by generations of future magicians and lovers of fine entertainment.

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