Don’t try this at home, kids

Magician Derek Lever - levitating wife Anne
Magician Derek Lever - levitating wife Anne
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FIRE eating, escapology, sawing limbs off, piercing bodily bits, exploding (pretend) budgies, levitating the missus ... it’s all in the CV (that’s conjurer’s vitae) of Blackpool magician Derek Lever, organiser of the three day Blackpool Magicians’ Convention which starts tomorrow.

As a child he never heeded the time honoured warning – don’t try this at home.

But the health and safety nanny’s loss was magic’s gain, as Derek is not only organising the 60th convention at the Winter Gardens this weekend, but also hosting the 25th FISM World Championships with 150 competitors at Blackpool’s Hilton Hotel in July.

The Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM) world championships were first held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1948.

The last was held in Beijing in 2009. “Blackpool should be rightly proud,” says Derek who is president of Blackpool Magicians Club.

At eight he was already buying magic tricks from the Boys’ Own Magic Service. Inspired by a magician his dad used to book to entertain the family every Christmas.

Three years later, having seen a fire-eater in action, he shot off home, straight into the garden, rustled up some firebrands out of bike spokes and tried his luck.

Several months and as many blisters later he had mastered the knack.

At 11 he was tipped as a hot new talent on a tired circuit – one of the new brand of so-called yogic magicians walking on nails, eating fire, and performing near impossible feats of escapology for kicks.

Billed as the world’s young fire-eater, Derek played Bolton’s Grand Theatre at 16-years-old having added knocking nails into his face, eating broken glass and pushing a needle through his throat to his act.

But the show-stopper was the Human Volcano, when Derek spewed forth paraffin upon a lit firebrand, and sprayed the musicians within the orchestra pit in sparks.

A decidedly aggrieved eight piece orchestra demanded he axe the routine at the second house – claiming he had damaged clothes and instruments.

Derek chose to tone it down, running to the front of the stage with a lit firebrand, but no paraffin – and the orchestra took fright and fled.

As stunts went it backfired, leaving Derek without music for the rest of his performance, but he had the last laugh.

“I got tremendous publicity as the magician who made an entire orchestra disappear!”

After National Service in the RAF Derek returned to a gentler world and shed the shock stuff in favour of comedy on the burgeoning clubland circuit.

Winning a heat of TV’s New Faces ensured he topped the bill for several years on the then-lucrative clubland circuit. He opened his own theatrical agency too – but was quick to see clubs were fading.

So Derek returned to his first love. He became a dealer in quality used magic props and bagged a collection which had belonged to Sheffield magician Frank Baumforth, one of the legends within magic circles.

Derek turned up with two vans to clear Frank’s theatre, “really three garages knocked into one”, and found it packed to the ceiling with props and illusions. “It took months to sort out. Overnight I became the largest magic dealer in the world. I am still trading today.”

Derek also edited Magic Mag for four years encouraging newcomers, supporting established magicians, but cherishing the secrets of the craft.

“I felt magic had become stagnant and uninteresting so contributors to the mag were outspoken and forthright.

“For me the highlight was interviewing Tommy Cooper who gave very honest replies to probing questions. We became good friends. I manufactured the Electronic Exploding Comedy Budgie Box for him, which he used for many years.

“But I have always been against exposure and often berated people for exposing magic for their own ends. I am still against it. Some dealers manufacture items without permission, others in India and China blatantly rip off items and sell them cheaply. It’s virtually impossible to stop.”

When he became organiser of the initially one-day Blackpool Magicians’ Convention his theatrical agent skills came to the fore – and he soon bolted on the British Magical Championships, which sell out every year.

The convention, now in its 60th year, features dealers, lectures, magic showcases, and three gala shows, the big one being Sunday’s international gala show in the Opera House, stars Jean Garin, of France, Aaron Crow of Belgium, Compagnie Poc, France; Sebastian Nicolas, Germany; Amethyst, UK; Les Chapeaux Blancs, France; Marc Metral, France; Lumina The Laser Violinist, UK; Christian Farla, Netherlands, and Ken Dodd of Knotty Ash. It’s followed by an after show party in the Spanish Hall – Doddy permitting.

jacqui.morley@blackpoolgazette.co.uk