David really enjoyed corporate work. It was the next best thing to working on a film set and a refreshing change from stage and cabaret. Each promotion or conference presented a different challenge and generated new possibilities.
The portable stage he had created for his Creda Cookers tour was also used to sell a new washing machine for English Electric. The machine was called the Reversomatic and it heralded a technical innovation, a drum that revolved one way and then reversed during the washing process. David had to find a way of presenting its benefits in an entertaining form to a conference of salespeople. The following was the result:
Standing on his own stage David opened the presentation by saying, "English Electric goes back a long way." The curtains opened to reveal a comic scene of a woman doing her laundry the old fashioned way, in an old tin tub. The woman was frozen like a mannequin in a Tussaud's exhibition. As a gag the tub had EE painted on its side and an electrical cable leading to a control panel. "Before we had electric washing machines we had electric tubs," said David, explaining the bizarre apparatus.
He pressed a button on the control panel and, to everyone's surprise, the washboard in the tub began to rise and fall. The washerwoman stared in amazement at the moving board. The board moved faster and the woman's eyes widened. Then faster still and a look of grave concern spread over her face. Suddenly there was a puff of smoke as if the apparatus had suffered catastrophic failure. The woman screamed and the scene was plunged into darkness. "Of course," said David, "things have improved since!" The novelty established the tone of the presentation and reassured the audience that they were in for an entertaining time.
The curtains closed and David performed a version of Soft Soap, a dealer item in which dirty handkerchiefs were placed in a soap powder box and magically cleaned. For once this popular routine was performed in its correct context.
Then he introduced the Reversomatic, English Electric's latest front-loading washing machine. "Let me demonstrate how well this works." He took a white shirt and stained it with some ink from a bottle. The audience noticed that he'd accidentally spilled some on his hand and shirt cuff, nevertheless he carried on. A luggage tag was attached to the shirt by tying the string through one of the buttonholes and a member of the audience signed it.
He opened the door of the machine and tossed the shirt inside. A button was pressed and a whirring sound heard as the machine went through its wash cycle. A few seconds later David opened the door and took the shirt out. Amazingly it was clean but still dripping wet.
The man in the audience verified his signature on the tag and the shirt was thrown back into the machine. David turned a dial on the front panel and pressed a button. Another whirring sound and the shirt came out perfectly dry and still bearing the signed label.
"I wonder what this does?" said David. He was reading a setting on the dial. "It says S.T.U.F.F. I'm told it means Scientifically Treated Ultra Fine Fabrics." He put the shirt back into the machine, turned the dial and pressed the button. More noise as the machine went through a quick cycle. He opened the door but seemed to have trouble taking out the shirt. When it finally did come out of the machine the audience saw that it had become inflated like a beach ball, arms waving in the air.
"Oh," said David, "I now know what S.T.U.F.F means, STUFF. It's a stuffed shmV He put it back into the machine, pressed yet another button and within seconds was delivered a normal shirt, dry but badly creased.
"This machine can do better than that." He fed the shirt through a slot in the machine, turned a handle and out popped the shirt all pressed, folded and cellophane wrapped. The signed tag was still in place. Truly a miracle of modern science.
As he held the newly packaged shirt he noticed the ink on his hand and cuff. He looked at the machine and then at his hand. "I wonder?" Taking a chance he opened the door and thrust his hand into the machine's interior. He pressed the button again and the machine made its usual whirring sound. His arm vibrated as if being spun around in the drum. When the noise stopped he withdrew his hand. It was perfectly clean. As was his cuff.
"I had no idea this would work. Would anybody else like to try it," he said. A gruff Cockney voice called out from the back, "Yes guv, I'll have a go," and before David could do anything a tramp was walking past the audience and up onto the stage.
David looked surprised that anybody like this could have been in the building. The man was dishevelled with a crumpled shirt and pants, a dirty coat and shoes, face and hair to match. "I missed the wash and brush up at the station so I'd like to have a go," he said.
"Well I suppose it could do with a wash," said David, looking at the man's dirty white raincoat. The man took it off and David immediately put it into the machine. "No, not the coat, I meant me," said the tramp.
David looked at him in disbelief but the tramp insisted, "You just washed your hands. Now it's my turn." David protested but the tramp insisted and before long he was kneeling in front of the machine with his head stuck in the drum.
David tapped him on the shoulder. "Are you sure about this?" The tramp looked back with his dirty face, "Yes guv." He put his head back into the machine. David shrugged his
shoulders and then pressed the button. The tramp's arms flailed about as the machine whirred into action.
After a few seconds the noise stopped and the tramp stood up. Now his face was clean, his shirt pristine, his pants freshly pressed and his hair smartly combed. Even his shoes were polished, lie looked immaculate.
He spat out a stream of water and said, "Thank you so much old boy." Even his accent had benefited from the spruce up. "I must admit that's a big improvement" said David. "Don't forget your coat." He reached into the machine and pulled out the raincoat, now a gleaming white. The man draped it around his shoulders and then patted his pockets to make sure everything was still there. But something was missing.
"Have you lost something?" asked David.
"My lucky black cat."
"My lucky black cat. 1 always carry it around with me." And with that he shrugged his shoulders and wandered back into the audience as David led the applause.
"W hat does he mean, lucky black cat?" David looked inside the machine and then reached in. To his surprise out came a real live rather mangy looking black cat.
"Let's see if we can clean this up a bit." said David and placed it back inside, closed the door and pressed the button. "Don't look if you're squeamish." T he audience saw the cat spinning around through the window in the door.
