Kenny Baker in the 1950s at the time of his harmonica act

Next time Kenny did the act it was preceded by an offstage announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen we are privileged to have that virtuoso of the harmonic Mr Kenneth Baker." The stage was in darkness but a spotlight picked out the face of Kenny Baker holding a harmonica to his lips. He immediately went into an energetic rendition of the Sabre Dance, an exciting number that soon had the audience applauding. What the audience did not know was that Kenny was standing on a chair and because the spotlight illuminated only his hands and face they had no idea he was a midget.

At the end of the number the lights came up. They had applauded the music entirely on its own merits now they positively gasped as the lights revealed the musician's tiny stature. It was a dramatic revelation and now the audience was even more impressed by Kenny's musical abilities.

Kenny was not only an excellent musician but also an accomplished skater. He had been in show business since he was a teenager and regularly worked ice shows and pantomime as well as cabaret. Later he formed a comedy music double act with another midget and together they worked as the Minitones.

When David came up with his idea for Robby the Robot in 1958 he immediately thought of Kenny. There were two identical robots deliberately designed to look a little antiquated with a square head and body and simple arms and legs. However, one of the robots was fitted with the latest remote control technology. It could walk, rotate its ears, flash its eyes and an aerial would pop up out of its head. The other robot contained Kenny.

The first robot would be openly assembled from bits and pieces in front of the audience.


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It could then walk around and participate in various routines. A typical routine involved five coloured balls. These were dropped into a bag that was handed to someone in the audience. He took the bag to another spectator who plunged his hand inside and mixed the coloured balls around. As he did five coloured lights on Robby's chest flashed on and off at random.

David asked the spectator to stop mixing and choose one of the balls but not bring it out of the bag, just hold it. As soon as he made his choice the bulbs on Robby's chest stopped flashing. Now only one light was lit, the blue one. "You're holding the blue ball," said David with authority. He paused a moment for the statement to sink in and then said, "Mix them up again." That Robby's guess as to the colour had not been verified didn't seem to affect him.

Again the spectator mixed up the balls and then chose one. The lights on the robot flashed on and off until finally, only the red one glowed. "You're holding the red ball," said David. Before anyone could even think of asking the spectator to show the ball he had chosen, David said, "Let's mix them up again." At this point the audience thought that the demonstration was just a gag. Twice a choice had been made and twice they had been denied sight of the ball.

The spectator mixed the balls up once more and Robby's lights flashed finally settling on just one, the yellow. "Bring out the ball," said David. Sure enough the spectator was holding the yellow ball. It was a good routine and was accomplished with the use of a Change Bag. The bag was of the handled variety but neatly made. David could operate the bag with one

hand and switched compartments before handing it over to the volunteer. Five yellow balls were hidden in the second compartment and it was from this compartment that the spectator made his choice.

The electronic Robby was switched for Kenny by means of a box that represented the robot's station. In the early days it was made to look like a sentry box. Later on the design changed to that of a rocket ship. The electronic robot reversed itself into the box whereupon the door closed and hid it from view. A rotating platform inside brought Kenny's Robby to the front and next time it made an appearance in the show it was Kenny sliding along on the roller skates that were built into the robot's feet.

As well as the flashing lights the robot also had a slot built into its chest from which David produced predictions. It was rather like the receipt roll on an electronic till. The roll of paper contained pre-printed predictions that could be "printed" out one at a time and then torn off and handed to the spectators. The edge of the slot was serrated to facilitate the tearing. An additional subtlety was that the paper passed over a strip of damp sponge giving the illusion that the prediction really was freshly printed.

During the routine the electronic Robby would occasionally have his head removed so that it could be adjusted or the front of the body would be opened so that the audience could see the wiring inside. After the switch David could still pass his hand through the body of the robot by getting Kenny to lean to one side inside the suit. It was a convincing illusion.

The point of having someone inside Robby was that David wanted to do routines that would be impossible with a real robot no matter how sophisticated it was. One involved spectators choosing tunes and having Robby reveal them by playing them on a harmonica. A more elaborate outdoor stunt had Robby riding a miniature motorcycle around town. The vehicle was originally designed for paratroopers and could be folded up and worn as a backpack. David had one adapted for Kenny who could already ride a motorcycle. It was chromium plated and dressed up with wings to look futuristic.

Having introduced the Robot and the motorbike, David got into the passenger seat of a convertible car. He pulled out what appeared to be a remote control unit that he attached to the top of the car windscreen. A large wobbly aerial stuck up from the rear of the motorcycle and when David pressed a few buttons on the control unit the bike started up. To the astonishment of onlookers the tiny robot drove through the streets with David's car in pursuit. Whenever the robot reached a traffic light he would stop to let people cross and at junctions would extend an arm to signal his turn. He made a very polite driver and seemed to be completely under David's control. It was a very funny and puzzling sight.

David had spent a lot of time, money and energy on developing Robby and devising different routines and stunts. He had hoped that it might make a character suitable for a television series but unfortunately this was not to be. Kenny was an important part of Robby but he wasn't happy with his role as the secret assistant. He had been in show business all his

Kenny Baker congratulating Ruth and David Berglas on the occasion of the Grand Order of Water Rats' Annual Ball, 1979. David wears the King Rats' Collar.

life and although it was often a hard living at least he got credit for his appearances. As Robby he got no credit at all. He was the secret mechanism by which the trick worked and no one would ever know he was inside.

Secrecy was such a premium that David created a special carrying case for the robot. It resembled the case of a double bass but smaller. It was robot shaped, had Robby's name on the front and labels indicating which way up the case should be carried and how gently it needed to be handled. But the robot wasn't inside. Kenny was. As stagehands carried the case into the dressing room he sat quietly inside hanging onto two handles. The real robot was carried in pieces inside David's cases. No one ever saw Kenny enter or leave the venue.

David and Kenny parted on amicable terms and continued to remain friends but Robby was effectively retired from the stage. Years later, in 1976, Kenny called David to ask his advice about a film contract he had been offered. David drove to Elstree film studios, met Kenny and the producer and discussed the contract. Kenny had left Robby the Robot behind in order to make a name for himself and now he had found it, not on stage or cabaret but in a movie. Ironically the movie was called Star Wars, the producer George Lucas and the role that Kenny was asked to play was that of Artoo Detoo, one of the most famous robots in the world. He's played it in every Star Wars movie since. The difference is that this time everyone is allowed to know just who it is inside the metal suit.

The Art Of Cold Reading

The Art Of Cold Reading

Today I'm going to teach you a fundamental Mentalism technique known as 'cold reading'. Cold reading is a technique employed by mentalists and charlatans and by charlatan I refer to psychics, mediums, fortune tellers or anyone that claims false abilities that is used to give the illusion that the person has some form of super natural power.

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