The Bob Eaton Story

by Keith Pickles

Recently, Bob Eaton, the only surviving Founder member of the Bradford Magic Circle, gave us all a fascinating insight into his magical life. Despite being chair-bound with Parkinson's Disease, he entertained us all thoroughly in his usual dry manner. Interviewed by John Hotowka (or was it the other way round?!), Bob took us through many of his magical memories. Born in 1924, Bob made his first public appearance performing magic at the age of 9 (or was it 8? John and Bob couldn't make up their minds!). Whatever, it was at a show at school where Bob first performed magic in public. He had bought a Quaker Oats Book of Magic for the princely sum of 6d (that's 2.5p). He had learned a trick with Dominos. One of the children shouted 'it's up your sleeve'. Bob's teacher said 'it isn't', and proceeded to pull up Bob's sleeve, to find that the disappearing article was, in fact, up his sleeve. It sounds just like the start of Bob's magical comedy career!

In 1935 he did his first paid show in a church. He got on stage and couldn't open his case; and then his table collapsed!

In 1941 he began studying magic along with Ken Ashton. They began practising regularly at Bob's mum & dad's. They had several other friends who came along as well. One was a fireman who kept saying "did you see it happen", every time he did a card trick. Bob's mum got fed up of this, until one day she replied, "I wish it would hurry up and happen".

In 1943 Bob was doing a show at an army camp in Hereford. He wanted some rope for a rope trick, so they took down the rope off the flagpole. Bob used it to perform the cut and restored rope trick! When they could not raise the flag the next day, it was suggested that he should be promoted to a court martial! In 1945 he went to Germany. He spent time rehearsing a double act with a partner. Unfortunately when the time came to appear on stage, his new partner got stage fright and refused to go on. Bob got out of it by getting drunk for two days, missing Christmas Day & Boxing Day!

During this time he met a commanding officer who was also a magician. He got him onto several army shows. During one he borrowed a 5/- note from the Colonel, and set fire to it (really set fire to it!). For that show, he had been misbilled as 'Bob' Eaton, instead of real name, Bill. Because of this escapade with the Colonel's 5/-, everyone called him Bob from that time on, and the name stuck.
In 1948 he became a founder member of the Bradford Magic Circle when he attended the inaugural meeting which came about after a local businessman, Hassan Noor, advertised in the paper that he would like to form a local society and invited magicians to a meeting. Bob went along with 12 other people, including Ken Brooke. Bob is now the only surviving member.

In 1949 Bob and Vera got married. They joined the Quintonics Concert Party and went around Church Halls each week for four years entertaining the large audiences which went to those sort of shows at that time. He appeared on the Carroll Levis Discovery shows four times at the Alhambra. Bob remembers Carroll Levis putting his arm around Bob and a comedian, who was also on the bill, and telling them that they would go a long way. As Bob said, he did - he went all the way to Leeds! He has appeared with the stars, in particular he remembers appearing with Jackie Collins (Joan Collins' sister) at the City Varieties in Leeds in 1954, long before she became a star. During those years he did four different acts, including a dove act. He used 4 doves, and one night got them all lost in the scenery above the stage; the stagehands had to take all the scenery down for Bob to get his doves back.

In 1955 he opened a magic shop in Bradford, which lasted for 12 months. Around this time he met Walter Geary, a fellow magician from Leeds. Walter used to audition girls for his act by getting them to crawl through the back of a kitchen chair, if they got through they were small enough to get into the boxes he used in his act. Not many managed it, but he and Bob used to get hours of fun watching them trying to get through! Every Friday he used to tell Bob to give Vera a shilling to go to the cinema so they could have a night of magic.

In 1956 he joined the Harrogate Magical Society; he won their cup the first year.

He was working in Pudsey when he discovered a magician who worked in a cobblers shop. He got Bob working in the clubs. He took Bob along with him one night and let Bob do one of the spots. The other magician was sacked, and Bob took over. 

During his career Bob has appeared on 27 Magic Society Shows; appeared at 31 Magical Society Dinners, including appearing at 6 Barrow-in-Furness shows (the most by any act); won 16 Magical Society Cups, including the Northern Magic Circle Clem Bailey Comedy Cup 5 times, a record number of wins; and made 5 television appearances. He has compered the Northern Magic Circle Show, and has won the IBM Comedy Cup. When compering the Northern Magic Circle Show he gave a spot to his 9 year old son, Robert (an aspiring comedian). Six months later, Peter Risdale-Scot, a Granada TV producer, sent for Robert, who, though only 9, made 12 TV and 11 radio broadcasts, one of which included Bob introducing Robert on Opportunity Knocks. Bob managed to get his own bit in by cutting up Hughie Green's tie - and restoring it as well!

John remembered Bob appearing at the Middlesborough Presidential Dinner, where Bob got two women on stage, neither of whom spoke English (they were actually Italians). Bob got John up on stage to translate. Those of us who knew Bob performing can only imagine the chaos which ensued onstage, with Bob finally talking to the women telling them to tell John to do something.

Bob remembered appearing at a Polish Club. He got two women on stage again, one of whom was deaf. Bob remembers her fancying him. He got rebooked for following year, and when he asked for two volunteers, the same women came up. The deaf one said 'I've been waiting for you all year!'

He recalled appearing at a club in Keighley. He was booked to start at 8pm, but at that time there was no one in the place. He was told that he had to go on. Eventually 2 people came in and Bob did his act for just the 2, who were both up on stage as his assistants!

He remembered entering the NMC competition one year, around the time that Paul Daniels was doing his 'strictly under laboratory conditions' His act was done using three toilet seats - 'strictly under lavatory conditions'!

Another effect he remembered was using a dartboard for a prediction effect. The idea was that he blunted the darts so that they wouldn't stick to the dartboard. Unfortunately the darts were so good that they stuck into the board and ruined the effect.

At the end, the audience gave Bob the type of applause he used to receive wherever he appeared. A wonderful evening full of memories from a true gentleman, who, whilst he may not be able to perform any more, can still make us all laugh with the timing of his lines, and his recollections of his truly superb career, the likes of which we will never see again.

Keith Pickles July 2000