Paul Daniels: as illusive as ever
Middlesbrough's most magical export tells us about handling Louis Theroux and building sledges.
6 November 2003
Linguist, inventor, onetime target of that smug little sod Louis Theroux, and famous vanisher of handkerchiefs, Paul Daniels is one of the hardest working men in show business. Especially now that Bob Hope is dead and Ronald Reagan isn't doing as many films as he used to.
Earlier this year Paul had two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe - 'An Audience With Paul Daniels', and 'The Magic of Max Malini' - which were reviewed in our Edinburgh Diary:
Both were excellent (particularly the Q & A session, although he never answered my question 'have you ever used your powers for evil?', which was a shame). Daniels is an absolute master of a live audience - having worked his way up through working men's clubs and the cabaret circuit - and he had us eating out of the palm of his hand... He put on a better show than Ross Noble, and that's the God's honest truth.
Not bad. And to top it all, on October 31st Debbie celebrated her birthday. Happy birthday Debbie.
We met up with Paul across a café table. What follows is half of what was said. The other half is lost forever because the mini-disc seems to have been corrupted (by magic?) and all you can hear is 20 minutes of:
> So, asoihdaoss hsfffffsdh asdoisgggh fffasodho?
Ffssasss sihahdaddafafasfa, fiaifafhshfyaffa ysfnfnofoina sfafyaisyfasfoianfio nsifh yydysfsydfi s idyfosi ydfoisydfoiysddf yyfyfffssss fyfsfsfiohfohsh! [laughter]
Which is dull and probably we ought to sue TDK, but we’d only lose and then we’d have to pay the legal costs and The Friday Thing would go under and that would be sad. So we won’t.
> Who is your favourite entertainer?
My favourite magician has to be Max Malini. But according to Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior, Al Jolson was the greatest entertainer they ever saw. And then there’s Maurice Fogle, who was a mind-reading magic act; he had that same enormous charisma, enormous. I think maybe you've got to be Jewish; it's a Jewish trait perhaps. I don't know.
> How did you deal with Louis Theroux?
I watched Louis Theroux handling Jimmy Saville, and I said to Debbie "why is Jimmy babbling?" I know why... Louis Theroux asks a question, and you answer it, and he says nothing - and if you're a broadcaster you can't stand quiet, so you start doing fill, so I said to Deb, notice that and don't babble. Answer the question succinctly, then say nothing. They can't transmit nothing. Then, I said, we need a couple of red herrings for him to meander off on - because he’s a nosey bugger. I mean, I quite like him. I don't mind Louis.
So, we had Swan Lake out at the time, and I made a wooden duck on wheels and Louis was wanting to pull it across the stage - and be seen to be involved - and I said, no, We can't do that - and he focused on that duck and missed completely that our chief male ballet dancer had a storming row with the lead ballerina - and left the show an hour before we due to open on the opening night. Louis never got it, and we were all keeping him playing with the wooden duck. Louis missed it all.
> What did you make of the end result?
Well, what is extraordinary is the amount of money they spent on it. He was with us for three months. He came to Portugal with me, with a full crew. And none of that was seen, and then they say there’s no money for programmes! Three months to make 50 minutes? I used to do that in two and a half hours. I just find that a misuse of money. When I'm in charge of the BBC it will all change. Move over, Greg!
> What do you miss most about your TV show?
It’s a shame that all that street cred I built up over the years has gone.
> What keeps you going?
I don't know where the bloody energy comes from, I really don't! But I just love to perform. I love an audience. Do you know - the best warm up man I've ever seen is Clive Anderson. He really is; the audience love him.
> What is your favourite memory of snow?
A few years ago - when my father was still alive - it started to snow. My father was living in a cottage in the grounds of our house, this was after he’d had a stroke and was paralysed down one side of his body. So anyway, I popped into the cottage to see him, and my father was looking out of the window at the falling snowflakes, and he turned and said to me "I wish I could go out into the snow" - and I took myself off to my garage, and found an old sledge and got my tools out and fixed a chair on top of it, and an old horse’s bridle to the front. And I got my father into the chair and put the bridle round my shoulders, and I pulled him around and around the garden in the snow, slipping and sliding as I went, and my father was shouting for joy, waving his one good arm about. And that’s my favourite memory of snow.
> What next for Paul Daniels?
I am writing my diary. And working on my websites. I had a website before most people had computers.
> Have you ever directed a show?
I directed Jack Tinker’s show - the theatre critic. He tried it out on the QE2 and it bombed (sorry, I'm in England again - I’ll speak English) it *died* and I happened to be in the audience, and he was in despair, and I said I’ll buy you a drink, c’mon son. And I took him aside - he had all this high tech stuff, I got rid of that, and I twisted it all around, compartmentalized it so he had sequences to go to - it worked. He was offered Australia, but he never made it. He died. Very sad.
> Have you ever been to Peru?
No, but I've been invited. Er.... Peru - ping! - Why is fire insurance so cheap in Peru? It’s so high there’s not enough oxygen to maintain a really good blaze. I've worked with a Peruvian. Michael Bentine. He was very much into the supernatural. I'm very much not into it. And we had long discussions about it. A very kind man, very nice to my sons.
> How do you keep trim?
Whenever Debbie says I'm looking a bit chunky, I go on the Norman Wisdom diet. It’s the diet that Norman himself devised, and it works too. Basically what you aaahfhihs ishdohsfo ihohshiosisss ff fhfhfosihd ffodihd
- and so the mini-disc corruption begins - curse you, TDK!
For all your latest Paul Daniels information, visit his official site:
You can find out more about Max Malini here:
And here is an ancient sledge: