Over the Hill with a Magic Carpet

Joy Skinner

 

 

Introduction by Paul Daniels

 

I am a professional magician. Day in, day out, every week, month and year, I read magic books and magazines, devouring the knowledge of new and ancient magic. Conjuring, really. The secrets of those performers, myself included, who pretend to have magicial powers. I love my business. I love all theatre. To children I describe the theatre as a space-ship of the imagination. 'Once you sit down inside it you can go anywhere, to the outermost reaches of fantasy.'

Of course that rarely happens. You have fun, cry, are moved in differing ways, but there are certain moments when the performance will take you, almost against your will, and make you forget where you are, who you are, and what you know cannot be.

In my club, stage and television career I have seen - literally - hundreds of acts, but when I am asked which were the most magical moments I can name but a few from the world of theatre in general and two from the world of magic in particular. This book is about the working life of the creators of one of those Wonder Full moments. Yes, the spelling is deliberate.

I had heard about the act of Emerson & Jayne. I had been told that their carpet flew. I knew that it was described as a 'black-light act', which uses the peculiar nature of ultraviolet light on certain treated materials and makes them glow. Emerson & Jayne were in pantomime in Sunderland and I was working in the local clubs. The opportunity was not to be missed so, full of knowledge, off I went and bought a ticket.

Perhaps I caught it on a bad day but the pantomime was too verbose. Too much script and not enough action. The kids (include me in there) were bored. Even the star comedian had lost his voice and was whispering the responses to our shouts. I cannot even tell you which pantomime it was.

The first half was coming to an end when on came two dancers in beautiful Oriental costumes which, it seemed to me, owed a lot to traditional Balinese design. The 'pro' in me immediately knew that these costumes had not come from the stock wardrobe - they were too good. The Oriental dancing was obviously not the work of the show's choreographer either. It was far better. This was a good, quality act, from the moment when the performers entered and before we had seen them work!

I noted that Emerson & Jayne - for that is who they were - had beautifully toned bodies. Both were in great condition and this was emphasised in their movements and agility. Somewhere in the back of my mind the magician in me noted that they were performing in full stage lighting. They were against black curtains and their costumes did seem to be bright but I was unaware of black light being used.

Their dance style was perfect, fitting the music and costumes, and suddenly the audience for the first time that evening - sat entranced.

It was a long time ago now, but I remember a particular movement they made with two tall parasols, wrapping their legs around the poles. With quite a small movement of the leg the upper ends of the parasols would move in a wide arc, both of them absolutely together. Emerson carried the parasols off amid great applause.

My memory of what happened next may not be totally accurate; I did not take notes and the act did go through minor changes both before and after this performance. It will, I hope, still give you a feeling of sitting beside me on that evening.

As Emerson left, Jayne pulled on an Eastern-style basket. In other shows I understand that a couple of candles were brought on and other small props but on this occasion I only remember her dragging on the basket and producing a small trumpet-like musical instrument. I also remember that she looked the epitome of every young man's dream of a harem girl - petite, slim, beautiful.

As she started to play the instrument a bird flew on, flew around, perched on the end for an instant, peered into the trumpet, pulled out a brightly coloured worm and flew off with it. Jayne got over this interruption and started to play again. Another worm came out of the end of the trumpet and wiggled its way into the basket.

A bright pink flamingo came on and indicated that Jayne's music was upside down. The snake written on the music was upside-down. (Snake on the music? Don't even think about it. By now we were in another world.)

The music was corrected, Jayne played and a snake started to rise out of the Oriental basket - and rise, and rise. It was huge and chased her around the stage until she drove it off with a broom. The basket, music stand and other bits went off at the same time.

Then Jayne spotted a smallish carpet centre stage and went to sweep it with the broom. The carpet rolled itself up. As Jayne flattened the rolled up end the other end rolled up behind her. When she stood in the middle of the carpet both ends rolled up. This simple clown action was very, very funny - and made so by the comic body language of the performer. Jayne, both in the basket routine and the carpet routine, proved herself to be a great visual comic without losing any of her charm and femininity.

Eventually she threatened to beat the carpet with the broom and - Wonder of Wonders - the carpet FLEW. It took off and hovered several feet above the stage. Jayne tried to push it down to the floor again but the carpet was not having it. Is it my memory or did she really run behind it to push it down from the back? That's what I remember and it drives the magician in me crazy.

She left the carpet hovering, went to the front of the stage and picked up a short, very short, length of rope and indicated in mime that it was obviously not long enough. What would you do if you really coulddo magic? She stretched it until it was very, very long, and coiled it on to the stage. She picked up the trumpet and, as she played, the rope rose into the air. This was better than the Indian Rope Trick; this rope formed a ladder-like stairway with a 'hook' at the top which hung on nothing.

The carpet was then pushed to the stairway sideways through the air. Would she? Could she? She did. Jayne climbed the rope 'ladder' and sat on the carpet. She pulled the rope which instantly fell to the floor. AND THEN SHE FLEW.

The Magic Carpet carried her up, down, from side to side, twisted in the air and then out, out, out over the orchestra pit and over the audience. Jayne the Wonderful Genie or Slave of the Ring or whatever was smiling down at us and waving as she flew from one side of the theatre to the other, back on to the stage and into the wings. There WAS Magic in the World and how the audience roared their approval! My hands were sore as Emerson & Jayne took their bows.

It was afterwards that I realised even more how wonderful it had been. I, the great know it all, the professional magician with the mountains of knowledge, had not only enjoyed great magic, I had enjoyed Great Theatre. I had not noticed the transition into full black light. I had had all my knowledge and beliefs suspended by a Master and Mistress of Theatrical Craft.

The years go by and the act of Emerson & Jayne has been copied by people who think that if they own the equipment they can do the act. They cannot. The reason is usually that they are inelegant magicians. They do not have the style, the strength, the beauty, the design, the music, the elegance, the comedic body language, the total package that made the act work. They have a piece of equipment, but they will never have the Magic that was Emerson & Jayne and the Flying Carpet.

Have I raved on too much? I can't. I loved the moment so much. When I was offered a proof copy of this book to read I realised that here was a way to say 'Thank You' for the experience and for the memory, which has never faded. Then I read the book, made up of memories regenerated by diaries, and I realised that it's as close as you will get to feeling what Show Business for the working professional is really like.

Oh, yes. By the way, despite her self-deprecation in the book, Joy is still beautiful.

 

 

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