I absolutely love this man, he makes me laugh a lot… John’s performance is the kind my Dad and I would watch together and both cry from laughter, you know why? Because its just so silly and I LOVE silly!
We here at Abracadabra Blow were lucky enough to have a little of John’s time for a chat, he made us laugh as expected so we hope that this will cheer you up and make you laugh too 🙂
Hi John, thank you for sparing us a little time today! Can we ask how old were you when you first got into magic?
I have always been interested in magic for as long as I can remember. I have an Uncle, Harold, who when I was really young would always impress me with a silly little card trick that he would always do at any family get together. He would just look at the back of a card and he could name it. He could do it with any deck, we would just go and grab one from a drawer and he would do it. Years later I found out that he had marked all the decks in the house of every family members, so that he could do this ‘impromptu’ miracle. I never followed up my magical interest other than learning a ‘French drop’ when I was about 16 but it was a while before I took it further. It wasn’t till I went to Central School of Art and Design in 1980 to study for a degree in product design that my interest blossomed. Opposite the College about 50 yards up the road was a little joke and magic shop called “The Magic Spot” ran by Allan Alan. I started going in there mainly to buy practical jokes, but I eventually progressed to small trick and eventually books. When I finished my degree and headed home to the North East I joined The Middlesbrough Circle of Magicians and my hobby really took hold.
We know that you were in the police force, how many years of service did you do? I was a police officer for 10 years. It was a fun time, but I don’t miss it.
We also understand you were medically retired due to hearing loss, we imagine this was this tough on you. Making a step from the police to an entertainer, how was this process? A lot of circumstances came together to make it the right time. About six years after joining the police service I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, a hearing condition affecting my left ear. At the time of the diagnosis the hearing specialist advised me not to mention it at work unless it started to affect my job. Since I was working as Schools Liaison Officer the ear condition had no detrimental effect on my role and I continued pretty much as normal. Now about 4 years later and I had been in the police service for 10 years and my post as School Liaison Officer was due to come to an end. This would mean having to go back to shift work, with much more reliance on my hearing and balance, it would also make it much more difficult for me to carry on with my performances at weekends etc outside of police work. At this time, I was also getting much busier in the entertainment side of my life, so a change to ‘professional’ seemed much more viable financially. It was a relatively easy decision to let the police doctor know of my condition, which resulted in an instantaneous retirement on medical grounds.
Did you perform magic whilst you were in the force? Yes, about the same time as I started in the police I also started doing small charity shows and local church social events. The supervisors were aware of my magic and entertainment skills and after being in the police for 5 years I was asked to be the Schools Liaison officer. This was quite a cushy little number and allowed me to use my hobby in the work environment using tricks to help illustrate issues to the children; like stranger danger, road safety and drug awareness, or to simply gain their trust and attention.
In 1998 you were awarded the Ken Dodd President’s Trophy for Best New Magical Comedy Entertainer – how did that come about and did you meet Ken Dodd? I’m not sure. I suppose my name must have come up when they were thinking who to give it to that year and somehow, they stuck with it. Yes, I met Ken when he awarded me the trophy, I think his words were “Who are you?” and I was fortunate enough to meet him several times after that when thankfully, he did know who I was.
Who’s your favourite magician of all time? That is a hard one as I have a lot of favourites and all for different reasons. If you put a gun to my head I would have to choose between David Williamson and Mac King, though I would be slightly annoyed that you had a gun to my head.
Tell us about fooling Penn & Teller! The feeling, the process of getting on the show, the performing on the show.
They approached me and it was a relatively quick process once I had agreed to do it. Like a lot of televisions, it is a pretty mundane process, you turn up to he studios, do your stuff and leave, but of course it seems much more exciting than that. The difference with Fool us of course is that element of trying to fool them, so I was a tad more nervous than I might have been for an ordinary TV slot. My main aim was to be seen doing well on TV and to that end I think, hope, I succeeded. I certainly didn’t go on the show expecting to fool Penn and Teller, I’m not sure that anyone did.
Do you have a favourite magic trick to perform? Not really. It changes from year to year or month to month. Often it is the latest thing that I am working on.
What is your most complex trick? Again, that is hard to say. Some are more complex because of the method and some because of the presentation. None of my effects are massively difficult from a purely method viewpoint.
Tell us about the BGT process, how do you apply, how was the whole process? What pushed you to apply? As with ‘Fool Us’ I think people think it is more involved and exciting than it is. It was a crazy few days…. Then nothing for ages and then a crazy week or so. I didn’t apply as such. I was approached by Russ Steven’s and then by the Producers and persuaded to audition. I had been asked before but this time I decided that the show had changed enough that I wasn’t at a great risk of being made to look a fool. It was fun, and I am glad I did it but it flies by and you are very quickly yesterdays news. I always try and look forward and see what new challenges I can set myself rather than dwell on past achievements.
You do a lot of work in television, what has been your favourite project?
Almost certainly working on “Tim Vine Travels Through Time”. We wrote the shows together and I also appeared as a character. We did a pilot and a Christmas special but sadly it never got picked up for a series. I also recently did a little spot in “Not Going Out” with Lee Mack, playing a cab driver. It was extra special as I got to work with Bobby Ball in what was probably one of his last TV appearances. That was special.
Who’s the most famous person in your contacts list? I suppose it depends who people consider is ‘most famous’? Lee Mack, Tim Vine, Jeremy Vine. I have lots of friends in the business so not sure.
What’s the best thing about being a magician? Making people happy.
And the worst? Travelling.
If you could perform anywhere in the world where would it be? Broadway, New York.
Do you work globally at the moment, will Brexit affect you? I do, but as yet I am not sure how it will affect me.
If you could perform with anyone in the world, who would it be? Much harder question… maybe David Copperfield
What’s your most rewarding career moment? Possibly my BGT semi-final appearance.
How diverse do you see the magic industry? Very diverse, and thankfully getting even more so.
We recently saw you on our screens in Not Going Out, with Lee Mack and Bobby Ball. Tell us about how that role came about, how it was filming. Yes, I mentioned that earlier. I have known Lee for a while and he just contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would play a small role in one of the episodes of the latest series. The rehearsal and filming all took place over the course of a week, three days rehearsing in a scout hut in Teddington and then three days recording at Pinewood. It was all done with social distancing and masks and checks etc so very weird and different to any other telly I’ve done before, but as I said getting to work with Bobby and indeed Lee was great fun.
I have a favourite joke, what do you call a three legged donkey… wonkey!! Can you tell us your favourite joke? A Tim Vine classic. ‘All tennis players are witches. For example Goran. Even ee’s a witch.’
Please tell us about any new projects you have coming up? Not a lot… I have some tour dates to complete once things get back to some sort of normal. I am also going to be supporting Tim Vine’s ‘Plastic Elvis tour’ playing a ukulele playing rock and roll star ‘Big Buddy Holly’, you will have to come along to find out what that is all about!
Thank you so much John!
People please follow John on social media to keep up to date on his performance dates