Saturday, 24 December 2011


Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, 2 December 2011

For readers of Mystery Magazine

I've just received my copy of the October's issue of Mystery Magazine. The gremlins were at work with the typograpy and lack of space (it was an issue covering the British Ring Convention and so I was lucky there was any room for my article at all) meant that the explanation to the illustration was dropped. So, for those, wondering what the heading to the second paragraph was, it was meant to read "Dice In the Ancient World."
And here's the illustration again and the explanation that was dropped for those readers who are interested (if any) what the numbers on the illustration mean.

(1)    Acetabulum/Acetabuli. There can be ornamental handles on these; it was the handles that prevented stacking. This vessel was a small dipping bowl, usually filled with vinegar.
(2)    & (3) Examples of micras paropsidas. These were small dishes that held sweets on a dinner table. (2) could sometimes be no more than 4cm or 5cm high. Note the similarity of (2) to a Hindu cup and (3) to an oriental rice bowl; both of which have a lengthy history of being used for cups and balls routines.
(4) A boxwood cup. Around 5cm high.
(5) Knuckle bones. These are the basic, unpolished type. They were sometimes carved and polished into better shapes.
(6) A miniature dice set with cup/container. From base to lid the cup might only be 2cm to 2.5cm high. Only three dice are shown but occasionally ten or more might be in the set. The material the container could be made of varied from leather to metal. The dice, like larger dice, would be made of wood, ivory, stone or metal.
(7) Dice. The length of one edge might be up to 1cm. They could be bigger but it was unusual.
(8) Calculi made of polished stone.
(9) Calculi/calculum or stroggula lithidia (in Greek). A natural pebble. There were no industry standards on calculi and so a board game might have the shapes of both (8) and (9) making up the game pieces.
(10) Ivory calculi. The size could be about that of a penny or a little larger, say of a 10p piece. The smaller kind appear to be more common.
Seneca the Younger mentions (1) and (9) when referring to the cups and balls being performed.
Alciphron mentions (2) or (3) and (9) when describing a performance of the cups and balls.
Martial mentions (5) and (7).
Ovid mentions (7), (8), (9) and (10).
Juvenal mentions (6).

Monday, 3 October 2011

Paul Zenon in The LaBaL

The October issue of Al Smith's The LaBaL is now available and it includes an interview with Paul Zenon (as well as some great card magic by its contributors). For details on how to get a copy please see the advert for Al's magazine on my website (link opens in a new window) 
The interview with Paul mostly deals with his career and background in magic.
For those few that haven't noticed, in the last few weeks Paul has hit the headlines because of his interest in scepticism. Below is a video of his appearance on the TV program This Morning discussing his views.

Paul's own website can be found at
Paul runs a charity for the elderly called the Wonderbus; the website can be found at
(Both of the above links open in new windows.)

Friday, 30 September 2011

Family Documents

Just a quick message to relatives. The family documents that I promised were to be put online, and therefore available to all who have the direct link, are now indeed uploaded and online. In the next number of weeks the link to them will be sent to you. This took longer than planned, namely, in finding a link everyone could use and share. I'm now looking for a backup link for possible use. A list of the handful of documents not uploaded will be included.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Dear Virgin Media

Dear Virgin Media,
Please stop stalking me. For some years now you have written to me almost every week; sometimes twice a week. Surely it must be obvious from my lack of response to your missives that I am not interested in your services. Joking aside, please stop writing to me.
Another thing that is of concern to me is the amount of paper you’ve wasted in paying me and others so much unwanted attention. Whilst recycling this week, I’ve looked at the last number of letters you sent me, and the booklet that accompanies each, and I’ve realised that nowhere on them does it say that they are made from recycled paper or from sustainable forests. Also, over the years, the amount of paper you’ve sent me must be equal to that required to print a complete copy of the works of Shakespeare (or two). Multiply that by the number of people in our small street that also receive letters from you and the paper could be equal to what is required for a number of copies of Shakespeare per week. How much paper is being wasted nationally? How many books could have been made from that paper if it wasn’t turned into advertising, asking the same people each week, for the so many thousandth time, to subscribe to Virgin Media.
If you want to advertise, then please do it in a way that makes the use of paper worthwhile. If you can afford to give away that much printed paper FREE every year to the nation then why not publish paperbacks of poetry, text books, classic novels and suchlike and donate them FREE to the ever-decreasing library services of the UK. At the back of each can be your advertising. UK library services need public sector benefactors more as the government reduces their funding each year.
Ask yourself which is better. The pointless waste of money used in your advertising letters going straight from letter boxes to recycling boxes – or communities being more aware of your advertising, because of how you were a part of helping save their libraries by reducing their costs?
If you're listening, rather than just talking at people through your advertising, then give it a thought.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Here We Go Again

