Pickpocketing The Watch Finale

In 1954 David was performing an act in which he divined all kinds of information about people from the audience. He told them their age, height, weight, shirt collar and shoe size. Some of these feats were genuine, he could make good guesses about their age, weight and shirt collar size while other information was gained by a variety of methods including one that is not often used by magicians; pickpocketing. During the performance he would skilfully dip into the volunteers' pockets, extract letters and other documents, secretly read them and then replace them. At a later stage the information would be revealed, much to the astonishment of the audience.

On one occasion he had, unknown to a volunteer, pickpocketed an envelope. Having read it, he successfully "divined" the man's name and address. The man was absolutely flummoxed. Then David did something he had never done before and to this day doesn't know what made him do it, sheer devilment perhaps. Still talking to the volunteer on stage, David held the envelope behind his back and waved it to the audience. They instantly realised how he had obtained the information and started to laugh and applaud. As more details were revealed the volunteer became more bemused and the audience laughed even harder.

The experience made a big impression on David. For a start he was getting credit for a skill that had up until then been completely hidden. More importantly the audience reaction was phenomenal. The bit of business got a roar of approval. Before long he began working on an entire act devoted to pickpocketing, designed to generate the same kind of audience reaction that the spontaneous revealing of the envelope had produced.

Most magicians who included pickpocketing in their act used a standard magic routine as cover for the steals so that during the course of, say, a card trick the magician would steal articles from the pockets of the volunteers. David preferred the approach of the purists like Borra and Giovanni who did little magic in their shows. There were hurdles to overcome in designing the act. How would he avoid the inherent problem of repetition? An act in which the performer stole the same items again and again from the same volunteers risked becoming boring. But the biggest problem was finding a finish. How could you bring the act to a successful applause-pulling close?

It took years of work but the finale that David devised proved to be absolute gold dust over the years. It's totally unlike anything seen in traditional pickpocket acts and brings the routine to an impossible finale filled with applause points. It's funny and it's magical. So sit back, keep one hand on your wallet and don't raise the other when David asks for volunteers.

To some lively "hurry music" seven gentlemen join David on stage and he tells them to stand in a straight line with their backs to the audience. "A straight line gentleman please, straight line." There is a slight pause followed by, "Squad 'shun!" As David barks the military order the men do their best to come to attention like soldiers. A short drum roll marks their unrehearsed efforts and they come to attention, some quickly, some slowly and some sloppily. The audience is amused by their antics.

"As you can see ladies and gentleman, we have three ex-servicemen, two reserves, one volunteer and a Z-man. No reaction at all!"

The audience laughs. This was the fifties, National Service was still a part of British life and a Z-man was someone who, for one reason or another, was not fit for military duty.

In later years, when the term Z-man disappeared into history, David discovered that he could use the same line and just mumble the last word while looking at whoever came to attention the sloppiest. The rhythm of the gag always guaranteed a laugh even though nobody quite heard what had been said. There was always someone who didn't come to attention properly and as long as the intonation was right the gag always worked.

With the volunteers in a line, David stands by the microphone and announces that he is going to try and pick their pockets. "Watch my hands," he says to the audience. "Watch your pockets," he says to the gentlemen. And then, to the band, "Maestro, a little pickpocketing music please."

He rushes over to the line-up as the band plays a lively and appropriate sounding number such as Button Up Your Overcoat. Starting at the left of the line David pats the men down, rapidly touching their pockets on the outside as if searching them. As each one is frisked he asks them to turn around and face the audience, saying, under cover of the music, "Check your pockets." He moves quickly from man to man until he has been along the entire line then he rushes back to the microphone leaving the men frantically checking all their pockets for valuables that may no longer be there. It's a very funny scene. The more they check, the funnier it becomes.

The music plays softer and David looks back at the perplexed line-up, allowing the audience their moment of laughter. Then he points to the man at the end of the row and asks, "Are you all right?" He says he is. So is the next man and the next and the next. Nothing appears to be missing. The audience is surprised. They were expecting them to have lost their keys or wallets.

"I didn't take a thing," says David. "But by watching where they put their hands I can tell where they keep the stuff—Now we can start!" The music resumes its former volume and

Pickpocketing at the Embassy Club, Rotterdam, Holland, in 1971.

Pickpocketing at the Embassy Club, Rotterdam, Holland, in 1971.

David frisks the line once more, this time a little slower and more deliberately.

The first man nervously clasps his hands over his pocket to keep his wallet from disappearing. As David moves from one volunteer to the next the audience see him dip into the men's pockets but he always seems to come out empty handed. He shrugs as if to suggest, "Nothing here." The reaction of the men as he works the line provides much of the entertainment. There's the ticklish, the embarrassed, the worried, the aggressive, each reacts in their own way to being frisked by a stranger. Yet at no time do they or the audience see anything stolen. It seems to be another unsuccessful run.

