Without a doubt Holland gave David some of the most dramatic: \nd memorable moments of his career. It was there, in the land of tulips and w indmills, that he starred in a pioneering television show entitled Opus 13. The opportunity arose when Henk Vermeyden, one of the panellists on David's German television series Grenze des Wissens, approached a Dutch television company, Vara, with a view to producing a similar show in Holland.
Vara didn't want to duplicate the German show but they were intrigued with David's feats and came up with the idea of incorporating them into a variety format. The show, compered by Holland's own magical hero, Fred kaps, would feature a number of world-class magic acts, a troupe of glamorous dancers and lashings of show business razzmatazz. Above all the producers wanted something in every show that the public would talk about and that "something" was to be provided by David. Did he think he could do it? "If nothing else, I can guarantee you that," said David. It was a promise that was to be fulfilled over and over again in the most unexpected ways.
On the 13th of August 1966 David was asked to fly to Amsterdam to discuss the new show. On the 13th of September, contracts were signed and the first programme scheduled for transmission on the 26th of October (2 x 13). David has always had an affinity for the number 13 and so Opus 13 was deemed an appropriate title for the show. Any bad luck that might normally have followed such a flouting of the fates would be turned to good fortune over the duration of the series and make Opus 13 one of the most talked about magic shows ever televised.
Unusually the one-hour show was a monthly affair and the first episode was preceded by considerable publicity. It was not just another television show. It was an event. A Saturday evening spectacular, recorded only an hour before transmission in the massive Circus Theatre, a three thousand-seat theatre in Scheveningen, it was a huge success right from the start, garnering large numbers of viewers on its first outing. The press reported that the streets of Holland were empty when it was on and that bartenders and restaurateurs complained of lost custom.
'The show more than lived up to the hype and became compulsive viewing with its unique "live" arena atmosphere. It opened with the troupe of beautiful dancers choreographed
With Fred Kaps on Opus 13.
The dancers performed a Four Ace routine with giant cards.
by Britain's Dougie Squires. The dancers appeared three times in each show, with a different magical themed dance number, the mechanics of which had been devised by David. They included the use of simple flap-changing boards on which the show's titles could be produced to a complex routine in which the dancers manipulated giant cards and performed a terpsichorean interpretation of a Four Ace Routine.
Fred Kaps, a FISM champion, made a charming and elegant host combining smooth sleight of hand skills with an affable personality. The guest acts were drawn from all over Europe and included Peter Warlock and Robert Harbin. Another act debuting on Opus 13, and who was to go on to become one of the world's most baffling illusionists, was Hans Moretti.
It was in the middle of the series when someone suggested that David and his manager, Hans Peters, take time out to watch an unusual act playing at a club just an hour and a half's drive from the theatre. The act was described in glowing terms and David recalls being quite sceptical. How could such a wonderful act remain unknown?
On arriving at the club he saw a long-haired Hans Moretti working some of the most thrilling magic he had ever seen in one of the most unlikely venues. Moretti performed with a flair for the dramatic, striding around the cabaret floor like some magnificent carnival showman. His illusions were sensational. One featured routine was the Knife Through Arm. The stage was bathed in green light, melodramatic horror music played and a piercing scream was heard as the knife bit into his flesh. As the blood flowed, members of the audience often fainted.
Most impressive was his version of the Three Sword Suspension. At that time Moretti was working the act with his niece, I leidi, a beautiful slim creature with waist length blonde hair. He pretended to hypnotise her and she fell into a trance and then into his arms. He carried her forward to a large brass candlestick that stood on a stack of old books. In the
candlestick was a lit candle, its flame surrounded and partially hidden by the outer sleeve of a matchbox. Moretti held the girl above the burning candle and then slowly brought her down onto it, the flame apparently searing the back of her neck. David remembers wondering, with the rest of the audience, why her hair did not suddenly catch fire.
With only her neck resting on the matchbox, Moretti released the girl and left her suspended upon this single point of balance. The illusion was remarkable but more was to come. He took an apple and carefully balanced it on the girl's throat. Then he picked up a large curved sword. By this time the audience were already ahead of him and those that did not faint during the previous routine were now raising their hands ready to cover their eyes. Moretti gave a smile and raised the sword high above his head. He paused a moment before bringing it down with lightning speed across the young lady's neck and instantly shearing the apple in two. The young girl remained suspended in her trance. The audience went crazy.
The act was perfect for Opus 13 but there w as a problem. Arrangements had already been made for other magic acts to appear on the series and there might be a conflict. Moretti had the answer; he offered to do his sharp shooting act. It would certainly be a novelty but in all honesty David had seen sharp shooting acts before and he wondered whether anything could be as impressive as the act he had just seen.
When Moretti finally appeared on Opus 13 all scepticism evaporated. It was indeed every bit as dramatic as Moretti had claimed. Once again Heidi played the part of the assistant but this time she was w earing a set of earrings resembling pairs of cherries. She was standing at one side of the huge stage with Moretti at the opposite side. In one hand he held a pistol and in the other a rifle. Most sharp shooting acts take a slow and careful aim before firing and hitting their target. Not Moretti. In a flash his hands came up quickly, crossed in front of his chest and he tired both guns simultaneously. Heidi stayed stone still as the cherries fell from the earrings. Once again Moretti had pushed the boundaries of theatrical presentation far beyond anything anyone had previously imagined, using skills and methods that could only be guessed at.
It was David's job to follow such incredible guests and create the talking points the producers craved. He was given the last twenty minutes of the show to himself and on the first broadcast performed two of his favourite pieces: his Suggestibility Routine (sec Man, Myth & Magic) and his Table Leviiation. To lend the effects even greater authority the preparations and selection of volunteers were overseen by a panel of experts, each a celebrity in their own right.