The tramp goes into the washing machine... And a refined gentleman emerges. The rusty cat comes out of the machine.
When the machine stopped he took the cat out. Some of the colour had disappeared, it was now black and white. "It hasn't quite worked," he said and placed it back inside. He started to tell the audience about some of the technical innovations in the Reversomatic and then suddenly realised he'd forgotten about the cat. When the cat was produced it had been in the water too long and was now a rusty red.
"Remember, never leave your cat in the washing machine for too long because it might fur up." This got a laugh from the audience who knew that furring was a major problem in the industry. The animal went back into the machine for a final rinse. When it was taken out it had transformed into a beautiful fluffy white cat.
The finish with the white cat led directly to a promotion that English Electric was making at the time. Every housewife that bought this washing machine received a free gift of a pyjama case in the shape of a white cat. The real white cat was a reminder of that promotion and a slogan that compared the noise of the machine to the quiet purr of a cat. "Is that the cat or the washing machine?"
The entertaining sales presentation was over but David still had the complex job of introducing the term Reversomatic to the sales team. Above the stage was a string of large Union Jack flags. These were now lowered so that David could reach them.
Each flag was a series of flaps, rather like a flip chart. Two of the flags already bore the letter E, which stood for English Electric. David flipped a few of the other flags and one by one exposed more letters.
As the letters were revealed they made words and David recited a poem which started with EVE and changed to EVER. NEVER, LEVER and CLEVER and a few more words before ending up on REVERSOMATIC. It was a memorable way of branding the name onto the minds of the sales force.
As soon as the name was revealed the lighting changed and a slide show began, accompanied by music and yet more witty lyrics, this time written by David's friend and songwriter, Ronnie Cass. The final slide showed a white cat, and a purring sound was heard, another reminder of the sales slogan.
Revelations: The routine is another example of the benefits of David's portable stage. There was a trap hidden in its checkerboard flooring and an assistant hidden beneath it. The machine was a realistic looking dummy and as David passed objects into the washing machine the assistant would exchange them. A dry shirt was swapped for one that had been lying in a bow l of water below stage. The stuffed shirt had a balloon inside it and tissue paper filling out its arms. As David pulled it out of the machine he pretended to struggle with it to give the impression that it was even more unwieldy than it actually was.
The luggage tag that the spectator had signed was gimmicked. It could be opened at the reinforcing ring and removed from the string that tied it to the original dirty shirt and reattached quickly to loops of string that were tied to the buttonholes of the other shirts. The hidden assistant had time to do this whilst the machine apparently whirred away. All the mechanical noises were on tape and loud enough to conceal any noises that might come from below stage.
The mangle inside the machine was simple enough. As David turned the handle the assistant took in one shirt and fed the packaged shirt up through a slot in the top of the machine.
The business of cleaning the ink from David's own hand and cuff was a subtlety that not only strengthened the effect but lead neatly to the sequence involving the tramp. David had experimented with disappearing inks but eventually settled on a more dependable method using a false cuff. When David put his hand into the machine the assistant removed the stained cuff and wiped his hand clean with a damp cloth.
Transforming the tramp required a number of different techniques. Like the cuff the tramp's dirty crumpled shirt and tie were false. As he knelt in front of the machine, with his back to the audience, the assistant was able to pull off the false front to reveal a fresh shirt and tie beneath. The tramp himself helped facilitate his own transformation. His trousers weren't as creased as they appeared to be. Small clips had been applied to give them a hitched and twisted appearance. Kneeling down the tramp had only to remove the clips and throw them into the machine to regain his creases. From the same position he was able to wipe the dust from his shoes so that they would look polished when he stood up.
When the tramp put his head into the machine the assistant wiped his face clean (it was covered with soot) and removed the tramp's wig to reveal neatly groomed hair. A comb could be applied if necessary. The assistant then brought out a glass of water and the tramp took a sip through a straw. Later he would spit the water out as proof that he had indeed been washed by the Reversomatic. A clean white coat completed the metamorphosis.
It was vital that every step was carried out smoothly and as the assistant below stage did most of the work he had a cue chart that listed every action and a light to read it by. With him below the stage were two baskets, each containing two live cats. Again, one cat was switched for another as the routine progressed. The comic effect of the cats spinning around inside was achieved by rotating a picture of a cat. its legs splayed out, behind the door window. There were actually two such discs, one showing a black cat, the other a ginger cat and a light inside the machine illuminated the pictures as they spun.
The song at the end of the routine helped sell the name of the machine to the audience. David often employed music in his sales presentations and Ronnie Class wrote most of the lyrics. They were fun, catchy and made for a grand finale.
David always had a clear aim when devising a presentation. It was to convey information to the sales people in the most entertaining and memorable manner possible and without the use of complex slides, figures and bar charts. He believed that if they had more information about one product than another, that would be the one they would sell, even if the rival product was superior! Salesmen didn't want technical explanations and neither did their customers. If someone hadn't already made up their mind which product to buy, they were always going to buy the one that the salesman was the most enthusiastic about. And the reason they were enthusiastic is that they remembered the sales points from David's presentation.
At the same time that David was working for English Electric, I loover was launching a rival machine. Their promotion involved paying a £10 bonus to every salesperson that sold a Hoover. To their surprise it failed dismally, losing out to the Reversomatic.
The failed promotion was discussed extensively at Hoover's sales meetings. Why did the Hoover not sell? David's name was mentioned several times. His presentation was deemed a key factor in English Electric's success. The solution to the problem was simple. Next time Hoover booked David to work for them!
