Now that's magic
March 17, 2016 4:16 AM   Subscribe

Paul Daniels, internationally renowned magician and television performer, has died aged 77 after a diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour in late February 2016.

From the age of 11, Daniels developed his interest in magic reading a book entitled "How to Entertain at Parties" while on holiday. He quickly exhausted his local library's collection of books on magic, and performed his first show at a local youth club at 14. A shy child, this well-received skill quickly boosted his confidence: "From that moment, I can safely say that all I ever wanted to do in life was to become a professional magician."

A short career as a clerk at the local council and then national service followed, where he entertained fellow soldiers. Daniels later began training as an accountant before working in his parents' small grocery business, eventually running a mobile shop.

Marrying his first wife Jacqueline Skipworth in 1960, the couple performed as The Eldanis in local variety clubs. The Northern club circuit is often prone to heckling, leading Daniels to coin his well-known catchphrase "You'll like this, not a lot, but you'll like it".

In 1969 he became a full-time entertainer, and an appearance on Opportunity Knocks brought him the attention of ITV who gave him a regular spot on The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club variety show designed around the premise of a working men's club.

His own show followed this in 1978 on Sunday nights, before he moved to the BBC to begin The Paul Daniels Magic Show, running for 15 years and broadcast around the world. In 1987, a Halloween special courted controversy when a recreation of Harry Houdini's escape from an Iron Maiden appeared to go horribly wrong, killing Daniels, who was later shown to escape from the device unharmed.

Daniels married his second wife, his on-stage assistant Debbie McGee in 1988, after first meeting in 1979 during a summer season at seaside resort Great Yarmouth. At his peak, Daniels also hosted a number of television quiz shows such as Every Second Counts, and Wipeout. Much later, a number of appearances on reality television shows including When Louis Met... and Wife Swap gave the public insight into his and McGee's personal lives.

Daniels also co-developed a children's television show called Wizbit, where alongside puppets living in the town of Puzzleopolis, lateral thinking puzzles were posed to viewers amongst tricks performed by Daniels.

A number of prestigious awards cemented his reputation including being the first non-US magician to receive Magician of the Year in 1982, the Golden Rose of Montreux in 1985, The Maskelyne in 1988 and the Great Lafayette in 2011.

Well known for a range of outspoken and often controversial views on all manner of subjects, Daniels was often the subject of numerous newspaper articles, not always flattering. The increasing popularity of the Internet brought Daniels much closer to his fans, where he ran an often-updated website including a blog where he would often write detailed posts of his thoughts on a wide range of topics.

Daniels and McGee lived on the banks of the River Thames in Berkshire. He is survived by his wife and three children.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics (32 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was about to comment "oh no I have a copy of Close-up Fantasies on my bookshelf right now" but then I remembered that's Paul Harris and boy do I ever feel like a loaf right now

This news sucks though
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:27 AM on March 17, 2016

posted by Smart Dalek at 4:28 AM on March 17, 2016

That question from "Mrs Merton" (spoof chat show, played by Caroline Aherne) to Debbie McGee. Credit to Debbie for taking it in good spirit.
posted by Wordshore at 4:34 AM on March 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

One of the staple figures of my childhood. Poor Debbie McGee - I know the Mrs Merton question was oft-quoted and yes there was an age gap, but that was clearly a love match.

posted by billiebee at 4:41 AM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

So it turns out that Debbie McGee was in the Iranian National Ballet and had to flee sharpish after the revolution. Mind.... expanded...
posted by runincircles at 4:45 AM on March 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


And also: A prescient tribute
posted by Combat Wombat at 4:55 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sad news. I know he got a lot of stick later in life, but his magic show was a staple of my childhood. The trick with the TV camera in the box was stunning.

/*** (a wand waving magic sprinkles, in case you were wondering)
posted by marienbad at 5:14 AM on March 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

Credit to NordyneDefenceDynamics for putting together a detailed and wide-ranging obituary post.
posted by Wordshore at 5:39 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by threetwentytwo at 5:49 AM on March 17, 2016

posted by Flashman at 6:05 AM on March 17, 2016

Very sad news. He was a big figure in my childhood. He lived in my area and there was a letter in the local paper this week taking about how he had gone to help a teenager with extreme behavioral problems who LOVED magic and Paul had spent a long time with him talking and getting to know him. The lad - as you can imagine - was completely starstruck and it must have made such an impression on him. I also have a long lost memory of him coming to open our village fete (this must have been at the height of his fame) and, when the fete was moved to a poky old hall because of rain, staying to do tricks and chat to people for two or three hours. He was certainly irascible, but I think he had a good heart - and was an awesome, and underrated, sleight-of-hander.

He also invented a lot of the tricks for the Phantom of the Opera!
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 6:14 AM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

It always amazes me that, out of all the kids who take out their first book on magic and put on their first show in the backyard or their living rooms, there are some who keep at it until it's what they do for a living. Rest in peace, magic maker.
posted by xingcat at 6:41 AM on March 17, 2016

Paul Daniels was a good magician, a bit over exposed at the height of his career, but nonetheless a good magician.

His name always brought a smile to my face following his becoming immortalised in this Rowan Atkinson sketch:
And on the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. And it came to pass that all the wine was drunk. And the mother of the bride came to Jesus and said unto the Lord, "They have no more wine." And Jesus said unto the servants: "Fill six water pots with water." And they did so. And when the steward of the feast did taste from the water of the pots, it had become wine. And they knew had come.
But the servants did know, and they applauded loudly in the kitchen. And they said unto the Lord: "How the hell did you do that?" And inquired of him: "Do you do children's parties" And the Lord said.."No." But the servants did press him, saying; "Go on, give us another one!"
And so he brought forth a carrot and said: "Behold this, for it is a carrot." And all about him knew that it was so. For it was orange, with a green top. And he did place a large red cloth over the carrot and then removed it, and lo, he held in his hand a white rabbit. And all were amazed and said, "This guy is really good! He should turn professional."