The effects were an instant success with the theatre audience, but what would the viewers make of them? The headlines the next morning told the story. Although David had made no claims about the phenomena, journalists and viewers immediately seized upon the idea that they must be paranormal in origin. They called him a wonder man and miracle worker and speculated about the kind of psychic powers that he might have used. Press coverage was widespread because Holland had many newspapers each with different political and religious affiliations and each telling their own version of the same stories. The impact David's performance had in Holland was prescient of the Geller hysteria that would take place in England some years later.
Believers debated with sceptics about the existence of psychic powers while David claimed only that anyone with sufficient training could do what he did. This wasn't good enough for some academics. Professor Willem Tenhaeff said that there was a natural explanation for the phenomena but admitted he couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. He also complained that Fred Kaps had compromised himself by participating in such a "bare-faced hoax." Kaps responded by saying that the show was purely an entertainment and not intended to stir up such a debate. Another academic, Dr de Groot, called on David to admit that it was all a trick, a trick he personally knew the secret of. But when journalists pressed de Groot to tell all he replied, much to their disappointment, "I mustn't betray a confidence." In truth it was highly unlikely that de Groot knew anything of David's methods but while his evasive reply might have concealed his own ignorance it did nothing to quell the public's interest.
David did meet his critics face to face and even went to the Universities of Leiden and Utrecht to explain that he used only natural means to create his miracles. To his disbelief he discovered that although Tenhaeff and de Groot were vociferous critics many of their fellow academics actually held long established beliefs in psychic phenomena and, like the public, credited his success to the paranormal. This was, after all, the birthplace of psychic detectives Gerard Croiset and Peter Hurkos and it seemed that the Dutch were happy to add David to that list. The producers at Vara were delighted.
The panel of experts on Opus 13 certainly gave an additional credibility to the routines David employed. They also prov ided an obstacle that would, on occasion, have to be
Thirteen balls tossed into the audience to select volunteers for Opus 13.
surmounted when the use of a secret assistant was required either because the trick could not be done any other way or a specific reaction was required to enhance the effect. David has learned from experience that the use of stooges is fraught with problems so several strategies were devised to ensure that co-operative assistants made it through the apparently rigorous selection process.
One of these involved numbered plastic balls that had been checked by the committee before being handed, on a tray, to David. David turned his back to the audience and flipped the balls into the theatre. Those who caught them came on stage where the balls were once again checked by the committee. It appeared to be a secure and random method of getting honest volunteers on stage.
And it would have been had David not already used a little sleight of hand to vanish several of the balls before lie tossed them in the general direction of his secret assistants seated in the auditorium. They held duplicate numbered balls in their laps and raised their hands up to catch a ball, as did everyone else around them. Their fortuitous catches were never questioned.
All of this chicanery took place without the knowledge of the production team. When using stooges the performer always takes a risk with his reputation and selecting them is a delicate task. David has never used paid stooges, convinced that they would be the least loyal and that once the show was over and the money in the bank they would have no further reason to remain silent. A casually recruited volunteer who believes the role he plays in the routine is minor and is happy to do the performer a favour, is the best assistant of all. Many of Davids secret assistants were unaware of exactly how they had aided the routine and were often recruited very close to the day of recording. The way someone was asked to help was very
important and a casual conversation might have gone something like this:
"Would you like to come to the show?" asked David
"Yes, thank you very much."
"If you do, would you mind volunteering for something?"
And then David might let a day or two pass and nothing more would be said. He didn't want to scare them off. Next time they spoke he would ask if the person would be able to do something for him at a particular point in the show. It was television and he'd only get one shot at getting the routine right and it was far better that someone was there who knew what to do. "I have to rely on the fact that it is going to happen at that moment. Would you help?"
If the person said yes, David explained where he should sit in the audience until it was time for volunteers to come forward. "But how would I be picked?" asked the soon-to-be assistant. David told him that he'd be given a numbered ball before the show. He should hold it concealed in his hand and just raise his hand into the air when the tray of balls is thrown in his direction. "That's all there is to it." That and whatever it was that he should do when he finally got on stage. The point was to make it as simple as possible for the volunteer. If he thought it was going to turn into a major drama or that the entire production depended on him, he would probably back out instantly.
David spoke Dutch but not fluently enough to work in. For that reason when people were invited to volunteer it was a requirement that they understood English, so many of them were students recruited from local universities and colleges. For the first broadcast David worked in English and an interpreter gave a Dutch commentary for the benefit of the non-English speaking viewers. It was an arrangement that irritated many viewers and they wrote in to complain. A similar exercise in subtitling also failed. Surprisingly, viewers said they understood David perfectly even though their own command of English was not that good.
Eventually David was allowed to work in English without any interpreter. He used simple and thoughtfully constructed sentences combined with clear gestures to convey his instructions. For example, he wouldn't say to a volunteer, "Won'tyou sit down?" The meaning is unclear. But saying "Please sit down," as he pointed to the chair, was perfectly understandable. The experiment was very successful and viewers continued to stay loyal to the series. That the Dutch audience understood the man from England added another layer of mystery to the Opus 13 saga. This basic language was something that served him well throughout Europe and enabled him to appear on many television shows without requiring an interpreter.
For the second show David devised a new routine based upon the Clock Dial effect. Three volunteers held electrodes (an idea he had previously used in his Regul'ite Routine) that were attached to giant clock dials. The dials showed zodiac signs and calendar months instead of the usual numerals. The volunteers stood with their backs to the dials, held the electrodes and concentrated on, for instance, their birth sign. The hand on the dial was spun and.
Palmistry, an experiment with hands and professions.
responding to their thoughts, eventually came to rest upon the correct sign. Like all the routines employed on the show it had lots of production value as well as mystery.
Just how much production value could be extracted from a mentalism routine is shown by Dav id's staging of a pseudo-psychometrv effect. The theme in this instance was palmistry and the curtains opened to reveal a backdrop decorated with large illustrations of hands. Each hand depicted the variety of fingers, nails and crease marks to be found on the average hand and revealed their psychic significance. It was a concise guide to palmistry.