Then he comes to the last man. David reaches into his inside jacket pocket. Something here at last. He struggles and with great effort manages to pull out a large wallet. "Is this yours?" he asks. Amazingly the man says no. David goes back along the line, each man denying it's his wallet. Finally he's back at the start with the first man, the man with his hand over his jacket pocket. It's his wallet and it disappeared while he was holding it! "Well don't blame me," says David pointing to the last man, "he had it." More laughter as the audience tries to figure out how the wallet ended up in someone else's pocket.

David puts the wallet back into the owner's jacket pocket and asks the man to check his other valuables as well. He does, everything appears to be secure. Despite this David walks back along the line, reaches into the last man's inside jacket pocket and once again produces the wallet.

David stands by the microphone and apologises to the audience. "I'm sorry they didn't have anything worth taking—except for this and this and this and this." As he talks he starts taking articles out of his left jacket pocket, a few sets of keys, some wallets, three or four combs, many pens, a couple of letters and driving licences and so on. He hands these back and the owners are relieved to get them. No sooner is this done then he starts taking objects out of his right jacket pocket, so many that he can hardly hold them all. This gets a huge round of applause.

The articles are handed back and then follows an incredibly fast sequence in which objects disappear and reappear in someone else's pocket. A man has his neighbour's keys, another someone else's penknife, a third seems to have money that is not his. It's a bewildering display of skill and again no one sees David take a single item. One man has his pen stolen. Again and again he takes it back and yet, with supernatural speed, it reappears in David's pocket.

Everything is returned safely and David is walking back to the microphone when he says to one man, "Tell me, did you see me take your wallet?" The man says he didn't. "Did you see me take anything?" "No," comes the reply. David turns around to face him, "I'm not surprised. I've got your glasses!" The man looks up and is astonished to see that David is wearing his spectacles.

The owner checks his spectacle case and finds it empty. David replaces the glasses in the case and hands them back to their owner who puts them away. Yet a minute later David is staggering around the stage, his hands held out in front of him, unable to see through a pair of thick-lensed glasses. He's stolen the glasses once more. He gives them back, the spectator puts the glasses in the case himself and yet David manages to take them again leaving the man once more with an empty spectacle case.

The act concludes with the finale that David is extremely proud of. The music has stopped and he addresses the audience. "Well I hope you enjoyed that ladies and gentleman." Then turning to the men he asks, "By the way are you wearing a watch?" The question gets a roar from the audience. They fully expect that David has stolen someone's watch. But the men check and they are still there. One man though doesn't wear a watch and he is called out of the line and asked to stand on the other side of the stage.

David looks at the remaining line up and says, "Please show your watches to the audience." He extends his arm forward to demonstrate and the men follow suit. The music starts up and plays a loud spirited tune, The Best Things in Life Are Free, as David walks along the line, pulling the men's sleeves forward so that they are covering their watches. He asks them to make sure the watch is still there by grabbing it with their other hand. Each man can feel his watch on his wrist.

The man without a watch is asked to pick up a small wooden box that has been in full view throughout the performance. David runs back to the microphone and the music stops. "As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, we have six men holding their watches very tightly and one gentleman holding a box. I'm going to try to take one of these watches. Unfortunately we don't have time for all of them but the choice will be yours."

David counts the men in the line, giving each a number from one to six. The man holding the box now points to anyone in the audience. That person chooses a number between one and six.

"Four," says the spectator. David looks at the selected man and says, "Congratulations Number Four, you're going to lose your watch." David asks the rest of the men to put their arms down.

"May I have a drum roll please?" David mimes the undoing of a watch in mid-air, a few inches above the man's wrist. He holds the imaginary watch at his fingertips, pauses and then throws it towards the box. It lands with a heavy beat from the bass drum and a giggle from the audience as the spectator holding the box plays his part and jerks backwards as if really catching something. "Don't overact," says David.

"I hope that didn't hurt," he says to Number Four. "If I told you that your watch is now inside that box would you be surprised?" Number Four says he would be very surprised as he can still feel it.

"So would I. Show it to everyone." Number Four extends his arm. Surprisingly, his watch is still on his wrist. David looks at the audience. "Did you really think I could go just like that (miming the action) and throw a watch into the box?"

Frankly, that's exactly what they did think.

"Thanks for the compliment," says David, "I can't possibly get a watch into that box. Tell you what though, I can get five watches into that box."