This presentation was created for the lai inch of the first Sony video tape recorder at the 1967 Radio and Television show in Amsterdam. David was so pleased with the reaction to the routine and the new technology it incorporated that he subsequently used it in his regular shows, notably his theatre tour of Holland following the Opus 13 series.
The Sony stand had half-a-dozen impressive looking reels of videotape hanging from an overhead line. Each one was to be used at a different performance during the day. It is now 2.30 pm and a large crowd has already gathered. As a result of Opus 13, David was a well-known figure in Holland and there was a lot of interest in whatever he might do.
He begins by asking for several volunteers to help him. Five or six people put their hands up and step forward. David asks them to concentrate and listen. He's about to tell them a story.
"Imagine yourself in a bank. Your bank. It is lunchtime and it's very busy. I want you to remember as many details as you can. You're standing in line waiting to collect some money. You are some way down the queue and you are looking at the other people standing in front of you. Fry to picture them, their clothes, their faces, what they are carrying.
"There are more people behind the counter, bank staff, counting money, stamping receipts, writing in books. Suddenly the door bursts open and half a dozen bank robbers come in waving guns. They tell everyone to lie on the floor. You do but you also take a peek at their faces. To your surprise you find that they are not masked.
"Later you will be asked by the police to give a description of the robbers. Try to imagine their faces. There's the ringleader shouting the orders. What does he look like? Imagine his hairline, his nose, his chin. What do his eyes look like, blue and shifty or steadv and dark.
Who else is there? One of the robbers has a bag. What does he look like, big and hefty or small and thin. Imagine his face. Look at each of the robbers in turn and note any details that stand out, moustache, beard, hair. Finally, settle on one and commit every feature to memory."
As David tells the story some of the volunteers shut their eyes so that they better visualise the scene. "Got one in mind? Good, that's enough. Open your eyes. Thank you for volunteering and listening to my story, 1 could see that some of you had your eyes closed and
were concentrating very hard." He asks one of the volunteers to help with the next stage of the demonstration.
"You have an image in mind, the face of one of the robbers. Do you think you could identify him?" David shows an oversize identikit arranged on a large board. It consists of giant cards on which are printed pictures of eyes, noses, mouths, chins and hairlines. They can be mixed and matched any number of ways to create different faces. The question is whether the volunteer can create the face he has in mind.
I Ie's asked to stand with his back to the identikit and describe each facet of the robber. "Lets begin with the hair, what kind of hair did the man have?" The volunteer begins his description and David picks out the picture that seems to be the closest match. I le places it on another easel and asks the volunteer to turn around and confirm whether it is correct. It is. The gentle interrogation continues with the volunteer describing the nose, chin and mouth. Each time he does David picks out the matching picture and sets it upon the board. Gradually a picture of a face emerges.
It all proceeds smoothly until David puts the last piece in place, the eyes. "No, that's not it," says the volunteer. "Something's wrong. The eyes are wrong." David recounts the description the volunteer gave and then picks up a different picture, another set of eyes. He switches them with the ones on the board. "That's it," confirms the volunteer. " That's the robber."
It's clear that no one could have known this beforehand. It exists only in the volunteer's imagination. David gets someone to take down the reel of videotape marked for this performance. It has been in view right from the start of the day. It is inserted into the new Sony video recorder and the numerous monitors surrounding the stand spring to life. Now
Reaching for the prediction tape. Assembling parts of the Identikit.
there's a picture of David on screen and he has an identikit just like the one he's been demonstrating with. Piece by piece he puts together a face and it looks very like the one the volunteer has just constructed from his imagination. Almost but not quite. The onscreen David looks at it puzzled, shakes his head and then switches one of the pieces for another. Now it matches exactly.
Revelations: The routine was inspired by David's work with the police. He had lectured at Hendon Police College in London on a number of topics including memory recall under hypnosis, relaxation and, of course, confidence tricks and pickpocketing. This exchange of information worked both ways and he learned a lot about methods of criminal investigation, particularly the skilful manner in which police interviewers enabled witnesses to recall details that would otherwise be impossible to salvage. Today they work with computers but in the 1%0's they used an identikit made up of images printed onto celluloid overlays. It was a facsimile of such a kit that formed the centrepiece of this demonstration.
David's version consisted of twenty-five pictures. Five each of hairline, eyes, nose, mouth and chin. All were different and could be assembled to create hundreds of different faces. W hen the presentation began they were arranged on a large board but not in facial order. That is the top row would consist of all chins, the next mouths, under those hairline, then eyes and then noses. When a face was constructed on the second board it would be the first time that any of the pieces appeared in order.
Although the volunteers seemed to have been chosen at random, one of them had been approached earlier by Davids manager, Hans Peters, and asked to select a picture of a face from a number on offer. It was a large stack of 10x8 pictures and arranged in a known
order so chat when one was selected Hans knew its identity. The volunteer was taken to a hospitality room, given a coffee and plenty of time to look at the picture and memorise it. After the man had left, one of the videotapes above the stand was switched for one containing the correct prediction. This was done under the pretext of moving it into a more prominent position for the next demonstration. As far as everyone else was concerned all the tapes had been there in full view throughout the day.