Yesterday I received an email from a wholesale supplier congratulating me on expanding my products to beyond just books and then he went into a sales pitch. I thought to myself this is just spam - until today. A friend sent me a link to a site that has a very similar web address as my main site. I clicked on it and saw reviews of toys (actually advertisements) by a person who only gives their name as Helvin. Apparently, some people are assuming that it is me. I can categorically state that it is not. Whoever it is also has a Twitter account using the name Helvin. There is no overt claim to be me but at the same time no forename is given by this other Helvin and the similarity of the web address is a bit odd. A check on who owns the site led to the discovery that the owner has used a service which (contrary to the principle of WHOIS) keeps their real name secret; rather odd for a site that merely advertises toys. What have they to hide? If they are going to recommend products shouldn't the person doing the recommending make it clear who they are?
Unfortunately, all I can do is state that the site - despite having a similar web address to my main site and using the name Helvin - is nothing to do with me and its reviews/advertisements are also nothing to do with me.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Music With Cards!

I had that feeling of "I wish I thought of that first" when I saw this video.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Teller Speaks About Penn & Teller: Fool Us

In an interview about their new show Tell A Lie, Teller discusses why he regards Penn & Teller: Fool Us as a great television series.
[Thanks to Daniel Lander for providing the link for this video]

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Beware Another Scam

Another fraudster is exploiting my book, A Briefe And Pleasaunt Treatise Entituled, Natural And Artificial Conclusions - this time on Ebay. The seller is selling the book, as a new item, at £21.69, even though the retail price is only £10. Also, I've never heard of this 'bookseller' before, I've never sold them any stock and they don't have an account with me.
If anyone wants to buy a genuine copy at £10, and doesn't wish to do so through my own website, then I suggest visiting Word Power Books - they are a walk-in bookshop and online bookstore that sell to the general public and educational bodies.

UPDATE 30/07/2001: Since writing this blog entry the seller has altered the price to £19.52. Perhaps he reads this blog and doesn't want to be thought of as the seller in question!

Friday, 22 July 2011

The Complete Cups & Balls by Michael Ammar

This is possibly one of the best books on the cups and balls for the beginner – or the book collector. Yes, there are other books on the subject that are considered classics but note that I wrote ‘for the beginner.’ What puts this book a notch above others (along with the quality of Ammar's text) is the layout of each page and how the illustrations are designed. It is not simply that there are plenty of photographs to illustrate each move; the design of the page clearly links relevant text to each illustration – sometimes using arrows to connect text to a particular area of a photo.  There is very little room for misunderstanding what is meant. That value of that point will make more sense if you have read earlier books or booklets that deal with the same subject. It is not unusual for the small number of badly drawn illustrations in them to confuse matters more than help.
Another point in its favour is it discusses timing and misdirection; which many other books on the cups and balls hardly ever mention let alone discuss the principles.
Finally, there is the sixty page bonus of brief essays from renowned practitioners of the cups and balls including Bob Sheets, Gazzo, Paul Gertner, Tommy Wonder and David Williamson.
A question that might sensibly be asked is how much do the DVDs of the same name by Michael Ammar relate to the book – and the answer is very much so. Anyone failing to learn the cups and balls by using the book and the DVDs together should consider getting a hobby or profession that does not involve using their hands. Or consult a neurologist to find out what is wrong with their hand/eye coordination. 
If I am to level any criticism about the book it is that the ‘complete’ used in the title is not deserved. I believe it would require an encyclopaedic publication to get even near deserving that accolade.  But with any publication from any publisher the title is not to be taken so literally; for anyone with a genuine interest in learning the cups and balls and who will truly see it through to the end, this book is as complete as it needs to be. 