David announced that the production company, Vara, had invited along two dozen guests from different professions, none of whom he had been allowed to meet. They had been kept hidden from him ever since they arrived at the theatre and were all dressed according to their profession. At the last moment, a committee randomly selected just eight of the two-dozen people to participate in the show. David drew the audience's attention to the strange pairs of holes set in the backdrop, each numbered from one to eight. Behind each pair of holes stood one of the eight guests. He asked them to prove they were there by sticking their hands through the holes. Eight pairs of hands promptly appeared through the backdrop and on command they waved to the audience. It was a peculiar sight.
"Now according to palmistry these hands reveal something about their owners," said David as he walked along the row of palms, stopping occasionally to comment on the length of fingers, life-line, heart-line or some other significant mark. Finally he stopped at one set of hands and gave a more in-depth analysis describing the owner as "sensitive and artistic. He could be a creative artist, possibly a painter or musician. Let me see what we have over here."
David walked over to a table upon which lay a large selection of objects, around thirty in all. Among them was a paintbrush, some modelling clay and a violin bow. Anyone of them could apply to someone who was "sensitiv e and artistic." After a little thought, David picked up the violin bow and then asked the owner of the hands to reveal himself. The hands disappeared from the holes and a few seconds later their owner appeared from the side of the stage, ft was a man, dressed in white tie and full tails, a virtuoso ready for a concert and carrying a violin. The bow was obviously his and David handed it over to him as the audience applauded. In a similar manner he matched some of the other objects on the table to their owners: a chef was handed a ladle, a fireman an axe, a ship's captain a telescope and so on. Each volunteer looked resplendent in their working uniform and their appearance brought instant applause as the audience saw that David was correct. A small effect had been turned into a theatrical event.
The second show, too, produced its share of controversy but it wasn't the use of palmistry that provoked the debate. Instead it was what David thought was an innocuous routine with numbers. With only the last moments of the programme to go David decided lie just had time to show the audience one more thing. He had multiple digit numbers called out saying, "This is a very interesting mathematical problem which I'm sure you will enjoy," as he wrote the numbers down on a blackboard.
Time was passing and the selection of the numbers took longer than anticipated. David wrote them down as quickly as he could but the audience knew the show was almost at an end. Meanwhile a red open-topped sports car was driven slowly onto the stage, a beautiful girl at the wheel. She was wearing a mink cape, gave a big smile and beckoned David over. He looked at her, then at the blackboard and finally at the audience, promising that he really would have liked to show them this very clever problem but as they could see he was running out of time. Nevertheless he continued adding up the figures and promising an interesting and intriguing result as the sports car slowly drove around the stage, the girl blaring the horn and flashing the headlights in an effort to call David over.
"Nearly finished," he said, and totalled the final column of figures. The car was beside him now. the girl insisting that he get inside, the show was ov er and they had places to go. David underlined the total of the freely selected numbers. He looked at the car and then in a double-take his eyes jumped back to the board. As he had promised it was an interesting mathematical problem. The total of the figures on the board was exactly the same as the number on the registration plate of the car. The audience couldn't believe it and broke into spontaneous applause. David climbed aboard the car but did not get in. Instead he sat on the door, his feet dangling over the side, and then waved to the crowd as his gorgeous chauffeur drove him away.
It was a real Hollywood finale, extremely effective, and got him into trouble immediately.
The executives at Vara were not pleased. What on earth did he think he was doing, sitting on the door of a sports car as he was being driven about by a mink-clad showgirl? The problem was that they perceived David as a man of mystery, a serious purveyor of mind-bending illusions, and having portrayed him as such to the newspapers they were rather taken aback by his new playboy image. David stood by his decision but acknowledged their interest in the show and promised to behave himself in future. No more girls in sports cars. It wouldn't, however, be the last time he and Vara would disagree.
The third show was broadcast in January 1967. By this time David had made a tremendous reputation in Holland and this was reflected in the press reports of the show-When Opus 13 had opened it was Fred Kaps whose name appeared in large type in all the pieces. Already well known to Dutch audiences, it was Kaps name that was used to sell the show. However, things had changed. David Berglas was the draw and every story was built around what he, not Fred Kaps, would be doing next. It must have been a difficult time for Kaps as he watched another magician steal the limelight on his home ground. David and he had been friends for over 15 years but David sensed a certain tension building and he would eventually be proved right. For now though, it was the show that mattered and in January David once more proved the value of his maxim "Think big" as he transformed a simple pocket trick into a stunt so staggering that it made the evening television news.
That night the audience was given pre-printed postcards and asked to fill them in. There were boxes on the cards in which they could enter their initials, birthday and five single-digit numbers. Three large wire baskets were on stage and members of the audience could either hand their cards to ushers or go up to the baskets and drop their cards inside themselves. By the time the audience was seated, and the show ready to roll, the baskets were almost full.
★ AND ANY SINGLE NUMBER INTO BOXES
When it came time to perform this item David explained that they had also invited along thirty mathematics teachers from local schools and colleges. They were seated in the audience and on being introduced stood and took their applause. After being invited on stage it was left to the celebrity committee to select just six of them to superv ise the experiment, the rest went back to their seats.
Some volunteers from the first two rows went over to the baskets, removed some of the postcards and handed them to the teachers onstage.
Curtains at the rear of the stage opened to reveal three stands each containing four tall narrow blackboards. The six teachers were invited to copy the initials, birth dates and numbers from the cards onto the double-sided boards. The initials went at the top of the board, the birthday into the next box and the five numbers followed in a column.
As they did that David turned his attention to a table on which were twenty objects that had been selected at random from the audience. They were covered by a cloth which a member of the committee drew back as David attempted to memorise the objects.