There was no attempt to conceal what was happening from the passers-by. The choice was not made in a backroom but at the stand. That said, by the time the demonstration had begun, few if any of those present knew anything about this pre-show session. Sometimes several volunteers would be approached and asked if they would like to participate but only one was actually presented with the picture cards and asked to make a choice. However, the procedure meant chat there would be no shortage of volunteers at the beginning of the demonstration and that everyone would put their hands up at the same time. It would be a little odd if the man eventually used seemed more eager than the rest.
The descriptions in David's story took in elements chac were displayed in the various parts of the identikit. In particular he described one of the robbers in such a way as to make it a close match with the chosen face. Later people would recall David's description and factor it into any thoughts they had into the workings of the presentation. After the presentation many mentioned that they too had thought of the very same face! They might believe that he had somehow introduced the imagery into the volunteer's mind or psychologically persuaded him to think of certain features. Either way, it was not far from the truth.
When building the picture from rhe volunceer's verbal description David deliberately picked up che wrong sec of eyes. Even if one decail is incorrecr ic makes che face look totally
different. Usually the volunteer knew it was the eyes but occasionally they just had a feeling that something wasn't right but weren't sure what. In those cases David would guide them and casually lead them to exchanging one set of eyes for another.
And that just about completes the picture except to say that it was a popular presentation. Strong enough to attract a large crowd and yet quick enough that they would still be fresh by the time the sales and technical staff came along to answer questions about the product. The only minor problem was making sure the volunteer came back for the demonstration. If he hadn't returned, David would have simply forced the correct picture but to his relief that never happened.
The stage-filling components of the Identikit routine, for David's one-man show in Holland, 1967.
In 1967 Hollywood executive Charles K Feldman, head of P \ramount, decided to make his own version of the popular James Bond movies whose successful titles up to that time had included Goldfinger and Dr No. The movie was based on author Ian Fleming's first Bond book. Casino Royale, the only Bond property not owned by the original producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry' Saltzman.
Instead of competing with Broccoli and Salt/man's action packed spy thrillers, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale a big budget spoof with a star studded cast that included Orson Welles, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, David Niven and Ursula Andress.
David Berglas was running his gambling club, the Magic Room, Mayfair at the time, a task that was proving to be exhausting. In those days Casinos could be open twenty-four hours and as long as the customers were there so was David. And so it was something of a distraction when David received a call from John Dark the producer of Casino Royale. Dark explained that they were three weeks into production at Shepperton Studios and were looking for a technical advisor to stage an exciting battle of magic between the films stars, Orson Welles and Peter Sellers. Could David meet him at the studios?
He had got David's name from Photocast, a showbusiness directory, in which David had listed technical advice among his many credits including a contribution to Goldfinger. He went down to Shepperton. met Dark and director Joe McGrath and agreed that he would act as consultant for the next two weeks with a third week drawn up as a contingency should things overrun. The money was good and it would make a welcome break from the gambling club.
David had his own office on the studio lot with an appropriately prestigious sign on the door advertising "Magic Department." Occasionally he employed a number of magicians for short periods of time to help with the effects. Notable among them were Ali Bongo and Pat Page who helped design the crucial climactic magic sequence. David enjoyed the work, supervising on the studio floor the sequences he had created, getting to know the cast and crew and particularly striking up a friendship with Orson Welles. He also discovered a similarity between the work of the Special Effects department and magic and became good friends with
With David Nixon at the opening of David's casino, Magic Room, Mayfair.
On the set of Casino Royale: John Law (writer), David, Joe McGrath (director), Ali Bongo and Orson Welles.
legendary effects master Cliff Richardson. In later years Cliff's son John took over the business and often recruited David as a specialist consultant bringing that extra deceptive dimension to the effects work that was becoming increasingly important to the film industry.
The two weeks did indeed become three and at the end of the third week David received a note telling him to go to the wages office. This was unusual. Previously his cheques had gone to Lew and Leslie Grade, his agents for seventeen years, who had forwarded them minus their commission. He wondered what the change in procedure was all about. At the office he handed in the note, signed a form and was given what he describes as a surprisingly large amount of money in return. It must be a mistake, he thought and told them so. But it wasn't a mistake. They explained that he had just worked five days on a daily rate, a much higher rate than his originally contracted two weeks. The money was all his and, as it turned out, there was more to come. The three weeks turned into ten months, which David shared between the studio, the Magic Room and his other professional work. But for every day he spent at the studio he was paid the daily rate, lie felt like a millionaire. It was the kind of money that changes a man's life and David admits that it certainly changed his. It also gave him a host of new contacts in the film industry, a new field of work and. most importantly, he had found a new passion.
While the producers were more than pleased w ith the efforts of David and his team the film itself was not going well. They were in the middle of building a casino set when they discovered that they needed the services of another consultant, someone who understood gambling, casino layout and procedure. They called all the top casinos and gambling clubs in
London, Crockfords, The Twenty-One Room, The White Elephant, The Sportsman and to their surprise they all suggested one man, David Berglas.
"No," they said, "you don't understand. We already have David. He's our magic consultant." But all the casinos said the same thing. The man you need is David Berglas. They asked David if he thought he could handle both jobs at once? David said yes and a second office was opened with his name on the door, this time as Gambling Advisor.
He worked with the designers on the decor and layout of the casino set, taught the cast and scriptwriters the elements of Baccarat and other games and hired the croupiers who were seen in the film. Genuine croupiers were used. The job is a skilled one and it would have been impossible to train actors to scoop up the cards and deal them out in the same professional manner.
