I.B.M. British Ring 25 Convention

Eastbourne 2019

An overview by Donald Bevan

Returning to Eastbourne, scene of many prestigious past conventions, the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians mounted its 83rd annual convention, September 5 – 8. Housed in The Welcome Building, a brand new conference centre, plus the refurbished Devonshire Park Theatre, facilities were ideal. Two ‘off the programme’ events on Wednesday set the scene: Danny Hunt and Stephanie Clarke of Amethyst fame, thrilled small groups of spectators in the town shopping mall with dare-devil stunts e.g. walking a sword ladder, sword swallowing, walking on glass and other thrilling delights, whilst leaflets advertising the two public shows - An Evening of Magic and Sooty and Friends Magic Show were distributed around them. The second item was purely a meet and greet social gathering with finger buffet.

The Official Opening Thursday morning harboured a disappointment. International President Alex Zander (surely at age 25 the youngest ever I.B.M. president?) could not join us due to airline strikes. British Ring President Brian Lead and the Deputy Mayor of Eastbourne, Councillor Sammy Choudhury, did the opening honours and we were off. The opening show, A Brit of Magic, with ex-pat Keith Fields and Lady Sarah, provided an hour of hilarious (and noisy!) comedy and magic, the latter including a vanishing bird (mouse!) cage and borrowed ring in walnut. Does not sound much, but five volunteers on stage had a whale of a time and so did the audience!

The lectures throughout the convention were extremely varied, entertaining and instructive. First up was Mike Sullivan, known as right-hand to Wayne Dobson. No magic, instead he detailed his System 32, enabling Mike to fit in to any conditions. Fascinating professional advice. Scott Pepper from San Antonio, Texas, USA, formerly from Essex UK, gave details of working for Disney Cruises and showed routines suitable for mixed audiences.

A personal favourite was an interview with Twins FX (Gary and Paul) by Michal J. Fitch. British audiences, including magicians, are not easily given to standing ovations; this convention had two, including this event. Twins FX are not magicians in the usual sense, but create ‘magic’ through theatrical illusion as animatronic experts. Video and film showed some of their work including a fearsome dragon, and flying coach and horses for the pantomime Cinderella. Ninety minutes sped by!

Oliver Tabor, popular performer elected President-Elect at the AGM, described intricacies and simplicities of manipulation, including varied holders, best bubble mix to use and a clever gimmick to produce a glass of liquid. Oliver is a neat performer with a likeable personality. An unusual session came from pick-pocket expert James Freedman showing simple, and not so simple moves and techniques, all in the cause of entertainment. Star lecturer from the USA was Joshua Jay, currently touring the UK, whose varied set included stunning coin routines, predictions, ‘magic’ T-shirts and strong card routines. Paul Megram or Colonel Custard detailed routines for children’s and family audiences, including Miser’s Dream, smashing a spectator’s phone (apparently!) and finding a borrowed bank note in a choc bar. Chris Wardle, surely one of the brightest magical brains, detailed a collection of his effects including card and coin predictions, cut and restored tie, and an intriguing magic square.

The year’s major lecture, The Jeff Atkins Memorial was delivered by Scott Penrose, showing his incredible reproductions of Robert-Houdin automatons (or as Scott prefers, puppets!). First an owl which flaps its wings, moves it head and from a card fountain catches a selected card in its beak. Then Scott’s version of the famous Houdin Orange Tree on which oranges are seen to grow, and a previously borrowed silk handkerchief and ring appear from an orange supported by fluttering butterflies! The mechanisms and detail involved showed Scott’s many skills. A well deserved ovation was the result.

The popular History of Mystery session organised by Eddie Dawes, featured speakers Tim Reed on The Paul Daniels Magic Show, Eddie Dawes detailing the fascinating life and work of Willane, and David Hibberd on Treasures of The Magic Circle Archive.

Competitions for stage and close-up magic, with trophies and cash prizes, drew five and six entries respectively:

The Close-up winner was Nicola Arcane from Belfast, with signed card locations and penetrating coins through scarf the features, taking the Zina Bennett Trophy plus £500. Runner-up was Adam Black with £250; third, Marcus Taylor, also winning the Rovi Trophy for best card effect. Guest performer whilst the judges fought for the results was Terry Herbert, ever the entertainer with Flying Ring, Linking Finger Rings and Egg Bag. First place for the British Ring Trophy stage award, plus £500 went to Hamish (Fraser Stokes) in clown guise, with excellent manipulations, also winning the Dittia Shield for manipulation. Runner-up Jay Gatling received the Theo Speaker Cup and £250. The British Ring Shield again was not awarded. Whilst judges deliberated Mel Harvey provided an entertaining miscellany of comedy magic.

A feature this year was emphasis on the Edinburgh Fringe, with its numerous magical activities and shows. These included, for those who like ‘party tricks’ Harry De Cruz, who claims to know nearly 400 ‘impromptu’ stunts and almost proved it! Tom Crosbie claimed to be ‘not a comedian, not a magician’ and again proved it but . . . . . . . In another session Harry De Cruz was joined by Edward Hilsum, Tom Crosbie, Laura London and James Freedman who between them imparted priceless information on booking venues, pricing a show, the do’s and don’ts of surviving The Fringe.

Close-up enthusiasts were catered for (in addition to the competition) by International Stars Joshua Jay, Paul Gordon, Mel Harvey and Mike Sullivan performing. Paul Gordon held a hands-on card workshop, and for balloon enthusiasts Graham Lee provided two workshops. Those with circus interests enjoyed the anecdotes of Bippo the Clown, whose enthusiasm for circus began at the age of three! More intrigue came from Peter Rann, magician and archivist at The King’s Theatre, Southsea, who showed pictures and spoke of several theatres designed by the legendary Frank Matcham.

What used to be the Gala Show, now designated ‘An Evening of Magic’, featured the manipulative skills of Roy Davenport in his great-grandfather’s act with billiard balls, thimbles, silks, parasols and colour-change waistcoat. A brilliant opener! Juggler Florian Brooks in two spots showed skill with glasses, trays, bottles, and the obligatory clubs, and Miss Degenerate spun Hula Hoops around her body with increasing numbers and speed. Back to magic – Paul Megram worked hard as compère, introducing Edward Hilsum with his classic dove act; Sooty with Richard Cadell (a floating mini car with small girl driver a hit); Duo Roma with death-defying crossbow effects; James Freedman The Man of Steal (very entertaining), and finally Hocus Pokus, the three-girl (plus others) illusion act from Wookey Hole. And the Zoe Pennington Dancers too, with two spots, several girls and one boy showing incredible choreography.

There was more, the final shows Sunday afternoon being the Youth Show, with young magicians (age 14-17) Jake Allen, Robbie Stevens, Zach Weaver and Amos Wallen showing skill, personality and confidence, plus the acclaimed Edinburgh show of Edward Hilsum, whose offering featured numerous classic effects such as Miser’s Dream, knife thru coat, Slydini knotted hanks and more, much more! All of which brought standing ovations!

To close the convention Brian Lead and his lady Sheila handed the Presidential regalia to the new president Alan Maskell and Moira. Finally, these notes cannot close without thanks and congratulations to the organisers, led by Moira Fletcher, backed by a dedicated team, who between them produced what Brian Lead described as a stunning convention! Next year a return to Greenock, Scotland, watch for dates and details.

© Donald Bevan, September 2019




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