1 9 7 9 – 1 9 9 4 (UK)
142 x 45 minute episodes
Some boys want to be footballers or disc jockeys and end up as bank clerks or plumbers – but Newton Edward Daniels (as he was christened) made up his mind as a child and never wavered. His choice was influenced by a rainy day and a secondhand book while he was on holiday in a Yorkshire village.
At a loose end, he picked up an old book called How to Entertain at Parties and, flicking through it, came across a series of card tricks “with which to baffle your friends”. He learnt one of the tricks mechanically, and that was it.
“From that moment,” he said, “all I ever wanted to do was become a professional magician. Unfortunately, there weren’t that many openings for an eleven-year-old professional magician at that time”.
He left school at 16 and went into local government, spending all his spare time entertaining at children’s parties and private functions.
After two years of National Service in Hong Kong, he returned to local government and even reached the exalted rank of internal auditor.
But evening work entertaining with his brother – with an act called Billy Hygate – and, later, in a double act with the wife he had just married (they called themselves ‘The Eldanis’, an anagram of Daniels), made him give up local government and open his own grocery shop.
“I soon found the two jobs were killing me. I was up at six in the morning to organise my deliveries, worked all day, and then went out on gigs at night, sometimes not getting to bed till the small hours.”
Salvation came in 1969 when he was offered a lucrative 20-week summer season at the Cosy Nook Theatre in Newquay. He sold the shop and became a full-time professional at last at the age of 30. The following year he came into television for the first time through Thames’s Opportunity Knocks!
He later heard from Johnny Hamp of Granada, who offered him his own spot on the Wheeltappers and Shunters show.
And so Paul Daniels became established in television. He returned to the Wheeltappers on several occasions and was featured in two series of the BBC’s For My Next Trick, in the David Nixon Show and BBC 1’s Pebble Mill Showcase.
In 1977 he made three appearances at the London Palladium, one of which – Fall In the Stars, presented before Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – was shown on the ITV network. To round off the year, Granada gave him his own special on New Year’s Eve.
Because of the nature of his act, Paul Daniels had a particular problem. So much of what he did depended on sleight of hand. on the quickness of the hand deceiving the eye, performing in close-up with the camera apparently following every move would seem an almost impossible task.
“Not really”, explained Paul. “When I’m doing a trick, I can make you or an audience look away at the critical moment. You won’t know you’ve done it, but you will. I control your vision.
“I do the same to the camera. I tell my producer in rehearsal, at this point, you’ll look away’. He doesn’t believe me, but he looks away all the same, and I tell him, ‘I want the camera to look away too’.
“It’s not deception. Nothing is left out or edited out. Just a change of vision.”
A great deal of Paul Daniels’s success came from his particular brand of patter and the catchphrase which became his trademark – “you’ll like this . . . not a lot, but you’ll like it”.
His aim in all his television appearances was to make the viewer like him and like his magic, in that order. He had no difficulty in continually adding to his repertoire of tricks. His bigger illusions (for which his father made the equipment in his workshop) presented a problem – how to make them funny.
Guests over the 15 years included Kenneth Williams, Val Doonican, Jon Pertwee, Danny La Rue, Anita Harris, Vera Lynn, Larry Grayson, Bonnie Langford, Ron Moody, Fenella Fielding, Gorden Kaye, Penelope Keith, Bernie Winters, Eartha Kitt, John Inman, Shari Lewis, Rolf Harris, Henry Cooper, Jackie Stewart, Paul Gascoigne, Stanley Unwin, Des Lynam, Little & Large, and Cirque du Soleil.