Ramsay with Dai Vernon, Faucette Ross and a group of Scottish magicians cThecPage boy*
Usually, in this column, I tend to talk about anything and everything — whatever comes into my head, or my thoughts of the moment. But this time it's a little different. For the first time the editor has actually given me instructions — 'Talk about Ramsay' — if you are a magician and someone says this they can only mean one man — and that is one John Ramsay.
Let's see. With the name 'John Ramsay' what comes to mind immediately? Well, I remember a little nlan with grey hair, waltzing onto a stage with a small tripod table in one hand, a hat in the other. I remember thimbles, a tamborine production, a burnt and restored piece of paper, some invisible coins being hung on an invisible washing line. Perhaps that sounds a terrible mixture, and it probably was, but that's what I remember immediately. What else? I remember a nice man, a pleasant man, an extremely intelligent man; and after that, naturally, that he was a Scotsman. Following this, it is difficult to know what to say about him. First, Ramsay was a winner. And by that I mean that he was, in fact, a 'pot hunter'. If he entered a competition, (and he did enter many), his only reason for entering it was to win. There was no other reason for entering a competition or anything else other than to win. That was Ramsay's philosophy. No doubt you will read on other pages that he had other interests. In these also he was a winner. Everything he did was designed to beat the other man.
Quite an example of this way of thinking is in his Cap and Pence routine. If you study it closely you will realise that there are more throw-offs for magicians than there are for laymen. One thing I find almost impossible to believe about this particular routine, although in fact I do believe it, (I think I was told this by Andy Galloway, apparently Ramsay's one and only pupil), is the fact that Ramsay devised this routine from only seeing the gimmick. He didn't know what it was for, because he had never even seen it before. He just went home and devised the Cap and Pence routine; the one we know now. Any man who can construct a routine of this type, from just seeing the gimmick, has got to be a genius.
Another important aspect on Johnny Ramsay, as a close-up performing magician, is the fact that if he was in company and the conversation came around to tricks and magic, he would never perform if the conditions were not right for him. What, you will ask, were those conditions? The answer, in fact, is very simple: he had to back himself into a corner. He would never allow himself to be trapped in the middle of a room with people all around him at any time. He had to be in such a position that there was no-one behind him, ever. This is a point well worth remembering because many times I have seen magicians performing, for example, in hotel lounges at various conventions, who give fantastic entertainment for perhaps 80 percent of those watching — but the other 20 percent can see what the performer is doing because they are standing behind him.
He was basically, first and foremost, a close-up magician. Having said this it seems odd that he also performed a quite successful stage act and here we come back to Ramsay himself. Why did he bother to do a stage act? Again the answer is as before — he did it to win a competition.
One day I hope to relive the kind of experience I had when I say Johnny Ramsay. One day, somewhere, I hope another man will appear on my horizon and blow my mind in exactly the same way that Ramsay did. It is unfortunate that the younger magicians of today have never had the opportunity to see him or anyone like him. But let me leave you with this one thought. If, at any time, you hear someone say 'He was as good as Ramsay' take it from me: he wasn't.
Goodbye Patrick Page
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