As the craftsmen and designers and consultants laboured at putting the film together others appeared to be busy taking it apart. There seemed to be no consensus over what the film was supposed to be. It was chaos and was destined to get more muddled and incoherent as production continued. David recalls being at one script session in which an elaborate ballroom scene was discussed. The set had already been built at great expense but the discussion came to a halt when two of the writers announced that that section of the script had already been deleted and a scenario set in the Scottish highlands put in its place. The ballroom set was dismantled never to be used!
The director, Joe McGrath, was a long time friend of Peter Sellers from his days in television and it was through Sellers, who always liked familiar faces about him, that he became
On the set with Ursula Andress, Sellers (back to camera), Orson Welles and David, playing the role of "Chef de Partie."
Orson with "the monocle chip."
the director. Unfortunately film was not really his medium. While McGrath shot the action at the main table, a hundred and fifty costumed casino extras, were also in the studio, all paid and doing absolutely nothing. This was not the best way to shoot a film and so McGrath was eventually let go and replaced by the well-established Hollywood action director Robert Parrish. Parrish did the sensible thing. He established the casino scenes in the first couple of days and then let the extras go thereby saving the studio a considerable sum. He then concentrated on the real action at the Baccarat table with the film's stars. Sellers was not pleased.
In total seven directors are credited with working on the movie and many of them never knew what the others had been doing. Little of this made any difference to David's work. One of the many effects he devised was a candelabra that ignited when star Ursula Andress fluttered her eyelashes at it. Another was an elaborately gimmicked wheelchair which Orson Welles' character would ride around in. It could dispense drinks and cigars and also helped him cheat at Baccarat, delivering cards from a mechanical index into his hand.
In searching for a suitable electric wheelchair David had every possible type sent to him for testing at Shepperton. One day David was zooming down the corridors on a test run when he nearly collided with a group of visitors. He apologised and was surprised to find one of the group asking detailed questions about the chair. How does it steer? Does it fold up? How long does the battery last? The curious visitor was none other than Lord Snowden. Many years later he became patron of a charity that distributed wheelchairs to the disabled and always credited this chance encounter with David as the inspiration for his own interest in electric wheelchairs.
Other magical effects in the film included the levitation of the Baccarat table and the Asrah illusion. Orson Welles levitated a beautiful girl from the top of a gambling table and made her disappear into thin air. The performance was delivered with Welles' customary panache and is one of the movie's more memorable scenes. David says that it was also a memorable time for Ali Bongo who had the joyful task of measuring the glamorous girl for the Asrah frame. David had never seen him smile so much and was amazed at how much checking and measuring of the young lady's curvaceous figure was required to get the frame just right!
Another interesting effect David created for the film occurs when Sellars' character is nervously playing with his casino chips. Suddenly he accidentally flicks one from the stack and it shoots across the table and lands in Orson Welles' eye, sticking there like a monocle. The effect would be almost impossible to create live so David solved it with a little camera magic. The chip was already in Welles' eye and David pulled it out on a line of invisible thread. Shot in reverse, and with some reverse acting from Welles, the gag worked extremely well.
One day Charles Feldman came onto the lot. With his long stylish coat, confident walk and nerv ous entourage he looked every' inch the movie mogul. W'hen he spoke people jumped. He went into one of David's two offices and told him how pleased he was with David's work.
"I hear you're doing a great job."
"Where's your team?"
"Well this is it." said David meaning Pat and Ali.
Orson and David reflected in the mirror (Peter Sellers across the table.)
Orson and David reflected in the mirror (Peter Sellers across the table.)
"You mean there's only three of you? You need more people, there's a lot more work to be done."
Feldman swept out of the office, a wake of anxious people following him, and David thought no more about it.
The next day John Dark followed up on Feldman's suggestion and told David that if Feldman said he needed more people then he should get himself a bigger team. This wasn't as simple as it sounded. David. Pat and Ali could handle anything between them. They really didn't need anyone else even if someone of a similar experience was available. The problem was that everyone was now expecting to see a bigger magic team in David's offices.
That evening he went to one of London's smaller gambling clubs. He was looking for well-dressed men who had lost their money that night and this being a gambling club he didn't have to look far. Then he made them a proposition that he hoped they couldn't refuse.
"What are you doing tomorrow?"
"It's worth £50 plus expenses and all you have to do is sit in an office." It was like something out of a Bond movie. Everyone was suspicious. Why would anyone pay them money to do nothing? Yet this is exactly what David was prepared to do. He finally hired three men whose only function was to sit in the office, not get in the magic team's way, and if the phone rang answer it and tell them that David was out and would be back later.
Recruiting his new staff was easy but keeping them proved to be difficult. The set of Casino Royale was filled with some of the most beautiful girls in England. Any girl w ho had been a "starlet" was in the studio. The young gamblers in David's office rarely stayed there. And worse still, when they weren't ogling the women they were forming poker schools with the actors and crew. It wasn't long before David received complaints about the behaviour of his new team. There was a constant flow of gamblers as David fired and rehired in order to maintain the required numbers.
David was taken by surprise when John Dark walked up to him one day and asked how he proposed to make Orson Welles disappear. This was the first David had heard of it but the script was changing so rapidly it was impossible to keep up. On the spot he concocted a story about putting Orson and his wheelchair into a Chinese pagoda and vanishing him from that. He also retold the apocryphal story of Harry Houdini and the Vanishing Elephant. "Two assistants wheel the box on and the elephant gets inside. It vanishes but it takes twenty people to wheel the 'empty' box off!" They could do the same when Orson was vanished from inside the Chinese pagoda. Dark thought this would make a great gag in what was already a crazy
The next day the designer, Michael Adams, asked David what the pagoda should look like. Ali was nearby and David called him over and asked him to make a rough drawing. Ali hadn't heard the pagoda story before but nevertheless managed an excellent quick sketch of an ornate pagoda as might be used by a stage illusionist, below. It was a good drawing but it was literally something dreamed up on the spur of the moment and set down on a paper film.
napkin. Adams seemed pleased and took the paper away with him.