When all the boards were filled the demonstration could begin, first as a memory feat. The committee asked David questions such as, "What was object number 4 on the table?" and, referring to the information on the blackboards, "When is AJs birthday?" He recalled both immediately. Another object and another birth date were revealed in the same way. As a variation someone might name an object and David would reveal its number. Or call out a birth date from the boards and David would announce the matching initials. It seemed remarkable because he had spent very little time looking at the objects and almost none looking at the blackboards.
But that was just the preliminary to the main event. "Choose one of the stands," said David, still with his back to them. The sides of the three stands were labelled A to E and the m w ■ mj,r ■ b k her
teachers chose one and named it aloud. David glanced briefly at the boards, then back at his pad and asked the teachers to add up all the numbers (effectively five four-digit numbers) on their chosen stand. They were barely halfway through their calculations when David held up his pad to reveal that he had already worked out the answer. The audience laughed at his besting of the teachers. When the teachers had finally finished their sums, and proved him correct, they applauded wildly.
A second stand was selected by the teachers and then multiplied by the total of the original chosen board. The sum was a ten-digit number and once again David beat them to the answer. Now for something much more difficult. This ten-digit number was then multiplied by the sum of any other board. The answ er was fourteen digits long and David had to open his pad and write across two facing pages in order to fit in the total. The teachers gave up, providing more humour for the audience.
"Let's do it one more time," said David. A fourth stand was chosen and the total multiplied by the previous totals. This was getting impossible. The teachers were now dealing with extremely large numbers and the boards provided very little space to write down their answers or contain the many sub calculations necessary. David's pad was also too small for the task so he called for something larger to write upon. A huge board, some two feet high and stretching right across the stage was lowered into view. Music played and starting at the right hand side of the board David wrote down an eighteen-digit number. There was no way the teachers could even contemplate making such a calculation. It was well beyond their capacity.
As soon as the number was written David turned, threw out his arms and took a bow. Two pressman, complete with press-tickets in hats, and large cameras, came on from the wings, got down on one knee and took a couple of photos. Flashbulbs went off, music played and
Memory and Mathematics: bigger and bigger.
Finishing with a number too large to check!
Memory and Mathematics: bigger and bigger.
Finishing with a number too large to check!
David took another bow. Then he stepped to the front of the stage and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I didn't expect anyone in the audience, the mathematics teachers or the viewers to work out the total. So we've just had a photograph taken which will appear in your newspapers tomorrow. You can then find out whether 1 was correct."
He thanked the audience and said goodnight. The dancing girls brought the programme to a close. As it turned out there was no need to wait until the next day. The media, intrigued by the stunt, did their own checking by employing the services of a national computer. They broadcast the results on the news that same evening. David was, of course, correct.
Mathematical feats are difficult to sell but this routine featured everything a good routine should. It had a clear plot in which David's skills were pitted against a team of mathematicians. The routine involved the entire audience and viewers, lots of situational humour and the necessary showbiz spectacle that a popular television show demands. And finally, it made the television news and all the newspapers the next day. Making it work involved extensive preparation but it all began with one small pocket trick.
The trick was mathematical and has been sold in many forms over the years and is still available today. Quite what the original was we do not know. The version that David had used consisted of four tiny wooden pillars, each with a column of five numbers printed on its four long sides. A spectator arranged the pillars in any order to produce a column of four-digit numbers. Instantly the performer was able to reveal the total. The secret lay in the numbers. No matter how the pillars were arranged the performer had only to note one particular four-digit line and then apply a simple formula to arrive at the total. Similar effects have been devised using numbered dice. As always with tricks of this type the principle is more interesting than the actual effect which is more of a curiosity than a piece of magic.
David took this as his inspiration and evolved the stands with four double-sided blackboards. The first problem was getting the right numbers on the boards and it was solved with a little help from some secret assistants sitting in the audience. For most of the pre-show period the wire baskets were standing on stage while ushers or members of the audience dropped their postcards inside. As show time approached the baskets were moved from the stage and stood at the front of the stalls area where they were somewhat less visible. The volunteers who came forward to select postcards were secret assistants. They already had bunches of cards hidden under their jackets and David simply asked them to come forward to help. As they dipped their hands into the baskets they pulled out the prepared cards and handed them to the teachers.
David therefore had full knowledge of the contents of the cards before they were written
on the boards. When a set of initials was chosen he could easily recall the birth date that accompanied it because all the initials and birthdays were those of friends and family! Some of them were disguised otherwise the letter B would have been rather prominent. For instance, his son Marvin appeared as M de R (his full name is Marvin Roy Berglas), the "de" added to make it look more like a Dutch name.
As an added subtlety David would call out into the audience, saying, for instance, "A.K. where are you sitting?" Someone would raise their hand and David would reveal their birth date. Actually the person in the audience was an assistant. Me had been told to raise his hand when David called out in their direction. A couple of people had been briefed in this way and it added to the belief that the initials and dates on the boards all came from the audience. When David called out a birth date, several people, including an assistant raised their hand. The multiplicity of hands once again gave the routine credibility. David would call out the matching set of initials, saying, "There's three or four of you but the initials are J.T. Is that correct?" The assistant said yes, the audience applauded and David moved on. The subtlety was only used a couple of times but it did enhance the presentation.
The memory feat with the objects was a genuine application of mnemonics and included as a way of filling the time entertainingly while the teachers were writing the numbers on the boards. If he were advising someone on the feat today David says he would omit this particular section. It wasn't really necessary and there are other ways of covering the action that don't involve the stress of additional memory work or the dilution of the main effect.
The meat of the routine was the calculation feat with the boards. David already knew the numbers on each board and so when one was chosen he could recall the total instantly. Multiplying two boards together required a very different solution that was only possible by spending hours making some very difficult calculations.
