The 39th International Magic Convention

26-28 November 2010, London

Reported by Matthew Field, Editor of The Magic Circular

Photos by Arto Airaksinen, Mandy Davis and Duncan Trillo

Magicians from the world over gathered at the Mermaid Theatre complex, quite near St. Paul’s cathedral and overlooking the Thames, to attend three days packed with great magic – the 39th International Magic Convention, known to most as Ron’s Day after its founder, the late Ron MacMillan. Ron’s children, Martin and Georgina, and his widow, Teresa, now run the event, as well as the International Magic shop in Clerkenwell, and there is an intimacy and warmth about this convention which I dearly love.

The acts are booked by Noel Britten, who also comperes the two performances of the Gala Magic Show which are open to the public as well as the magician-attendees. One of Noel’s great strengths is tracking down and booking people who are out of the ordinary at magic conventions, and this year we were treated to The Flicking Fingers of Germany, Canada’s David Ben, Ponta the Smith from Japan and a tribute to the late Jim Cellini, ‘King of the Street Magicians’.

Events began on early Friday evening with a 90-minute performance by the Flicking Fingers. This very busy troupe of ten skilled and very funny performers (I actually counted nine in attendance) put on a show filled with high-concept effects which rely on the individual members’ interactions and ability to hold the stage on their own. Members include Pit Hartling (whose character Super Heinz is hilarious), Thomas Fraps, Jorg Willich, Jorg Alexander, Manuel Muerte [photo 1], Gaston (also knows as Gisbert), Helge Thun, Ben Profane and Nicolai Friedrich. It’s impossible to describe the performance, except to say that things opened with the group dispersed throughout the theatre aisles dressed like airline stewards who proceeded to give a ‘safety announcement’ regarding a cut and restored rope trick, which they performed simultaneously.

The final event of the evening was billed as “A Session with David Ben” [photo 2]. I had the pleasure of interviewing this former student of Ross Bertram. David is one of the finest sleight-of-hand artistes in magic, and he has authored the biography of Dai Vernon (the first of two volumes has thus far appeared); Revelation, the recently-published revised version of Vernon’s annotation of Erdnase’s classic Expert at the Card Table; Zarrow, the collected effects of the inventor of the legendary false shuffle; Tricks; and Advantage Play. He is the Editor of Magicol, the magazine of the Magic Collectors Association of which he is Artistic Director, and the Executive Director of Magicana, a non-profit Canadian organisation dedicated to the exploration and advancement of magic as a performing art.

David performed and explained tricks and moves from the gentlemen named in the above paragraph, and finished with an extraordinary Cups and Balls performance based on the work of Charles Bertram, who was known as the Court Conjuror.

Aside from having a wonderful theatre, the Mermaid Complex has several bars and hot food available, and provides three dealer rooms. 26 dealers from around the world gathered to separate magicians from their money and enable them to bring home the very latest miracles.

The day began with the Close-up Competition, with a dozen competitors vying for the cash prizes and Kevin Reay trophy, named for the first winner of the contest. Reay, who died at the early age of 45, was a gentle and highly skilled performer, and the audience were treated to a video of him performing his award-winning Cups and Balls routine as a preamble to the contemporary performers. Will Gray (UK) was up first with some fine card work and funny patter; Rene Jensen (Denmark) performed with thimbles and cards; Andost (USA) performed with cards which changed colour. Julien Bachelet (France) performed Triumph and Jennings’ Visitor with, you guessed it, cards; Kim Min Hyung (Korea) showed us a bottle of water which changed colour, an Ace production and a finalé in which the mixed deck reassembled in order – a very funny act. Not so funny was Kasrani (UK, although billed as from Iraq) who rambled on for more than the 12-miniute maximum without performing a single trick and was as close to a train wreck on stage as I have ever seen.

Compere for the event was James Freedman, and between acts we were shown visual riddles we were encouraged to guess the answers to (example: picture of a ham hock, &, Dracula = Hamman Count). The riddle contest was won by Rodney Piper, and the prize was a full registration to next year’s convention. The second half of the competition began with Jason Ladayne (USA) doing Darwin Ortiz’s Dream Card (sounding just like Ortiz!), Card in Key Case and All Backs; Matthew Wright (UK) had a hilarious act with a 3-Fly in which the “coin which passes visibly” actually floated from one hand to the other, plus a card on forehead, and a Mullica Wallet presentation [photo 3]. Paul Sommersguter (Austria) showed us a thought-card prediction, in-the-hands Triumph and signed card to sealed deck. The young Alexander Hansford (UK), the winner of the British Ring close-up shield, performed a flawless card act using a maths theme, including an Assembly, Spectator Cuts the Aces, and Reset. Simon Si (Poland) performed a silent act doing coin manipulations, a glass and bottle production, and liquid production from a card box. Javier Sanchez (Spain) did coin productions, a Flurry, a ball production and Cups and Balls. The audience saw lots of card tricks, but this is, after all, a close-up competition. The results would be announced the following day.

After a chance for attendees to visit the dealers’ rooms, David Ben took the stage for a lecture which featured his discussion of what magic is supposed to accomplish. His PowerPoint visuals helped him explain that magic presents a problem and a resolution, but that the experience is less than useful to the audience if there is no knowledge imparted. He also showed that one of magic’s basic rules, ‘Never Repeat a Trick’, is often broken and with good cause. David finished by bringing a youngster on stage to assist him in his fabulous Egg Bag routine, adapted from that of his mentor, Ross Bertram, using a Sterling bag (the one with the gimmick on the outside).