A week later David arrived early one morning on the set and saw the most magnificent Chinese pagoda, a marvellous rendition of Ali's quick sketch. It was constructed of the finest materials, expensive woods with heavy velvet curtains and silk brocades. The gold braid and tassels alone would have cost more than the average illusion and it would not have looked out of place in the wealthiest sultan's palace. There was just one problem. It was about eight feet square, the biggest vanishing cabinet David had ever seen!
It was so heavy that the original plan that it would be pushed on by Orson Welles' assistants was entirely unworkable. Instead it had been set on camera tracks and even then it needed the crew to wheel it forward. Still, the director thought it suitable. A special ramp had been built so that Welles' could apparently reverse his chair into the pagoda (with a little help from the stage crew and a winch). Once he was inside, the curtains would close and there would be a camera cut to facilitate the vanish. Half the casino personnel would rush forward to push the supposedly empty pagoda off and hopefully raise a laugh at the same time. That at least was the plan.
A couple of days later Welles arrived at the casino set early. He asked David what they would be doing that day.
"You'll be sitting in the wheelchair and go onto this ramp, into the pagoda and vanish."
"Well they wanted me to devise a way to vanish you. We didn't want to put a cover of any sort over you so we had this pagoda idea."
"I'm not going in that." said Welles.
"It's not right."
Welles had spoken. It would be the pagoda that would disappear not he. Within half an hour the apparatus was dismantled, the camera tracks pulled up, scenes rewritten and no one made the slightest whisper of disagreement, at least not to Welles. Orson was demanding but he was also often right. I lis contract specified that a Rolls Royce pick him up at the airport and that it carried supplies of his favourite champagne and cigars. He stayed at Claridges where in addition to the same cigars and champagne he had someone on call 24 hours a day. But he always delivered a fine performance. No one else could speak the same words and give them that same dynamic, mesmeric quality.
David saw that a lot of the problems on Casino Roya/e originated with its other star, Peter Sellers. Sellers was a great actor but a fragile ego who could be terribly vindictive. He was very impressed by an impromptu performance David had given at a private show business party some years earlier. David had borrowed a light bulb and made it light up in his hand. I Ie'd used a gimmick developed by Bobby Voltaire called Challenge Light, having modified it to make the bulb light up even brighter. Later Sellers approached him and asked if David
would reach him the trick. David politely said that he couldn't. Sellers asked again, this time more aggressively, saying he would like to show the trick to his young daughter. Me got quite nasty about it but David still said no.
Payback time came on set where David had been asked to play an onscrecn role, the part of the casino's Chef de Partie. It was a small role, all David had to do was take some gambling chips to Sellers and ask him to sign for them. There were many takes and Sellers made sarcastic comments after each one of David's performances. It was a humiliating experience and not one that David will ever forget. Neither it seems did Sellers.
Years later David was present when the Grand Order of Water Rats, the showbusiness charitable organisation, was initiating Sellers into its membership. After the ceremony Sellers came over to David, put his arm around him and said, "I gave you a tough time didn't I?" He never once mentioned Casino Royale, he didn't need to, it was etched in both their memories. But the meeting brought them together again and they became good friends.
On set there was a lot of tension between Welles and Sellers and so the producers arranged that their roles in the battle of magic be shot separately. The two actors were filmed on different days, the two rarely ever meeting on set. They were only put together in the edit.
Ironically the battle of magic is about Welles and Sellers' characters trying to upstage each other with a series of tricks. If Sellers produced an egg and turned it into a dove. Welles would produce an even larger egg and produce a huge eagle owl. David had hired the eagle owl and its trainer, a magician called El Condor, first learning how to handle the bird himself and then teaching Welles how to do the same. Welles wasn't particularly keen on having the
Orson Welles with David.
Demonstrating the Cardcertina, from a 1976 lecture in Lyon, France.
The rainbow effect.
sharp-clawed bird on his arm. The eagle owl was well trained but everyone kept out of the way when this impressive and potentially dangerous bird came on set.
Welles loved magic but wouldn't practise. In a sequence in which he produces doves and flags it was David Berglas who sat wedged between his legs, under the table, and handed them to him. Welles produced the items with gusto and his overly grand manner suited the wacky nature of the film.
It was for Orson Welles that David invented his Cardcertina. It was assumed that because Orson was a magician he would be able to spring cards from hand to hand. Unfortunately he couldn't so David devised a gimmicked deck that gave the illusion of being able to manipulate playing cards. It had great advantages over the traditional strung or Electric Deck because it could be sprung much further from one hand to another. The performer could also spread it along his arm and execute an elegant turnover flourish. Even perfect fans could be made.
Welles used the deck in the film and many years later David sold it as a dealer item. The cards were not held together by string but by staples, the narrow end of each card stapled to its neighbour. The staples were hammered flat against a sheet of metal so that they didn't double the thickness of the pack. David discovered that by working the cards in, so that the holes around the staples slightly widened, he was able to make perfect fans, something the traditional strung deck couldn't do.