And they brought him on a stretcher a man who was sick of the palsy. And they cried unto him: "Maestro, this man is sick of the palsy." And the Lord said: "If I had to spend my whole life on a stretcher, I'd be pretty sick of the palsy, too!" And they were filled with joy. And cried out: "Lord, thy one-liners are as good as thy tricks! Thou art indeed an all-round family entertainer."

And there came unto him a woman called Mary, who had seen the Lord and believed and Jesus said unto her: "Put on a tutu and lie down in this box." And then took he forth a saw, and cleft her in twain. And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But Jesus said: "Oh ye of little faith!" And he threw open the box and lo, Mary was whole! And the crowd went absolutely bananas. And Jesus and Mary took a big bow. And he said unto her: "From now on you shall be known as Trixie, for that is a good name for an assistant.

And the people said unto him: "We've never seen anything like this. This is great. You must be the son of God!”. And the Lord said,” No. I am he who comes before.” And the people were sore amazed and said unto Him, “Then tell us, Lord, tell how we should know the true Son of God”. And Jesus replied, “By his name shall ye know him. And he shall have a slightly religious name. And Daniel shall he be called. And Paul shall be his name.” “Paul Daniels!” the people shouted. And Jesus said, “Yes. Something like that.”
posted by asok at 6:52 AM on March 17, 2016 [10 favorites]

posted by lalochezia at 7:10 AM on March 17, 2016

and with it, a large part of my childhood television.

(though later remember him as Jerry Sadowitz's verbal punching bag.)
posted by scruss at 8:10 AM on March 17, 2016

Yeah - he sort of feels like he got a lot (but maybe not quite all) of the re-evaluation due to him: he was a genuinely talented, genuinely innovative entertainer who made the mainstream his own. Watching the Iron Maiden video takes me straight back to being sat on the floor, watching it on the TV with all the rest of my family.

Paul Daniel's letter to The Times defending the Iron Maiden trick and his Halloween special
posted by Hartster at 8:18 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I used to watch him all the time as a kid. This is sad.

posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:02 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I remember I would watch Paul Daniels on the TV in my parent's bedroom (for some reason) on YTV when I was growing up. Definitely gave me a lasting appreciation for magic.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:14 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, Sadowitzs show at the Kings in Glasgow tomorrow should be interesting
posted by stuartmm at 9:19 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Paul Daniels used to be an advertising face for Atari and somehow got me into technology, the aspiration of his 'Learn Spanish on an Atari 800!' and the reality of a 1-kb ZX81 with a defective tape deck caused me to have to learn to program. A subsequent life of misery given to me by tiers of failed ambition, with Paul Daniels' fake spanish lessons laughing at me from the top.

A 9-year old me, with Daniel's face selling at me through Buster! comic. Innocent times.
posted by davemee at 9:28 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

He was really into technology during the early days of home computing, and you could often see him prowling the halls at the computer shows in London in the mid-80s. The other magician I knew at the time, Faye Presto, was similarly nerdy - she once came to a Psion user's group meeting I was at, and got into some serious technical discussions about EPOC.

I don't know if this is a thing. I can quite believe it.
posted by Devonian at 10:07 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

posted by colie at 11:27 AM on March 17, 2016


Always seemed like a great character and passionate about entertaining and encouraging interest in his art, and taking advantage of his position to showcase fellow performers. He stayed remarkably active, still performing until very recently too.
posted by edd at 12:03 PM on March 17, 2016

I'm reminded of this illusion his son Martin performed on the surprisingly delightful Penn & Teller: Fool Us show; it's a tribute of sorts to Paul - his favourite trick.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:20 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Totally mainstream, but for a while he was king of Saturday night

A lot of it is fairly obvious now, but the Magic Kettle trick totally mystified me as a kid.

Also a master of self publicity even into his 70s, with this classic news story
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:15 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by drnick at 2:33 PM on March 17, 2016

posted by stanf at 3:06 PM on March 17, 2016

posted by penguin pie at 4:54 PM on March 17, 2016


Interesting about the escape from the Iron Maiden!

My belief is that the trick went "wrong" but there was no way to actually kill the magician - instead, in order to get him out of the contraption, they'd have had to actually expose how it was done...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:44 PM on March 17, 2016


I bought his book as a kid, magician being one of the many fantasy futures I imagined for myself. Still remember some of the card tricks.
posted by bardophile at 10:07 PM on March 17, 2016


I was strongly influenced by him (when we finally got TV) but my magical career was dashed when I found I had to spend a whole weekend practicing with a pack of cards to do a simple one-handed cut. I knew I didn't have the patience to do anything better.

I can still do it, but then, can't anyone?
posted by arzakh at 4:43 AM on March 18, 2016

Interesting about the escape from the Iron Maiden! My belief is that the trick went "wrong" but there was no way to actually kill the magician - instead, in order to get him out of the contraption, they'd have had to actually expose how it was done...

I remember watching this live. It was definitely deliberate, the way they fade to black and the chap asks the audience to leave the room. It was halloween; having Daniels emerge grinning would have been dull, much more interesting to end it the way they did.
posted by memebake at 3:41 PM on March 18, 2016

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