As part of the preparation David had already worked out the answers for any two boards being multiplied together. Fie then calculated the answer required when that total was multiplied by the total on a third board. It took a long time to work out all the combinations required because the calculations were all made without the aid of any kind of mechanical device. Even if one had been available it would have been useless because calculators displayed only about eight or ten digits at the most. So for hours on end David worked on his multiplication tables, checking and rechecking up to the very1 last moment before being introduced on the show, knowing that he couldn't afford to be wrong.
When he was satisfied that his numbers were correct he transferred them to the pad he would use on stage. The pad was indexed so that if, for instance, board D was chosen he could open the pad to a page that displayed all the calculations starting with that board. Listed there were the answers to every multiplication possible when board D was multiplied by the total on any other board. Also listed were the answers when a third and fourth board were brought into play. Naturally the writing was small and visible only to David. Like The Coloured Discs, described in a later chapter, this mathematical mystery was another example of his maxim "Think big!"
It was at the FISM 2000 convention in Portugal that a Dutch magician reminded David of his Mexican Hat Dance routine. He remembered watching it on Opus 13 and thought it was one of the most baffling and unusual effects he had ever seen. "Will it be in the book?" he asked. "It should be," answered David, cautiously. The truth is that until that moment, he had actually forgotten all about the Mexican Hat Dance. If it wasn't for that conversation in Portugal, this routine might well have slipped through the net, which would have been a great pity; for once again, David had created something very special.
As the audience and viewers of Opus 13 saw it, six volunteers came up from the audience and stood in front of six cubicles arranged across the stage. The cubicles were simple wooden constructions, similar to voting booths. Inside each one were five different hats: a bowler, rrilbv, straw boater, clown's hat and fiat cap.
"In a moment you'll hear some music," said David by way of instruction to the six men. "That's your cue to step inside your cubicle and put on one of the hats. I >eave it on for a second, take it off. hang it up and put on another. Keep changing hats in any order you like. But—when the music stops, I want you to stop and come out wearing whichever hat you happen to have. Do you understand?"
The volunteers said they did. "Now go into your cubicles." David asked for music and the audience was amused to hear The Mexican Hat Dance being played. It's a lively, silly number with a party flavour, the sort of thing that might accompany a game of Musical Chairs. The volunteers immediately started trying on the different hats. Inevitably they fell into a rhythm,
changing hats at random to the heat of the music. Then the music stopped and David asked the volunteers to come out with whatever hats they happened to have on their head.
With six men and only five different types of hats, a couple of them found they had the same hat on. David and the audience looked them over. It was an amusing sight, not everyone has a head for hats. "There's always one," said David, as he pointed to the man at the end of the line who was trying to look dignified while wearing the hat of a clown. The music started and the men dashed into their booths and once again swapped their hats to a Mexican beat. It looked very comical.
A few bars later the music stopped and the men emerged once more from their cubicles, different hats on their heads. Well, almost, the man at the end of the line again had his clown hat and this got a chuckle from the audience and a shake of the head from David.
The music restarted, faster now and it would get faster still as the routine progressed. When it stopped the men reappeared with another assortment of hats. Some suited their new headgear, others looked decidedly foolish. The impromptu fashion parade provided the audience with much amusement. Strangely, the man at the end of the line got the clown hat every time.
On the seventh attempt something remarkable happened. Four of the six men were wearing the same hat, the bowler. "Ah," said David, "now we're getting somewhere." It was the first indication that there might be some purpose to this madness. Then it was back into the booths for another jolly session of hat swapping.
The music sped up, the men worked quicker, hats were exchanged. Then silence and they stepped from the cubicles to reveal that five of the men were now wearing the same type of hat, a flat cap. "Almost," said David, looking at the odd man out who, once again, was wearing the clown hat.
The game was played one last time, the frantic music driving the men to change hats as fast as they could. Then silence. This time they stepped forward to cheers from the audience. Each man was wearing an identical hat, a straw boater. David took a bow and the audience showed their appreciation for a job well done. Then he turned to a nearby table and whipped off a cloth that had been covering it to reveal a prediction; a straw boater. David picked the boater up and waved it in the air to yet more applause. He nodded to the men to do likewise and to one last burst of music, they all gave a hat-waving showbiz salute that signalled the finish of a fabulous routine.
This entertaining coincidence effect has its roots in other of David's presentations. At an earlier show in England he borrowed five hospital screens which were used to separate six people on the stage. Each screen had a physical exercise chart hanging on it. The charts depicted a variety of human figures in odd poses. It had been specially drawn and the poses were deliberately comical. When the volunteers came out from the screens they took up a position chosen from the charts. With hands raised at odd angles, heads turned, legs stretched or bent, the semaphore line-up provided for great comedy. Eventually, as with the Mexican Hat Dance, they would all come to choose the same pose, the pose, which unknown to them. David had already taken up.
The method for both routines was the same. David had chosen the volunteers before the show and, in his own inimitable way, asked them to help bring about the effect. Each volunteer was instructed separately, none of them knew the others and the first time they came into contact with each other was the moment they stepped up on stage.
Hav ing told them the bare bones of the game (but not the outcome), David gave them their instructions. Specifically they were asked to choose certain hats at certain times. They counted the number of stops in the music. After the ninth stop, everyone was told to choose
rhe boater. This gave David his finish with all the volunteers wearing the same hat.
Four of the volunteers were asked to choose the bowler hat after the seventh stop. Five of them knew to choose the flat cap after the eighth stop. One man was told to choose the clown hat every time bar the last. There was a good reason for that. The early choices of hat were all random with David telling the men, "I don't care which hats you choose. Just enjoy yourself." It was possible that purely by chance several men could choose the same hat. If that happened there was a risk of spoiling the finish. The business of having one man choose the clown hat every time was not merely a good gag, it also lessened the likelihood of a premature finale or the audience's chance of anticipating it. As an alternative finish David has had one man choose the clown hat right the way through the routine. At the finale five men are wearing the same hat and David gives a nod of disapproval to the odd man out. The man looks along the line, realises the situation and goes shamefacedly back to the cubicle to get the right one. It added laughter and loud cheers to the applause.