We'll never see the battle of magic sequence in its entirety because huge sections of it were left on the cutting room floor. Sellers walked out of the film before it was finished and the producers were left with the impossible task of putting together a movie that had long
since lost any sense of direction and was far from complete.
Casino Roya/e today is noted for the extravagance of its expenditure rather than any cinematic qualities but David remembers it with great fondness. Through it he found a new role as an advisor and consultant to the film industry, a field traditionally difficult to break into, but his long sessions at the studio and his liasing with the different departments paid off. Work came via recommendation and that could come from anyone who had been on set: a production assistant, an effects man, a continuity girl. It led to work with directors like George Lucas, Stanley Kubrick and Tim Burton and screen credits on Willow, Harry Lyndon and Batman amongst others. And, best of all, he loved it. David considers working in the film industry to be the highlight of his professional life. "Please don't tell them," he says, "bur I'd do the job even if they didn't pay me!"
On the set: With Roger Moore in Octopussy, 1982.
With Ron Moody as Merlin in the Disney film, King Arthur and the Space Man, 1987.
On the set: With Roger Moore in Octopussy, 1982.
With Ron Moody as Merlin in the Disney film, King Arthur and the Space Man, 1987.
With director Ron Howard on Willow, 1987.
One of the most uni si al corporate presentations David ever created was for the Clynol Company who were launching a new range of women's hair dyes called Vitonette. They came in a range of colours and their major claim was that the dye was quickly and easily applied. Could David impress the hairdressing profession with this new hair product? Could there be a memorable routine that would deliver the client's message? David proved there was when he debuted his presentation before two hundred hairdressing professionals at the Excelsior Hotel near London's Heathrow Airport in July 1968.
David began the presentation with a most unexpected opening stunt which relaxed the audience and got them laughing but more about that later. T hen a volunteer from the audience was asked to choose one of eighteen different coloured hair dyes. David introduced his female assistant, a tall long-legged pretty brunette, and told the audience that whichever colour was chosen the girl would have her hair dyed that shade in order to show just how good the product was. There was a range of colours from raven blacks and Hollywood blondes to more vibrant and extraordinary hues of orange, magenta and green. The dyes were in small glass bottles that were arranged in a rainbow of colour around a large wheel. In the centre of the wheel was an arrow. The volunteer spun the arrow in one direction and the wheel in the other. A diffused light behind the spinning wheel shone through the coloured liquids and produced a very pretty effect. After a while the wheel stopped and the arrow came to rest against one of the colours. It was a dazzling electric blue!
David's assistant protested. She didn't want electric blue hair! He good-humouredly pointed out that she'd already signed the contract and had little choice in the matter. She'd agreed to have her hair dyed any colour and the colour chosen was blue. "You should be happy it's not shocking pink," said David.
Reluctantly she sat in a chair and David draped an apron over her shoulders. He moved a large electric hair dryer behind her and lowered the hood until it covered her hair. The bottle of blue dye was unscrewed from the wheel and poured into the top of the hood. David pressed a button and there was a loud whirring sound. The girl gave a slight shudder as if electricity was coursing its way through her body. After a few seconds the noise stopped and the hood was raised. Her hair was now bright blue.
Every hairdresser in the audience must have thought that it was just a joke and that somehow the assistant had managed to put on a wig. But that wasn't the ease at all. David picked up a ball of cotton wool and dabbed it against the assistant's hair. Blue dye stained the cotton. A trick perhaps?
She walked into the audience and the professional hairdressers examined her hair for themselves. It was no wig. It was, however, still damp and every strand was perfectly dyed a bright blue. "Quickly and easily applied." David reminded the audience who were absolutely baffled because normally such a procedure would take many hours.
David continued his presentation, promoting the Clynol Company and its remarkable Vitonette product. I lis now blue-headed assistant drew perplexed glances from the audience. Later, during a technical question and answer session. David overheard someone at the back of the audience say, "I bet he couldn't do it again."
"Are you challenging me?" asked David, "because I don't like being challenged." He invited the man to come forward but he wouldn't. Instead another member of the audience came up to help. The wheel and the arrow were spun once again and this time the colour chosen was a bright rusty red! The assistant looked dismayed. First blue, now red.
David persuaded her to sit in the chair once more. He lowered the hood over her hair and poured the red dye into the top. On pressing a button the whirring sound was heard.
(This illustration appears in colour on page 9.)
Pouring the dye into the hair dryer.
Raising the hood revealed that once again the girls hair had changed, this time to red. She immediately walked into the audience where curious hands examined her locks and confirmed what they had doubted. Her hair was definitely red.
It was a remarkable demonstration and drew sustained applause from the crowd. David asked if they had any idea how it could have been accomplished. "I want you to guess," he said, "How do you think it was done?" There were lots of solutions but none of them seemed remotely feasible. A brunette had changed to a blue-headed girl and then to a redhead. Somebody suggested wigs but then immediately ruled it out. The hair on her head was genuine. They had examined it for themselves. Someone else said that he thought it might have been twins but dismissed this idea because the girl had been in full view all the time. "Well," said David, "you're actually not far from the truth. I did use twins. What you didn't realise is that we have discovered a new type of wig which is virtually undetectable."
"Let me show you," said David. "Girls come on out and introduce yourselves." To the audience's astonishment two very attractive, identical twins walked onto the platform, a blue-headed girl from the right and a red headed girl from the left. For a moment the audience thought they had the solution to the mystery. Then it dawned on them that they were really no closer to the truth. 1 low was one girl switched for another under the hood of the dryer?
