Robby the Robot

From time to time David becomes obsessed with an idea and spends countless hours and sometimes a great deal of money developing it. This was the case with his Flash Act in 1950 and the musical curiosity known as DRUM in the 1970s. Another idea that took up a major part of his life was Robby the Robot. Robby was the result of much work and invention. David had envisaged assembling a simple robot in full view of the audience and then having it interact with him like a live character, taking part in the magic, reading minds and making predictions. The key to the act was that there would be two robots, only one of which would be on stage at any one time. The first would be electronically controlled with an impressive array of gadgets but hidden inside the other one would be an extremely small secret assistant. Fortunately David knew just such a person. He had worked with him in the early 1950's, he was only three and a half feet tall and his name was Kenny Baker.

David first watched him work at Churchill's nightclub in Bond Street. Kenny came onto the stage with a violin case in his hand and walked towards a chair set on the cabaret floor. He tried to climb onto the chair, feigning clumsiness, but the chair was too high. He'd almost given up when a beautiful tall showgirl walked on, gave him a funny look and then picked him up and stood him on top of the chair. She was just walking off when Kenny gave a whistle and called her back. She forgot that the violin case was still on the floor and Kenny unable to reach it. After another sour look she picked it up, handed it to him and then made her exit.

There was an awkwardness about watching the small man trying to get on the chair that was uncomfortable and the humour just didn't work. But there was more to Kenny than slapstick comedy. He opened the case and removed not a violin but a harmonica and the audience was laughing once more.

Kenny was a superb musician and played the harmonica beautifully but Churchill's wasn't the kind of club that appreciated musicians or even magicians. The clientele came only for the girls and the booze and the applause at the end of the act was half-hearted. When he left the stage he was quite depressed. David told him he needed a different presentation if he wanted the audience to appreciate his skills. After some discussion David came up with an idea.

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