Underwater Magic

A long running television series in the USA called YOU ASKED FOR /r claimed that they could find anything no matter how bizarre. Viewers sent in requests and if someone asked to see a parachuting great grandmother then one was sure to appear on an upcoming episode.

In 1956 David received a call from his agents asking him to meet with the producers of the US show because someone had written in asking to see a magician performing underwater. Apparently this would prove that "nothing was up his sleeves." Strangely they were unable to find anyone in America that could deliver on this request so they had put the word out to European agents. David's agents knew two things that qualified him for the job. Firstly, he had already performed an act in which he worked in a short-sleeved shirt. And, secondly, that he was a keen scuba diver.

He agreed to meet the producers at the Savoy Hotel in London. They explained that they had found a heated pool in England that had side windows through which they could film the stunt. And the shoot would only take a few hours. Did David think he could provide the magic? The answer was yes but then as David was later to remember the answer was given in the comfort and warmth of the Savoy Hotel. The shooting would take place somewhere very different.

The location for filming was an out-of-season Butlins holiday camp in Clacton and the pool was not heated as promised. In fact it was freezing. It was the middle of January 1957, the camp was deserted and the shoot, far from taking only a few hours, took two days. Two days which David and Ruth, who was there as his glamorous poolside assistant, spent in a shabby holiday chalet that served as their onsite accommodation.

As finally seen, the sequence began with David standing at the side of the pool and performing the Vanishing Cane in newspaper. At one point a heavy gust of wind blew the paper out of his hand. Instinctively he reached out and caught it. On film it looks really cool the way that newspaper seems to leave his hand and then magically find its way back.

After that he dived into the pool and performed the rest of the effects underwater. Showing his hands empty he produced cigarettes from nowhere. It was a version of his sleeveless

In the late 50's on another television show, Granada's On the Air.

routine but on this occasion was performed with stubs of white pencils that looked exactly like cigarettes. When they were discarded they floated upwards and out of shot. It was quite surreal. There was one additional touch that made the film so memorable. He reached out and produced a matchbox, opened it, took out a match and lit one of the cigarettes. Then he blew out a stream of smoke. Underwater!

The cigarette production was an adaptation of his usual routine but the addition of the underwater smoke made it truly outstanding. David had experimented with all kinds of materials to produce the smoke effect but the one seen in the film is milk. When expelled slowly from his mouth it looked just like smoke.

As in his stage act the cigarette sequence segued into a flower production. David swam to the surface, and handed one of the flowers to Ruth who placed it in her hair. Later he produced a handkerchief and transformed it into an egg. He swam to the surface and cracked the egg into a glass to reveal that it was real. In fact it was far from real. The egg was a fake containing two secret compartments. One was filled with the recently vanished silk. The other contained a simulated yolk made of glycerine and a yellow wooden disc. And very convincing it was too. The effect was a marketed version of the popular Eggsposure routine. David added a comedy touch, pulling a face as the yolk made its appearance, as if to say that the egg was far from fresh.

He also produced a collapsable top hat and popped it open. The commentator is heard saying, "Surely he's not going to produce a rabbit is he?" Instead David produced a shoal of goldfish. One or two, however, weren't as lively as they should have been and David had to keep pushing them out of shot.

He wore a snorkel to give him air and the film was shot in segments to allow him to set up the various effects he had devised. But the snorkel kept taking in water. If you watch the film you can see the water rising in the mask. David says that wide-eyed look he has is one of panic as he tries to finish the magic before he runs out of breath.

It was a major problem trying to remain submerged. They fixed weights to his body but that didn't work out very well. Eventually they screwed a pair of slippers to a hardboard platform. Unfortunately the shoot took so long that the hardboard dissolved, the slippers came loose and David was suddenly weightless again. It was cold too and between takes they would stand him in front of one of the giant arc lights in an attempt to keep him warm while someone came up with yet another plan to keep him firmly underwater.

At the end of the film David, standing at the side of the pool, takes a deck of cards and springs them across the screen and out of frame. In the studio, when the film was shown, more cards were squirted from behind the screen at the presenter, giving the piece a gag finish. Despite the hardships of the production the final film became one of the series' most requested stunts and it has been shown not only in the States but also all over the world on many occasions. David still hears from people who have seen it, which is ironic because although he was given copies of the rushes they never did send him a finished copy of the film. And it's been a long time since he heard about any royalties too. That's television.

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