"Girls, remove your wigs and show them what you really look like." The girls hesitated for a moment then, in perfect synchronisation, pulled off their wigs. The even bigger surprise came when they saw that under the blue wig the girl had red hair and under the red wig the girl had blue hair! It wasn't a solution, just another mystery.
A coffee break followed and the girls mingled with the audience, who despite examining their hair carefully, were no wiser in the mysteries of magic.
Revelations: This is a great example of lateral thinking. All the pieces of the puzzle are there but they are arranged in such a way that it is impossible for the audience to put them together in the right order.
David employed a pair of identical twins for the show. As part of their contract they agreed to have their natural brunette hair dyed. One became a blue head and the other a redhead. The dyeing process took about four hours the day before the show. The hairdresser who did the colouring also dyed three identical custom-made wigs using the same dye: one brunette, one red and one blue. Each girl's hair was combed back and tied into buns, as were the wigs.
What the audience thought was David's brunette assistant was in fact the blue haired girl wearing a brunette wig. She had been in view a long time before this part of the presentation began. No one had any reason to suspect that she was wearing a wig.
The colours, first blue and later red, were forced using the wheel and arrow combination. It was an idea inspired by the roulette wheel in which the wheel is spun in one direction and the ball spun in the other.
In this case the wheel was, in reality, a dressed up kitchen spice rack which David had weighted so that after the spin it would always come to rest in the same position. The arrow was from the well-known magician's Clock Dial. David could set it in the usual manner so that it would finish pointing in whatever direction he wanted.
l:sing this apparatus David forced the bright blue bottle of dye and then unscrewed it from the wheel. The girl sat under the hair dryer and the dye was apparently poured into the top. Really it went into a Magician's Funnel, the end of which was inserted into a hole in the top of the dryer. No liquid was ever poured into the machine.
The dryer itself was gimmicked. David had purchased a second hand hair dryer and into the top lightly taped a hair net into which was set a series of hooks. When the girl sat under the dryer the hooks latched into her brunette wig. David pressed a switch on the base of the dryer that released a strong spring and pulled the hairnet, and wig, into the back of the hood. The whirring noise, recorded on tape, covered the sound of the mechanism.
An additional subtlety was produced after the wig had been snatchcd away. The girl pressed her head up into the hood against several small, sponges that were damp with water. This moistened her own hair a little. After the hood was removed David dabbed the girl's hair with a ball of cotton wool one side of which, unknown to the audience, was already stained with the same dye. A little sleight of hand was used to reverse the cotton wool as he wiped it across the girl's hair bringing the dyed portion into view. Later when the girl went into the audience they could verify that not only was her hair genuinely dyed blue but it was also still slightly damp from the process.
After this first dying effect David moved onto other aspects of his presentation and the blue-haired girl continued to assist. At some point she went offstage and her red-haired twin
The finale: one twin is a redhead, one is a bluehead!
sister came on in her place. The switch was not noticed because she was wearing a blue wig. The hair dryer had been reset backstage and then wheeled into view again.
Later, a member of the Clynol staff, who was part of the show, made the "accidentally" overheard remark about David being unable to repeat the effect. David responded to the "challenge," this time forcing the colour red. The girl sat under the dryer, her blue wig was secretly snatched away and she re-emerged with red hair. Again she mingled with the audience who were now twice as baffled as before.
For the final revelation the two girls came onto the stage together. The red-haired girl was now wearing the blue wig and the blue-haired girl was wearing the red wig. On David's instructions they removed them. The audience, thinking that both girls would turn out to be brunettes, were stunned when they discovered that they really had coloured hair. For the next 30 minutes a room full of professional hairdressers examined the twins closely, baffled and impressed, as David and a smiling Clynol sales team looked on.
Let's go back to the beginning where we mentioned an unusual opening stunt. David used a variety of techniques to begin his corporate presentations. He wanted to relax his audience and assure them chat they were going to have a good time rather than subjected to a barrage of mind numbing industry statistics. He was also aw are that this wouldn't be the only conference they would attend. Conferences and presentations are held all the cime and delegates will, more than likely, have attended several, all competing for their business. And all delivering, to some extent, the same kind of information.
When David heard that the Vitonette presentation was to take part at the newly built Excelsior Hotel, close to Heathrow Airport, he knew he could exploit its location. Holding events at airport hotels was novel at the time and many people would have thought it impossible, assuming that the noise of aircraft would make the conference unbearable.
So it was no surprise that David had hardly started his presentation when the audience heard a jet aircraft approaching. The sound grew louder as the aircraft got closer. David gamely battled on as the jet soared overhead and the noise of its engines grew thunderously loud. So loud that it drowned him out completely and no one could hear a word he said. The audience looked up, frustrated, waiting for the aircraft to pass as David talked. Eventually, as it drifted away, they caught his final words, "and that's what this presentation is all about!"
And that's when they realised it had all been a gag. There was no jet. It had all been an illusion. The hotel was perfectly soundproofed but David had installed six speakers in the room. One pair at his end of the room, a pair in the middle and a pair at the opposite end. The noise of the aircraft existed only on tape and clever manipulation of the sound system gave the illusion of it passing overhead. When the sound was loudest, and issuing from the middle speakers, David mimed his way through the rest of his speech as he gazed anxiously upward, following the flight path of his imaginary jet.
It was a great icebreaker and did what all good opening effects should do: relax the audience and assure them they are in capable hands and about to be entertained as well as informed. It was also something they wouldn't forget. Nor, he hoped, would they forget the man who did it.
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