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Magicaean World Magic News

Here is a link to a new website that is still being shaped by its owners. It's a website that pulls together news about magic from around the world. The Magicaean is designed to build its content from RSS feeds and other sources; even so, it still needs input from its readers so please visit it and read how to contribute something and keep the site updated. If your website or blog is solely about magic and is regularly updated, then its content could be included or linked to by The Magicaean.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Mystery Man: Google Genius

I was using Google Earth to view the Acropolis in Athens when I noticed that one of the people in the panoramic photos had done something clever. He's a magician in his own way! I've made it into a little video:

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The LaBaL July 2011

July's issue of Al Smith's The LaBaL is now available. As per usual there's plenty of card tricks and articles with some opinions that might cause some people's teeth to grate. 
For those that didn't know, The LaBaL has its own Facebook page:
The LabaL Facebook page

Monday, 11 July 2011

EMC Day 2 And A Dead PC

After enjoying the second day of the Essential Magic Conference online live broadcast, I shut down my PC only to hear it make an unpleasant noise and then it was no more – the poor thing ceased to work after many years of reliability. Unfortunately, a new PC was not in place until Sunday afternoon; and so, I missed the third day of the EMC.
All is not lost however, for those that subscribed to the conference, the videos of each day’s broadcast is being made available on the EMC website in the members’ area. I can at least see the final three sessions that I missed.
A less immediate solution to my PC’s demise is that it contains many files relating to books to be published or reprinted. They will be retrieved from the hard drive but the conversion to the more up-to-date 64 bit software may mean some re-editing and so on. I’m not sure what kind of delays this is going to cause in my work. It’s a case of get on with it and find out.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Essential Magic Conference Day One

Day One consisted of Sessions 1, 2 and 3; although there were technical difficulties at the beginning, the quality of Day One's EMC was on par with last year's. The majority of the speakers were brilliant; some were excellent; a few need more experience. 
All in all, it was very enjoyable. For me, those who stood out above the rest for performance were Akira Fujii, Lu Chen, Dani DaOrtiz and Rene Lavand; the latter deservedly received a standing ovation from the other speakers. The talks given by Rudy Coby, Apollo Robbins, Topas and Stan Allen were, as one of the other speakers phrased it on the live chat feed that accompanies each live broadcast, "pure gold."
I'm looking forward to the Second Day which begins at 3pm today (GMT).

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Paul Daniels Interview in Mystery Magazine

In the latest issue of Mystery Magazine, there is an interesting interview with Paul Daniels (and I'm not saying that because I was the interviewer). The magazine, as ever, has plenty of news from the UK magic scene, including reports on recent conventions.
The magazine, if you're not already a subscriber, is available as a download or in printed format from

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Penn Jillette Talks About John Archer and Ben Earl

Penn, of ITV's Penn & Teller: Fool Us, talks about John Archer and Ben Earl on his video blog Penn Point. John Archer is deservedly praised by Penn.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Penn & Teller: Fool Us

The third episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us has been aired and so far all three episodes have been enjoyable. Having said that, a very interesting viewpoint on the format of the show has been expressed by magician Rob James. It's a thought provoking piece and here is the link to it:

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Magic Shop by H. G. Wells

The short story The Magic Shop by H. G. Wells
read by Roy Trumbull

This recording is used here under the
Creative Commons License:
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative
Works 3.0 United States

The recording is streamed from IA and embedded as per their permissions.
I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Essential Magic Conference 7th, 8th & 9th of July 2011

The Essential Magic Conference is less than two weeks away. I thought that last year's conference was more than worth the fee - especially as the DVD set (free to that year's subscribers) for the 2010 conference now sells at a higher price than the subscription fee.