As with all routines requiring secret cooperation from volunteers, the key is to keep the instructions simple. Because David does not believe you can create a convincing actor at a moment's notice, the volunteers were not rehearsed. Simple cue cards helped remind them of their instructions but other than that the rest of their responses on stage were absolutely natural. They'd never seen the booths, they'd never been on stage and they didn't know the ultimate effect. The hat waving too was spontaneous.
One final touch. David often employs a safeguard in situations such as this. Although he only needed six volunteers he actually instructed eight men. This was to forestall any last minute loss of nerve or any other reason that might prevent one of the participants appearing. When volunteers were asked for, the first six to the stage were the ones he used.
Opus 13 continued to get extensive press coverage and in that spirit David suggested he perform a version of Russian Roulette, a stunt he had already worked on the German television scries Grenze des Wissens and several other shows. A marksman would load a revolver with one blank cartridge and five genuine bullets. After spinning the barrel, the audience would decide whether he should fire the gun at a target or at David. Hopefully, when they nominated David there would be a blank in the chamber and he would emerge from the test unscathed.
When they heard about the idea Vara were apprehensive, especially as they were not privy to David's methods. A production meeting took place when he was out of the country and the item was dropped from the schedule, Vara deciding it was far too risky. The story leaked to the press and yet again Opus 13 was in the news, this time for forbidding its star to undertake a dangerous stunt. Naturally, now that it was news, everyone wanted to see it.
A strange and unsatisfactory compromise was reached. The stunt would go ahead but instead of David standing in front of the gun it would be a photographic life-size replica of him
Facing the bullets during Russian Roulette on German television.
holding a real balloon. David thought the idea ridiculous, where was the danger in that? However, rehearsals went ahead on that basis, the cut-out figure being placed in front of the gun at the moment the audience decided the gun should be fired at David.
On the night an Olympic marksman loaded the gun with five real bullets and one blank. He spun the barrel and genuinely had no idea as to the location of the blank. The audience was asked to choose whether he fire the gun at a plate or at the cut-out figure of David. They chose the plate. The marksman fired and the plate shattered into pieces. Suddenly the audience realised the tremendous responsibility they had assumed.
Now for the second bullet, did they want to aim at the plate or David? A choice was made and the plate decided upon. Ready, aim, fire! The plate disintegrated into fragments as the bullet struck it. Also watching that night was Hans Moretti. This was the show in which he appeared as a guest and David's Russian Roulette made a superb follow-up to Hans' own incredible sharp shooting act. Later I lans would work out his own version of this stunt and baffle magicians the world over with what David believes is the most sensational version of this effect ever devised. Moretti credits David's performance on Opus ¡3 as his inspiration.
Two bullets gone, four to go. The audience made another choice. Daringly they asked the marksman to take aim at the cut-out of David. "At me?" asked David. "Are you sure?" The audience said they were and the marksman pointed the gun and made ready to fire. As he took aim at the cut-out, David unexpectedly stepped forward in front of it and told the marksman to shoot. "Fire." he said. There was an uneasy pause, then a flash from the gun. The audience jumped. David flinched and clutched his chest. It was an uneasy moment. But David appeared to be okay and, realising that he had survived, the audience burst into applause.
As the applause died the marksman proved the rest of the bullets genuine by Firing at some more plates. The audience loved it but the executives of Vara were furious. Although the show was filmed in Scheveningen it was transmitted an hour later from Hilversum, the tapes having been rushed there by a motorcycle courier. Vara's executives took the decision to broadcast the show without the Russian Roulette stunt, explaining to viewers that there had been a technical hitch. On the following day the newspapers reported that Vara was thinking of cancelling David's contract for the remainder of the series. As angry as Vara was it was very unlikely that this would happen. David's stunts had been and continued to be the talking point of the show. Without him they would have had a difficult time filling the last twenty minutes of each programme.
David's one regret about the incident is that he didn't prepare the blank cartridge more carefully. Too much wadding had been used and unknown to the audience he was struck on the cheek and neck by fragments of gun cotton propelled at high velocity. It actually embedded itself under the skin. It missed his eye by an inch. David still has an old reel-to-reel video of this show and people who have seen it have often commented on his great acting ability as he flinched. It wasn't acting. It really did hurt.
Such was the enormous publicity generated by the stunt, Vara's executives gave in and showed the tape in the final show of the series. David's powers of persuasion surprised even him.
It's All Done by Hypnosis
For six shows David had baffled Flolland with his eclectic mysteries neither magic nor mentalism and constantly defying definition or explanation. An expose of sorts appeared in one of the newspapers when they "discovered" that he was not the psychic they had imagined him to be but was in fact a magician. Proof was provided in the guise of a photograph of David performing magic on a British television show. Since the only claims that psychic forces were at work came from the newspapers themselves it was a little redundant. David had made no claims other than to say that he used natural principles including psychology, observation and memory to achieve most of his results. Having disposed of the paranormal theory the newspapers came up with another solution, hypnosis.
This led to David uncharacteristically losing his cool at one press conference when he was accused of hypnotising his volunteers and even the viewers! "You don't know what you are talking about. If I showed you real hypnosis you would see the difference," said David. The press took up the challenge and Vara arranged for an extra show to follow the six-show season. It was ro be devoted entirely to hypnosis and would provide more dramatic headlines for the newspapers.
David hadn't performed hypnosis in public since 1949 when he was in South Africa. When he got back to England he found that hypnosis was already in the midst of controversy. Demonstrations of stage hypnosis by performers like Peter Casson and Ralph Slater had created much public outrage. This led to the 1952 Hypnotism Act in which the performance of hypnosis was only possible after obtaining a licence from the local council (though, it has to be said, this is a comparatively simple affair and not the tight regulatory system that many had wanted). Since that time David has campaigned vigorously against the use of hypnosis as entertainment and yet his argument with the press in Holland had placed him in the position of giv ing just such a demonstration.
