The Magic Circle, that famous club of magicians, has since 1998 enjoyed headquarters at 12 Stephenson Way, Euston, a cobbled street that has a touch of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell about it. Inside, a magnificent set of rooms houses a theatre, museum of illusion and members' library of around 10,000 books. The MC hosts regular events and tours for people interested in the history and future of magic. We asked Nick Fitzherbert, PRO of the Magic Circle, for an insight into this unusual world; he pulled some magical answers out of the hat.
When was the Magic Circle founded and why?
1905. It was originally the idea of two magicians - Neil Weaver and Martin Chapender. Magic was at the height of its popularity at this time, but even then there was a problem with the exposure of secrets. Weaver and Chapender felt it was important that magicians should come together to find ways to protect their secrets. They also wanted to create a forum in which magicians could get together and share tips and tricks, safe in the knowledge that everything would remain secret.
Where does the name originate from?
Martin Chapender died at the very young age of 25 and the original idea was to name the society in his memory. A member called Louis Nikola suggested The Magic Circle as a more suitable name and pointed out that it embraced Chapender’s initials.
How many members do you have?
We have around 1500 members, about one third of whom are based overseas.
How does one become a member?
You need to be nominated by two members and you start by attending an interview in which a senior member assesses how serious you are about magic, plus your knowledge and appreciation of magic’s history and heritage. You will also be told about the exam you will have to take so as to gauge your chances of success. You may be encouraged to join a local club first and then reapply once your skills and knowledge have improved. The exam is a performance of about 10 minutes in front of Magic Circle members. Examiners will be looking for magical skills, presentation skills and entertainment value. Successful candidates can then call themselves ‘Member of The Magic Circle’ and attach MMC to their name.
What is the difference between being a member of the circle and a member of the 'inner circle'?
There are two further grades to aspire to - Associate of The Inner Magic Circle (AIMC) and Member of The Inner Magic Circle. AIMC is achieved by another exam in which very high marks are required. MIMC is awarded by the President to members who he believes deserve special recognition and there can never be more than 300 MIMCs at one time.
Why is the society so secretive?
Success in magic is about much more than just the secret - presentation really is the key in most instances. Anyone can go to a magic shop, buy a trick and perform it but that doesn’t make them a magician. That said, if you give away the secret it spoils everything and there is no basis on which to build a great, entertaining presentation. The other thing is that the secrets are often very simple - very far from the magical effect they can have. As already stated, secrecy issues were at the very foundations of The Magic Circle. Our motto is ‘Indocilis Privata Loqui’; that means ‘not apt to disclose secrets’.
Are there many female magicians?
There are around 80 female members of The Magic Circle. Women have been admitted as members since 1991. Leading female members include Debbie McGee (Mrs Paul Daniels), Mandy Muden, Romany (a former Stage Magician of the Year), Fay Presto and Mandy Davis (who runs the Young Magicians Club - the Magic Circle’s youth initiative)
Which are the most extraordinary objects in your museum?
The Magic Circle’s collection started with items donated by the first President David Devant. Items of special interest include:
- Robert Harbin’s original Zig Zag lady illusion - the one that cuts a lady into three parts with her tummy section sliding away to one side. This effect has been seen all over the world.
- The original robes worn by Chung Ling Soo
- The set of rifles used for the ‘Bullet Catch’ by Maurice Fogel
- Hundreds of posters - many of them of very high value
- Props used by TV magicians such as David Nixon and Tommy Cooper
- The set of cups and balls used by HRH The Prince of Wales when he took his Magic Circle exam in 1975.
What stance does the MC take on the popular street magicians such as David Blaine and books such as the Harry Potter series?
Anything that attracts fresh new interest to magic - particularly among young people - is good for magic and for The Magic Circle. David Blaine and Harry Potter have both been good for magic and the Young Magicians Club has grown in numbers significantly since they first emerged.
Who do you personally feel is the greatest magician of all time and who are the ones to watch out for this year?
David Devant is the one that we all respect - for his creativity, his lasting legacy and his performing style. These days it’s still hard to beat David Copperfield. Among the ones to watch are recent winners of the Young Magician of the Year such as Steve Dela, Jonathan Shotton and Michael Jordan.
What do you think is the greatest trick ever performed?
My personal favourites include David Copperfield’s circular saw, Guy Hollingworth’s torn and restored card and David Berglas performing ‘Any card at any number’.
Interview by Helen Soteriou. All photographs copyright, The Magic Circle, used with permission.