Last year's conference was thought provoking and full of good debates, strong magical performances and lectures. There's an exciting line up of speakers for 2011 including Rene Lavand, Paul Daniels, David Berglas, David Copperfield, Max Maven and others. There were some extra freebies last year and this year's freebie is volume one of Opus Magazine. The publishers/editors of Opus, JJ and Chris Power, are attending the conference and presenting a talk on the magazine.

The subscription fee for the three day online conference is on par with some one day magic conventions here in the UK and far less than the cost of any three day magic convention here or anywhere else. No travel fees, no hotel fees - just switch on your computer, log in to the site and watch the conference live.

For more information and details on all the speakers visit:

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Magician by Ingmar Bergman

Compared to some of his other films The Magician (the original Swedish title is Ansiktet) is not his best in terms of film as art but it is, as many critics have written, one of his most accessible for audiences in terms of plot and meaning. I am unable to give any details of the plot here without ruining the enjoyment of a film which is an act of legerdemain in itself, as it reveals secrets beneath secrets. 
What can be said is that some research must have been done in writing the film. The different attitudes of the people towards magicians of the period within which the story takes place is spot on – and central to the plot. The only real factual blunder is a portrayal of one illusion that probably didn't exist at that time.  
When someone has seen the film, there is plenty to talk about but to do so with someone who hasn't seen the film is just being a spoil sport; so although I'm itching to discuss certain topics in the film, in fairness I won’t.
The above image shows the Tartan DVD (easily found second hand); there are also others, including a new one on Blu-Ray.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Books by Al Smith

I've received a number of inquiries recently about books by Al Smith. It's the same question and so I might as well post the answer here. I've been asked which books by Al do I stock. I only stock one and that is Card Stalking. For all other titles, and inquiries about his magic magazine The LaBaL, you should ask Al directly by contacting him at:
To purchase a copy of Card Stalking you can find it on places like Ebay or on my website. If you buy it through my website, then postage is free to anywhere in the world. All other sites charge postage and packaging.

A selection of books by Al Smith: 


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

John Archer Interview

In April's issue of Mystery Magazine you will find an interview - by Walt Lees and myself - of one of the winners of Penn and Teller: Fool Us, John Archer.

Click on the link below for more details.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Derren Brown’s Faith Healers

The recent Derren Brown special on Faith Healers was an interesting dip into the murky world of those who exploit people who have religious faith. Anyone who was interested in the program can follow it up by reading James Randi’s book The Faith Healers, published by Prometheus Books. The book gives a history of the subject and an analytical survey of faith healing in modern America.

Something to watch for in the near future is a Channel 5 program called Impossible hosted by Philip Escoffey. The show will be in a reality TV/game show format apparently. This continues the trend that has been present for some time now. BBC’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, BBC’s The Magicians and ITV’s Penn & Teller: Fool Us have all had a reality TV/rise to the challenge aspect to the them. The Derren Brown special on Faith Healers was just that, pushing Nathan, sometimes unwillingly, through his paces to meet the aim set by Brown. The last Derren Brown series, in which people were trained/mentored to tackle challenges, from escapology to being a quiz whiz, is another example.

I, for one, hope this trend fades. It detracts from the real point of interest which is magic and mentalism. I believe that the choice to do that, unfortunately, lies in the hands of those that hold the purse strings to make any of these programs and not with the performers.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

New Publication Dates

These are the new publication dates for these books:
The Art of Iugling by S.R. - 31st May 2011
Hocus Pocus Junior - 1st of July 2011
The Persians by Aeschylus - 1st of August 2011
Pre-orders will be fulfilled first on all titles.

An update on the previous blog entry:
Well, looking into one situation led to discovering other problems elsewhere that have to be dealt with that made the first one look insignificant. But solutions have been provided and it's all being dealt with bit by bit. Phew! A big thank you to Amazon and others for their help. That's all that can be said for now. 