The audience can't believe their ears. Neither can the other men in the line. They quickly look to their wrists and find that all their watches are missing. David takes the wooden box, shows it all around and then hands it back to the volunteer. He unties the ribbon and opens the lid. Inside is another box, "This one is made out of perspex so you can see right through it. And resting on a little red velvet cushion inside it we have their watches." He lifts the box out. It too is tied with ribbon and inside are the watches. The audience begins to applaud.

"There's just one problem," says David, "they are all linked together in a long chain." He slowly lifts the watches out of the box revealing that they are indeed linked, the bracelet of each watch threaded through the next. He drops the chain back into the box and asks the men to come forward and claim their watches. They do but it takes some time to untangle them. "It's quite complicated," says David unhelpfully then adds, "just take the best one!"

To applause from the audience and music from the band the men go back to their seats. David shakes their hands as they go. All except one man who remains on stage. "I haven't got my watch," he says. "Are you sure?" asks David. He's sure. The music fizzles out in a way that suggests something has gone wrong and the man repeats his plea. "But you were the first to go to the box," says David. "It wasn't there," the man replies. "Then why did you go to the box? Do you know, this is the first time this has ever happened Tonight!"

"I don't know whether you noticed or not but one of the gentlemen was in a great hurry to go back to his seat. Which one do you think it was?"

The volunteer looks into the audience trying to find the culprit. He accuses someone, usually the last man in the line who seemed so fond of having another's wallet in his pocket. He denies the accusation.

"No it wasn't him," says David. "I think it was the gentleman holding the box. He didn't have a watch!" The man is asked to come back to the stage, "And take a look through your pockets whilst you do." He does and is embarrassed to find a watch that doesn't belong to him. He hands it over sheepishly and David gives it back to the man on stage. "Don't blame me, he had it."

The music plays again, the audience applauds and both men return to their seats. As they do David suddenly says, "By the way, don't you want this back?" The man turns around and almost collapses as he sees David once again holding his watch at his fingertips. By now the audience are howling with laughter.

Revelations: The main difference between David's handling of pickpocketing and the usual techniques is that in David's act you never see the objects being stolen. The items are spirited away invisibly using palming, sleeving or some other combination of sleight of hand and misdirection.

These are the bare mechanics but it is not the sleights that have made David's pickpocket act successful but situations. The audience responds best to the pickpocketing routine when the volunteers become characters in a pickpocketing game. When the same wallet disappears from the same man's pocket, again and again, the audience can identify with the volunteer's dilemma.

David's aim was to choreograph the pickpocketing so that the routine became more than just a list of items repeatedly stolen. The wallet is stolen twice. But, much later in the show, David will reveal that he has stolen it again. He will say, "Sorry I didn't get much that time... except for this and this and this...," and starts to produce one stolen item after another from his own pockets. This gets lots of laughter but that laughter is topped when David finally produces the man's wallet because it has become a running gag throughout the routine and the audience identify the problem with the wallet with that particular volunteer.

Other volunteers also have their roles cast for them. There's the apparently short-sighted man whose glasses keep disappearing and someone who keeps losing his pen. David also features a necktie steal in which the audience sees the tie being gradually loosened from around the volunteer's neck until it is finally removed without the victim's knowledge. David believes that the pickpocketing routine is an opportunity to enact a magical play with an impromptu cast. -------

This idea of dealing with the volunteers as individual characters extends even to their watches. During the routine David will make special mention of the types of watches each volunteer has. Maybe the little bald-headed guy has an expensive gold watch, the tall man has a sporty watch, the most studious looking fellow has, ironically, a cheap Mickey Mouse watch. One may be a birthday present, have a tricky looking catch or some other interesting feature. These are the details that help create the rapport that makes the routine a success. When the audience see the watches pulled out, linked, from the box they will recognise them and know whom they belong to. They have an interest in what is happening to each of the characters on stage.

David uses a simple metaphor to get his point across. If you watch a cowboy or war movie you might see dozens of people shot and killed but the only ones you respond to emotionally are the characters that have been carefully built up throughout the film. You have to build the personalities of your volunteers to ensure that this routine, in fact any routine, means something to the audience.

The finale that has paid such dividends is based around a nest of boxes that are remarkably simple in construction. The outer wooden box has a hinged rear flap as does the inner perspex box. The perspex box also has a couple of thin strips of double-sided tape applied to the recess into which the rear flap hinges. This is a safety measure so that when the perspex flap closes it won't accidentally drop back open during the performance. The boxes are sitting, in full view, on a table to the left of the stage from the very beginning.

Inside the perspex box is a small velvet cushion. Not only does it look good but it helps soften both the noise and the impact as the watches are literally thrown into the box later in the routine.

