You might recognise Pete Firman. He’s one of the country’s leading magicians, currently appearing on Saturday night telly in the form of BBC1’s show, going by the highly appropriate name of The Magicians. He’s also a very funny bloke, so his live shows are a winning mixture of comedy and magic. He’s back in Cambridge this month for a show at The Junction, and Explorer managed to grab a few words with him, and avoid being sawn in half…
You can be seen on Youtube doing all manner of things like hammering nails into your nose and regurgitating goldfish. Is that the sort of thing you’ll be doing on tour?
“I’m currently doing the show on the Beeb, and obviously at 6.35 on a Saturday night that’s not the type of thing they look favourably on! so in light of that, it’s not going to be as gross as eating several packs of cigarettes at once or hammering nails into my face.”
It’s remarkable that the programme is the first live magic show on the BBC in 30 years. Is that because traditional magic fell out of favour?
“I don’t think it’s fallen out of favour, but the trend for magic shows on telly has been slightly different. In the last ten or fifteen years magic shows on television have been very much in the David Blaine style, that kind of fairly lo-fi street magic. I just think that this new programme, for generations who weren’t around when Paul Daniels was around on a Saturday night on BBC1 will be seeing this studio-style magic for the first time. So in that sense it’s quite exciting, but it’s all just cyclical, in the way that Britain’s Got Talent is a re-working of Opportunity Knocks, or those talent shows that were on in the early 80s.”
Who were the magicians who first got you excited about magic?
“I used to love The Great Sorprendo who was on Crackerjack… [Crackerjack! Ed.] … He was a very funny, flamboyant, over-the-top character. Then when I was probably about 16 I saw Penn & Teller for the first time on their late night Channel 4 show. That really was a bit of a revelation, because up until that point it had been the Daniels style of magic, then you’ve got these two who were a bit edgy and seemed really cool at the time. It blew my mind to a certain extent.”
And you’re from the same part of the country as Paul Daniels – is there something magical in the water up there on Teesside?
“You must have heard of the Magic Circle. Well I’m not a member, but when I was 16 I joined a society called the Middlesbrough Society Of Magicians, and Daniels was a member as well. That was a really good society, they encouraged people to perform every week and do different types of trick. That was a really good training ground to practise the different facets of magic.”
So what was the first trick you ever performed to an audience?
“I suppose it would be something out of my Fisher-Price magic set, but what that trick was I don’t remember. But what I do remember vividly is having progressed from the magic set to a magic book, I found at the back of it some names and addresses of magic shops which were all based in London. So we sent a cheque and a letter to one and they sent back this catalogue with weird and wonderful magic tricks in it. That was such a buzz as a little kid, and that doesn’t happen any more because kids can just watch a video demonstration. What I had was a crappy line drawing and a paragraph description – which always made the trick sound tons better than it actually was. So I was hoodwinked numerous times into thinking I was buying a bona fide miracle, when the reality was a bit of cardboard, sellotape and string. I remember getting a trick that in hindsight wasn’t appropriate for an eight-year-old – it was a box with a plastic drawer. You pulled the drawer out and it looked empty then you snap your fingers, pull the drawer out and it’s full of cigarettes! Brilliant for children…”
Here’s Pete doing his thing with Julia Bradbury on BBC’s The Magicians recently…
Pete Firman: Jiggery Pokery, Friday 17 February, 20:00 (doors 19:00). Cost: £12-£14.
The Junction J2, Clifton Way, T: 01223 511511 www.junction.co.uk