Next we had a lecture by two of the Flicking Fingers, Jorg Willich and Jorg Alexander who alternated showing us effects and analytical theory, all appreciatively received by the audience.

The last event prior to the first performance of the evening Gala (which I shall report in the Sunday section of this saga, since that’s when I saw it) was a salute to the late Jim Cellini. Cellini was a student of Slydini and was the ultimate street performer. His influence on a far ranging group of magicians, especially those who work the streets, can not be overstated. Richard McDougall was the gentle host who introduced some of Cellini’s best friends to perform and share their memories. Those participating were Gazzo, Michael Vincent, Chris Lynam, Johnny Fox and Ben Whiting. In the audience were Cellini’s widow, Marianne Heller, and his U.S.-resident son.

Things got under way at 10 AM with the dealers dealing. James Freedman introduced the winners and David Ben made the presentations. The winners of the Close-up Competition were announced. Winning Awards of Merit were Paul Sommersguter (Austria), Rene Jensen (Denmark) and Andost (USA). Third Prize went to Alexander Hansford (UK), Second Prize was awarded to Kim Min Hyung (Korea) and First Prize and the Kevin Reay Trophy was won by Matthew Wright (UK). Judging the contest were Gerrit Brengman (Chairman, Belgium), Domenico Dante (Italy), Hank Moorehouse (USA), Joan Caesar (Canada), Tonny van Rhee (Belgium), Gay Ljundberg (Sweden), Chris Power (England), Jackie McClements (Scotland), and Obie O'Brien (USA).

Then the very funny and relaxed John Lenahan compered the International Close-up Gala, and gala it was. We were treated to excellent performances by the manic Canadian card expert Tyler Wilson who climbed a ladder to get a card off the ceiling; Ricky Smith, the young and talented card expert with an Andy Kaufman-like delivery; Derek Hughes, a US magician with the delivery of a stand-up comedian but with excellent chops; Manuel Muerte, the Flicking Finger, and Thomas Fraps, another Finger; Ponta the Smith with some coin work; and Pit Hartling.

Next was the second Flicking Fingers lecture, with Pit Hartling and Manuel Muerte. Pit is an absolute master with the memorised deck, and he taught an exceptional routine using this powerful tool. Manuel Muerte taught his Card in ... (cigarette, fruit, most anything).

Ponta the Smith is the intriguing name used by the great Japanese coin expert, although he demonstrated magic with a lot more than coins. With an excellent English translation by Keiko Trillo (wife of MagicWeek’s own Duncan!) we were treated to an amazing Matrix and lots more representing expert sleight-of-hand of the very highest order.

At 5 PM the audience reassembled for the eagerly awaited presentation of the David Berglas International Award [photo 4]. In past years the award has gone to the MacMillan family, Uri Geller and David Copperfield (via Skype from Las Vegas) so there is always great anticipation of who the recipient will be. After a suitable build-up, David presented, again via Skype and on the big screen, Juan Tamariz, perhaps the most influential magician in the world, and a favourite of everyone in magic. But after a few minutes in to the question and answer session with the theatre audience the picture on the screen faltered, the audio became choppy, and finally the picture froze. Disaster! But the unflappable Mr. Berglas carried on and with a magical gesture produced, from behind the curtain, Juan Tamariz in the flesh. The audience was beside themselves and David Berglas had managed, in his inimitable style, to fool 500 magicians at one go.

Sr. Tamariz was his usual upbeat self and answered all questions before doing a few card tricks, including his own version of what we call the Berglas Effect, Card at Any Number, Tamariz’s tribute to his friend and award presenter. This hour was a highlight that will long live in my memory.

I grabbed a quick dinner and returned to the theatre for the Gala Show, which was preceded by close-up magicians entertaining the public prior to the big show.

The compere was Noel Britten, who was hilariously funny, threatening to endanger (plastic) goldfish if the audience didn’t laugh at his jokes, then spooning water from their bowl and pretending to go after them with a fishing pole [photo 5]. The performers included Paul Dabek with a silent production act; Nikolai Friedrich with mentalism; Derek Hughes doing card effects with very funny patter and, closing the first half, Tom Noddy, “the Bubble Guy” who kept the audience entranced by blowing a square bubble, smoke-filled bubbles within bubbles, and bubbles that became volcanoes [photo 6].

The second half led off with Romany, Diva of Magic looking stunning and producing birdcages galore. Then “Gunther” (actually Gaston) performed an act in which a down-and-out magician was visiting a meeting of Magicians Anonymous, a 12-step program to kick the magic habit, which Gunther had real bad. Kim Hyun Joon from Korea produced what looked to be thousands of cards in a magnificent manipulation act [photo 7]. Johnny Fox from the USA performed a sword-swallowing act, and closing the show was Paul Dabek, back this time with some shadowgraphy.

The Mermaid Theatre is a big, professional venue with a large stage and excellent lighting. The stage crew, mostly MacMillan’s International Magic employees and friends, did a great job with everything, the sound is excellent and the sight lines among the best I have every seen in a theatre.

Congratulations must go to Noel Britten for choosing the acts and holding everything stage-side together; to the MacMillan family, Martin, Georgina and Teresa, for bringing us this gem of a convention each year; and to the supportive audiences who return year after year for what they know will be a great time.

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Ron’s Day, and Noel hinted at big things afoot. The convention will start a week earlier than usual, Friday the 18th to Sunday the 20th November, and will be preceded by a week of special magic performances and events in London. You can get information at as it becomes available.

I can hardly wait!


© Matthew Field, December 2010