Both boxes are tied with a short length of ribbon. The ribbon David uses is bright red and shot through with silver thread to catch the lights. He offers a tip on tying the ribbon into a bow. Tie it tight against one edge of the box and then slide the ribbon around until the bow is at the top. This way he can tie a good bow with a short length of ribbon and without having to ask anyone to put their finger on the knot.

He prepares the boxes before the show so that they are tied with ribbon but the flaps are open at the back. As he closes the flaps he inserts a knotted strip of polythene between the flaps and the boxes. Polythene is the ideal material, string being too thick and paper being apt to tear. The boxes can then travel in this set condition. They can even be placed on stage long before the show. When he's ready all he has to do is pull on the knotted polythene and the two flaps pop open. They lie flat on the table and are easily hidden behind any shallow object that is placed next to the box.

The stealing of the watches is a multi-phase affair. David asks the men to show their watches to the audience. It provides another opportunity (there will be plenty during the performance) to gauge just how each watch is fastened and what method is needed to steal it.

As David goes along the line, pulling each man's sleeve over his watch, he secretly takes the watches. Some will be stolen at once, others may require two or three passes to unbuckle or unfasten the strap. David has a conversational style that gives him plenty of time to take each watch and place it in his outside jacket pocket. He talks to the men and makes remarks about their timepieces. The music is playing loud and the conversation goes unheard by the audience.

The basic moves for stealing a regular buckled wristwatch are explained elsewhere in this book, in the chapter The Mind of David Berglas. However, expanding bracelet watches present an altogether different technique. Fortunately it's a problem for which David has devised a unique solution. Having spotted such a watch on a volunteer's wrist David ^ill address him, saying, for example, "By the way, did you get your lighter back?" The music is loud, the volunteer, surprised by the question might ask, "What?" and David will say, "Where's your comb? Let me see." The man brings out the comb, David takes it, displays it to the audience and says, "Put it in your pocket and make sure this time I can't take it." In fact David puts it in the man's left jacket pocket as he says, "And put your hand on it to make sure I can't take it."

This seems similar to what has happened before with the wallet that kept disappearing and the volunteer has no inkling that he is being set up for a watch steal. He places his hand on the outside of his pocket only to be told by David, "Better still, place your hand inside your pocket." He does and holds onto his comb. David goes to the next man along the line and then returns and says to the volunteer, "No, in fact, take your hand out of your pocket quickly." David's hand is above the volunteer's pocket. With the thumb and forefinger of both hands he has grasped the expanding bracelet of the volunteer's wristwatch and pulled it open. As the man takes his hand out of his pocket he unwittingly also pulls it out of his wristwatch. David lets the watch drop into the pocket next to the comb. For this reason, the object the volunteer has been holding onto should not be metallic. David doesn't want a nasty clinking sound to give the deception away.

David immediately reaches into the pocket, takes out the comb and hands it to the man, saying, "Hold it tight." The volunteer is holding it openly and people are wondering how on earth David can possibly take it. He doesn't. He continues up and down the line, secretly stealing watches and then returns to the man with the comb, steals his watch from his pocket and tells him to put his comb away, "We'll do this later."

The scenario outlined here is just one option for one type of watch and it's explained here because it's a secret that David has used for many years and is one that magicians have always been baffled by. The important thing is that David has to remain flexible throughout the procedure, ready to adapt his steals to the circumstances. It's a matter of distraction, misdirection, good management and it takes mere moments under cover of the lively music. For all the conversation that has gone on, the audience are only aware that David has been along the line of volunteers and, as far as they can see, stolen nothing.

David has one more secret that convinces each volunteer that his watch is still in place. Having stolen the watch he pulls the volunteer's sleeve forward and folds it over against the underside of the wrist. Then he tells the volunteer to hold his watch with the other hand. The fingers go on top of the lower end of the sleeve, the thumb underneath. To the volunteer it feels as if his thumb is positioned against the watch fastening. The spectator actually has his thumb on the folded portion of his sleeve and the hardness he can feel comes from his sleeve buttons through the double thickness of the material. It's a very persuasive piece of finesse and one that David has kept secret until now. He doesn't steal the watch from the man at position number four in the line. His watch will not disappear at this point.

The next thing David has to do is link at least three of the watches together while they are in his pocket. He says that this isn't as difficult as it sounds. He threads any leather strapped watch through two expanding bracelet watches and, if he has time, not only pulls the strap through the buckle but will insert the metal prong into one of the holes. This is all done inside the jacket pocket with one hand.