One precaution that David always took was that after a hypnotic demonstration he spent fifteen minutes with all the subjects to clear them of any possibly harmful influences either real or imagined. It was a very necessary step. Many people had complained of illnesses after participating in stage hypnotic acts and other performers had found themselves the subject of lawsuits for psychological damage. David only accepted volunteers on the understanding that they would remain after the show "to be cleared" and it was on this basis that he decided to go ahead with the Opus 13 hypnotic show.
Fred Kaps introduced the show as usual but David carried most of the remaining 50 minutes. Fred had quietly watched David's rise to stardom in Holland but a joke made at a script conference revealed the frustration that burned within. The show had been planned and a gag to finish the broadcast had been written. The producer explained to Fred and David that at the end of the show Fred would thank the audience, click his fingers and David would suddenly close his eyes and fall into a trance. "What if it doesn't work?" said David jokingly.
Fred exploded with rage and burst into a litany of accusations pointing out that after the show was over David would be flying back to England but that he had to live and work here. What happened on the show had a real effect on his reputation. It was some time before they calmed him down and made him see that it was just a joke. While Fred and David always remained friends the incident certainly made for a chilly atmosphere on the night of the recording.
The show opened with a bit of comedy business in which two mime artists performed the clown feat of leaning at an impossible angle while David cast a hypnotic spell over them. After it was over he explained that the stunt had nothing at all to do with hypnosis but that later in the show he would be demonstrating the real thing. First he welcomed some volunteers from local colleges. David hadn't met them before the show but they had been pre-selected for their ability to follow instructions in English and their willingness to attend the after-show clearing session.
They participated in a few standard induction tests, as did the rest of the audience.
They included clasping the hands together and being unable to get them apart. They were fun and put the audience and volunteers in a relaxed mood but again, as David explained, they had little to do with hypnosis. Now for the real thing.
David picked out two young men from the line-up and put one on each side of the stage. He commanded them to sleep and they immediately closed their eyes. Then he lifted their arms up and bent them into grotesque positions as if they were mannequins. He left them in these strange positions, one on either side of the stage, and returned to the centre for the next demonstration.
One by one he worked with each of the volunteers hypnotising them and persuading them to do incredible things including the famous catalepsy stunt in which a man is balanced across the backs of two chairs like a human bridge while others sit on his chest. The audience was very impressed, as they were by the volunteers who appeared to get drunk on water or the man who couldn't move out of an imaginary circle on the floor. Meanwhile the statue-like volunteers at the sides of the stage remained frozen in position blissfully unaware of anything that went on around them.
Hav ing shown the audience the power of hypnosis David then demonstrated that it had nothing to do with the performer as many assumed. He took a seat in the audience while a committee carried out the rest of what remains one of the most unusual hypnotic routines. Four male volunteers stood on stage. Two of them faced a simple unshaded standard lamp labelled A. The remaining two faced a similar lamp labelled B. All were listening to a tape recording of David's voice that told them to relax. "When the bulb lights up you will be in a deep sleep and fall to the stage like a sack of potatoes. When the light goes off you will awake." That was all there was to it.
When the tape had finished a committee decided which of the tw o lamps to switch on. The switches were on a table next to them and wired to the lamps. The whole experiment was entirely under their control. They could turn on either lamp A or B. They made a decision, flipped a switch and as the lamp went on so the two men who were facing it fell to the floor and stayed there, eyes closed, apparently asleep.
They switched the second lamp on and the two remaining men collapsed to the stage and fell into a deep sleep. With their eyes closed none of the men could see the lamps and yet when one was switched off the appropriate two men woke up, astonished to find themselves on the floor. As soon as they stood up the committee turned the lamp on again and they quickly fell back to the floor. Off, on, off, on—the committee had the men waking and sleeping at their command.
Everyone went back to their seats except for the two men standing frozen at either side of the stage. But during the show David had implanted various post-hypnotic suggestions among his volunteers and now, on visual cues from Dav id, those suggestions came into play resulting in some unusual activity in the stalls. A girl burst into song, several more volunteers
With the volunteers from the audience, demonstrating suggestibility.
fell instantly asleep while others once again repeated the various antics they had displayed on stage. Chaos reigned in a medley of hypnotic buffoonery. Finally David turned to the two men on stage, neither of whom had moved a muscle since they were hypnotised. Addressing the audience he said, "In case you still need convincing, which I'm sure you won't by now, take a look at these two men. They have been standing absolutely motionless, in this uncomfortable position, since the show started. Now when you get home tonight I want you to stand with your feet together. Stand upright, close your eyes and try not to sway. If you do it for fifteen seconds you're pretty good. If you do it for thirty seconds you're very good. If you do it for a minute, well, I won't believe you. But try it. These two young men have been standing here since we began and they haven't moved a muscle." Then he snapped his fingers and brought them out of their trance.
"I'm sorry I couldn't hypnotise you." he said. The two men accepted the apology, shook his hand and started to walk back to their seats. "Hold on a moment. What time did we start the show?" asked David
"About eight o'clock," one man replied.
"Just after eight," said the other.
"Don't look at your watches but what time do you think it is now?" asked David.
"About quarter past eight," one said reckoning that he'd only been on stage a few minutes.
David asked him to take a look at his watch. He was amazed to find that nearly an hour had passed.
The audience applauded but the show wasn't quite over. One volunteer had been cued to act on a post-hypnotic suggestion. So far he hadn't been given the opportunity to fulfil his task. David asked if there were any more questions or suggestions. He stamped his foot once and the man in the audience suddenly stood up and called out a phrase he had been programmed with. "Go home!" he shouted.