Monday, 28 February 2011

Beware A Book Scam

It was brought to my attention that there is a bookseller selling copies of my Thomas Hill book on and other Amazon sites. The seller claims that they are new copies. I would just like to make it clear that I have never heard of this bookseller before and I have no record of supplying them with any copies of the book. This has been explained to Amazon who is now investigating if the seller is falsely describing second hand copies as new or is selling a pirate edition of the book.
Part of the scam is the greatly inflated price of the book. The seller is charging $51.97 when the retail price is actually $16.50.
The seller has a website where it is claimed that they sell unusual titles on behalf of publishers; so I’ll just repeat, as a publisher, I’ve never heard of this bookseller before.
Until it is discovered who is behind the anonymous website, the books that were to be published this month and in March will now be delayed. It’s along shot that the book is being pirated but until it is confirmed it is not I don’t want to risk two more potentially being treated the same.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Website Working Again

The webhost techno boffins sorted out the problems with my webiste. I wasn't even able to access the website emails for a while.
Hopefully, everything should be working normally. Those who have sent messages using the contact form on the contact page or direclty to the website email address will now start to receive replies. I'd like to thank Beatrice Thomas for dealing with most of the website matters; she will be doing so from now on in order to allow me to get on with other things.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Web Host Problems

Just to let people know that my web host is having technical problems (whatever that means) regarding some of the websites it hosts, including mine. For that reason, while they sort out whatever the problem is, my web site will be unavailable at times. I don't know how long they will take. Hopefully not too long.

Friday, 21 January 2011

R. Paul Wilson on BBC's The Magicians

Having seen three episodes of The Magicians I've warmed to the show. The second two episodes were much better than the first. I suggested in an earlier blog that making such a series from a magic perspective isn't easy and one of the consultant producers, R. Paul Wilson, recently gave an interview regarding the making of the series and the difficulties involved in making it. He explains why it was a "massive challenge."
Here is the link to the audio interview:

Friday, 7 January 2011

Derren Brown in Big Ma; also, don’t blame The Magicians.

“And now, Derren Brown in Big Ma.” Or at least that is what it sounded like as the television announcer introduced the broadcast of Derren Brown’s stage show Enigma. I enjoyed the show very much; so did others I’ve spoken to about it. The quality of the show compared to Brown’s last television special (a man being made more assertive) demonstrates a significant difference to be noted. The Derren Brown television programs have been made by a production company that has undergone a change which, I believe, has brought about that difference. The production company, Objective Productions, was sold a few years back. It was owned by Michael Vine and Andrew O'Connor, two men with a worthy background in magic; it is now in corporate hands that appear to lack that necessary background.

This might not seem a big deal. However, ask anyone who worked with the late Ali Bongo on a magic television show and they’ll repeat the often repeated praise of how invaluable he was during production. When the non-magic types would want to follow standards suitable for non-magical performances, Ali Bongo would step in and do his best to get them to understand that by doing that they were taking the magic out of the magic. There’s more than one anecdote about the usually calm and shy Ali Bongo being incensed into a temper and telling producers “You can’t cut from one camera to another now. It’ll make it look like it’s just a camera trick!”

With non-magic types now running the shop at Objective Productions, it’s difficult to not consider the possibility that their input led to a special that was poorly received by some viewers and was subject to harsh reviews in some magic magazines. The far superior Enigma, however, is the result of Derren Brown and Andy Nyman being left to their own devices and creating precisely what they wanted to create.

That kind of non-magic influence on a television magic show can, I believe, been seen on BBC’s The Magicians. The first episode has not been warmly met by some critics. I’m withholding judgement until I’ve seen more episodes. There were more magicians working backstage on that program than appeared on screen but it seems, judging by the editing, that the non-magic types had the final word and so I say don’t blame the magicians for any sense of dissatisfaction experienced during that episode.

Tonight we have Penn & Teller: Fool Us on ITV1. Ali Cook has published an interesting blog regarding his appearance in the show

Tomorrow is the second episode of The Magicians and later there is the Derren Brown evening on Channel 4. I don’t recall seeing that much magic in one week for a very long time. I think it was way back in the 1990s when the BBC had a magic at the BBC week; just before magic disappeared from the BBC schedules completely.