COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - My first TV appearance had nothing to do with the news, it was 39 years ago this week.
It was the late 1970’s and a lot of people were into magic. I was really into magic. I had been performing at events and parties for a couple of years.
My father was in the US Air Force stationed in England – and that’s where my love of magic grew into an unforgettable moment for a child.
On the BBC network was a children’s program called “Crackerjack”. It featured comedy sketches and games and a live musical guest each week. There was also a segment on it called “Young Entertainers”. It was a talent contest for kids from across the UK.
Our neighbors the Wilkins family had seen me perform a few times and they suggested that I audition to be on Crackerjack. My parents agreed and contacted the show’s audition coordinators and got me an audition time. We lived in an area that was considered part of the Birmingham region, so my audition was set to happen there.
We showed up close to our appointed arrival time at an old church hall, and it was packed! There were dancers in glittering costumes, teen bands with electric guitars and drums….and me with a table and a few props. The audition hall was full of performers and their parents and three judges sitting at a small table. When I started it felt like everyone else stopped – the room went silent except for me, and everyone turned in a loosely formed, impromptu circle of sorts, to stare at the kid with the American accent who was trying to do some close-up magic.
I finished, I got some applause and got out of there. I felt I had done pretty well but I didn’t expect much after that. We were told they were auditioning about 500 acts for the Birmingham region, and they would be choosing just two of them to appear on the show!
A few days later I got a letter in the mail from the BBC. (I’ve learned a lot about kids and major auditions since then, from some experiences my nephew has been through – he’s a musical theater performer. No news is bad news. They don’t tell you if you did not get the gig, only if you did.)
Not knowing that, I opened the letter with shaking hands, hoping it would be good news. It was! The best news I’d ever had in my short 12 years of life. I couldn’t believe it. They wanted me to bring my little table and my props to the BBC headquarters in London to appear on “Crackerjack”.
The day came and it was a thrill. I was there early in the morning on February 7th 1978, for a series of instructions and one full rehearsal. During that time they planned camera angles to best show what I was doing. They also marked certain spots in my routine for the live musicians in the studio to add a few fully orchestrated “TA DAs”. That was pretty thrilling too.
Then a few hundred excited pre-teens were let in to fill the studio seats. That’s when it all started to sink in a little bit. I was performing for hundreds of people in person – the biggest audience I’d ever had – and for millions at home – the biggest audience I could ever imagine!
The primary trick I was doing is called the cups and balls. Some magic tricks rely on special equipment with built-in gimmicks or devices that make the magic happen. The entertainment is in the presentation. That’s not the case for the cups and balls. It’s all sleight of hand – it all comes down to the magician and his skills and his confidence. I had done the routine dozens of times in front of live audiences, hundreds of times on my own in front of a mirror to get it as good as possible. Sometimes things can go wrong.
That was my worry in that moment. There was one rehearsal, then the taping of the show itself. What if those same shaking 12-year-old hands that opened that letter a few weeks earlier started shaking again during the big moment? If something went wrong it would be out there on national TV across the UK. There would be no second chance – everyone would see the magician’s mistake.
It turns out there was no real reason to worry. My time came and went very quickly. It wasn’t the best I’d ever done it, but it felt good. The crowd responded well, the producers and cast members said nice things afterwards.
My whole family was able to go to the taping with me and it was a great day out for all of us. For me it was maybe the greatest day of my childhood!
The show was scheduled to be on a few days later and I was nervous again to watch it – to see if it really was ok, or if the cameras saw too much of what I was doing. It aired and it looked good and I was relieved and proud. The phone started ringing off the hook. Everyone we know called to say congratulations. An agent called from London and told my father she wanted us to come down for a meeting. My dad decided it was probably a “rip-off” so we didn’t go.
I was a big deal at school for a few days.
I was hoping to hear that I had beaten the four acts from other regions who appeared in my episode, and that I’d be going back to compete in the semi-finals. Remember, no news is bad news. I never heard a thing, and a boy from Wales who played the organ (very well) eventually showed in the next round that I would have been in. Well done Ian Griffin, well done.
My Dad’s assignment to England was soon over and we moved to Colorado Springs just a couple of months later.
I performed magic for a few more years. I finally put away the wand for good when I was about 15. I don’t have any regrets about that. I peaked at 12! I was good for a kid, but I knew it would never be a living.
I couldn’t have known in February of 1978 – with that first taste of TV, that it would eventually be my career – just in a very different way.
We’ll talk again soon,