It doesn't take as long as you'd imagine and David has sometimes even managed to link four watches together, two leather straps and two expanding bracelets, without any undue delay. Some valuable time is gained when he turns to the watchless man and asks him to bring over the box from the table. The music is playing loudly and David deliberately doesn't make himself clear. The man doesn't understand the instruction so David tells him again, saying, "Look, I'll show you." He gestures for the man to follow him, which he does. By the time they get to the boxes at least three of the watches are linked. Using his own body to shield the action from the audience David scoops all but one of the watches from his jacket pocket with his right hand and literally throws them into the open back of the boxes. He quickly closes both flaps as he transfers the box to his left hand and hands it to the man who is just behind him. He doesn't even look at the box as he does this. His nonchalance leads the audience to believe the action is completely unimportant. No one has ever spotted the load. No one even remembers that David picked up the box.

The man holding the box is directed to stand on the opposite side of the stage, well away from the line-up. The music stops and David asks the box holder to point to someone in the audience. They are asked to, "give me a number from one to six." David doesn't say what he is going to do with that number which is just as well because if they do not call out "four" he will alter his procedure to accommodate the spectator's selection.

David relies on a psychological force and numbers "three" and "four" are usually called. He can count from the appropriate end of the line to arrive at the correct point. He has miscounted in this way even though the men have already been allocated numbers. The audience, if they notice the discrepancy at all, think it is because he is facing them and therefore his left and right is, naturally, different from theirs. If another number is called he has other strategies including a very effective gag that gets a laugh, gets David out of trouble and yet still works. Let's assume that number "two" is chosen. David openly takes a volunteer from one end of the row and directs him to the other end, saying, "Oh, will you stand over there please. I think you look better on that side." Then he turns to the audience, as if nothing has happened and says, "What number did you choose?" When he counts to the second volunteer the audience realise something fishy has gone on and starts to laugh. The number business was obviously just a gag. It makes no difference to the effectiveness of the routine and only adds to the entertainment value. How the choice is made is of no significance to the audience because the chosen volunteer's watch doesn't vanish. This is a big surprise, much more than it would have been had the watch disappeared.

David approaches volunteer number four and in showing the watch on his wrist convinces the audience that all the watches are still there. When he announces that not one but five watches are in the box the volunteers suddenly discover that their watches are missing.

The wooden box is untied, opened and then placed aside and the audience applauds as they see the bundle of watches in the perspex box. There are only four there but they are tangled together and therefore the audience cannot count them. David reaches in and slowly lifts the first watch of the prepared chain. He lifts it higher so that the audience can see a second watch attached and then a third. He tells the audience that all the watches are linked together and on the evidence of what they have seen so far they believe him. David drops the watches back into the box and leaves the men to untangle them. Mentioning specific watches and their tricky fastenings as the men try to separate them further convinces the audience that all the watches were linked.

David still has one watch in his pocket and during the confusion around the box will secretly drop it into the pocket of one of the volunteers. He might also take the opportunity to talk to volunteer number four and tell him how lucky he was that he didn't lose his watch. As the volunteer is distracted David will steal it. The volunteer later goes back to his seat and the watch will be reproduced at the very end of the act. The fact that it is Number Four's makes for an effective finale.

Most performances end with one volunteer on stage who didn't get his watch back. It has been secretly loaded into another volunteer's pocket, the man who held the box. David gets some amusing by-play out of the situation, suggesting that someone else has taken it. Eventually it is discovered in the volunteer's pocket.

As an alternative David has even put it on his own wrist during the kafuffle over the linked watches. Whichever approach is taken David finishes by appearing to return the watch to its owner by dropping it into the volunteer's pocket. In fact he retains the watch, shakes the man's hand and sends him back to his seat. Just as the volunteer is about to sit down, David produces the watch for the final time and gets his last round of applause.

As mentioned earlier, flexibility is the key to David's pickpocketing routine. On one or two occasions it has happened that some watches have proved difficult either because the fastening is new or faulty. This makes linking them together much harder. In such circumstances David has worked behind the line of men, as they stood holding their arms out. Hidden from the audience's view he has taken the watches out of his pocket and, using both hands, quickly fastened them together! Bold, but it worked. But boldest of all was when, standing behind the line-up, he encountered a particularly nasty buckle fastening. On that occasion he asked the men to turn around so that they were facing him and away from the audience. Then he handed the three watches to the man in the centre of the line and said, "Put the buckle through that!" indicating the tricky watchstrap. "What?" said the baffled volunteer. "Just do it!" said David. Moments later, it was done. David took the watches back, said, "Thanks very much, we'll talk about it later," and continued the routine as normal. It was very brazen but, once again, it worked and that, after all, is what matters.

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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