"Good idea," said David, "Goodnight!" The music played and with that the show was over.
The demonstration created a sensation despite the fact that David hadn't attempted it for nearly twenty years. The volunteers all came backstage where they were taken through some relaxation exercises and told that all hypnotic influences had been removed. There were no after effects and everyone seemed in good spirits. The show had been a triumph but any jubilation was crushed with the arrival of the next day's newspapers. The reviewers all agreed that the show was terrific entertainment but instead of rescinding their previous accusations they said that the demonstration proved what they had been saying all along, that David's effects had all been the result of hypnosis! Sometimes you just can't win.
David was at the airport preparing to leave Holland when more bad news followed. His manager, Hans Peters, had received a call from Vara. Although David's stage volunteers were fine it seemed that a number of viewers had been affected by the demonstration and had entered some kind of trance state. This was publicity Opus 13 didn't need. David postponed his flight home and returned to the production office to assess the situation. It was impossible to determine the genuineness of the claims made and the only alternative was for David to either visit each affected person or call them on the phone and go through the clearing procedure he had used on the volunteers. It was a strategy that worked but the newspapers were already busy turning the story into something of a national scandal with David at its centre. Another public debate ensued, this time about hypnosis. Were the producers reckless in allowing this strange phenomenon on television? Was it safe? What could be done to prevent it ever happening again? It was a repeat of the debate that had already taken place in Britain. I lowever. David fared better than his fellow hypnotists. During a discussion in the Dutch Parliament, leading psychiatrists pointed out that he had, indeed, taken the necessary precautions to prevent viewers becoming hypnotised and that while the matter was unfortunate the blame could certainly not be put on David. Far from being a culprit in the matter he was now an acknowledged authority, a man to turn to for advice when it came to the regulation of hypnosis.
As a result of Opus 13 David made a tour of Holland with his full evening show. Continuing his affinity for the number thirteen he began the tour on October 13th, 1967 (6 and 7 also totalling 13). Naturally it was a Friday! Fie visited thirteen theatres in thirteen different towns, beginning with the famous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which, you may have noticed, is spelt with thirteen letters. There were thirteen items in the first half of the show and thirteen in the second. The admission was thirteen Guilders and, as a gag, David often adds that only thirteen people showed up! In fact the tour was incredibly successful playing to large audiences and achieving much publicity.
It was on that tour that he decided to take the opportunity to investigate one of Holland's contemporary enigmas, the mysterious clocks at Rijssen. The clock story had been featured in many newspapers and magazines and concerned a house in which the clock hands would mysteriously bend, this some years before I ri Geller had made a feature of such feats. The house and the clocks belonged to Mr and Mrs Seppenwoole in the tiny village of Rijssen. They first discovered the phenomenon when their son, Erik, was alone in the house and the hands on one of the clocks was found to be bent. Erik was the chief suspect but he denied tampering with the clock. It happened several times and on each occasion the child denied having anything to do with it. Nothing more may have been thought about it had the Seppenwooles not locked up the house and gone on holiday. To their horror, when they returned they discovered that the hands on all the clocks in the house had been bent or twisted. There seemed to be no explanation.
There were other signs that the phenomenon was rather strange. The Seppenwooles owned a small dog and it would bark whenever the clock hands bent. One day another couple happened to be sitting with the Seppenwoole family when they looked up at the clock on the mantelpiece. They screamed as they saw the hands of the clock visibly bend. There was no doubting it now. Something was amiss in Rijssen. Psychics and priests were called in to deal with any paranormal forces that might be at work. Scientists, engineers and the police were called in to explore any physical solutions. For a while it was believed that a nearby television transmitter might be affecting metal in the household though why it should only affect clock hands was not explained. Despite many investigations no adequate solution presented itself and the mystery continued to generate lots of media interest.
David had turned down previous offers to investigate the Rijssen clocks but the present tour provided a good opportunity to satisfy his curiosity about the phenomenon. When his interest in the case became known the newspapers were soon asking, "Will David Berglas Solve This Mystery?" and whether the star of Opus 13 would make a detour to Rijssen. An air of expectation began to build and the will-he-won't-he game continued for some time. When David finally travelled to Rijssen so did the press, all anxious for a story.
Being an open-minded sceptic David was prepared to consider all solutions. He could see that the father, and indeed the town, revelled in the publicity, and while they welcomed the press they might not welcome an end to their mystery. With paranormal and scientific solutions having already been explored David turned his attention to the psychological and began to build up a far fuller picture of the Seppenwoole family than had been portrayed in the media.
He asked to interview the various family members and used a lie detector as an aid. It was a simple affair although, as the family was to find, incredibly accurate. It resembled a box about fifteen inches long and at the top was a spherical light. The light glowed an eerie violet and emitted a low-pitched sound whenever the apparatus detected a lie.
The first to be interviewed was the father. The light glowed brightly once or twice in response to some innocuous questions but did not flicker when it came to the question of who might have bent the hands on the clocks. The mother was also interviewed. A good-natured lady, she too passed the lie detector test and seemed to have no knowledge of how the clock hands bent.
Finally, it was the young son, Erik's, turn. He was only five and a half years old when the mystery began. It was now eighteen months later and he sat watching the lamp on the lie detector, a nervous, seven-year old boy. David had asked some blunt questions of the mother and father but took a gentler approach to questioning Erik. He discovered that Erik had been ill in bed for a long time and said how boring that must have been. David sympathised with his predicament. They talked about school and friends and the little dog and finally about the clocks. "Tell me," said David, "Why did you do it?"
"Just for fun," was the unexpected reply. It came so softly that David asked him again. "I just did it for fun," said Erik. Everyone just stared in surprise. The mystery was solved.
Well almost. There was a little more to it than that. It all began as an accident when Erik was ill. Friends were not allowed to visit and his parents paid him little attention and often left him alone in the hou
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