Magical Ken bows out after 75 years

He has been pulling the wool over people’s eyes for more than 75 years, dazzling audiences with a host of magic tricks.

He has been pulling the wool over people’s eyes for more than 75 years, dazzling audiences with a host of magic tricks.

But now after a lifetime of abracadabras, hey prestos and hocus-pocuses semi-professional magician Harry Johnson, 83, from Market Drayton, is hanging up his magic wand.

Mr Johnson, who is known as Ken in magic circles, now plans to spend more time with his family.

His final performance was in front of a group of at least 80 members of Market Drayton’s Probus Club and their wives when they met for Christmas lunch at the Tern Hill Hall Hotel.

He said: “I told the Probus Club members that I was retiring and that the Christmas lunch was the last time they would see me doing any more magic publicly.

“I’m getting on a bit and I want to spend a little more time with my family.

“It was quite an effort to prepare for the lunch and I spent 10 days planning the show to make it original.

“But even though I’m not doing any more magic in public, I wouldn’t refuse to do a trick or two if I saw a group of children or a likely looking bunch of adults around.”

Mr Johnson and his wife of 62 years, Dell, have kept their magic formula for love ever since they first met in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. By then, Mr Johnson had already embarked on a part-time career as a magician.

“On my seventh birthday, I was given a box of tricks by my mother and there was about 50p worth of farthings in it,” he said.

“My parents used to have a set of books which each had a magic trick in them and I would try them out. By the time I was 10, I was performing in front of kids at school and my headmaster would farm me out to schools around our area.”

Mr Johnson brought his magic show to the stage as a 12-year-old and by the time he was 16, his tricks were starting to earn him money.

He said: “I was getting four guineas per show and at the same time, my father was employing gardeners for £2 a week.

“It was serious then because I found out there was money in it.”

Mr and Mrs Johnson, who had both attended the same grammar school, tied the knot in 1949.

“I was the magician’s widow while Harry was doing the magic shows,” Mrs Johnson said. “I carried his bags and stood around waiting for him until I got fed up. Then I said to myself ‘I need a hobby of my own and I decided to become a magician too.”

Mrs Johnson went on to win a host of trophies, including the International Magician award in 1963, and appear on TV as a support act for entertainers, including Val Doonican, Cilla Black and Frank Carson.

But her husband continued with his stage and seaside shows while holding down his regular job as a customs officer for HM Revenue and Customs.

Mr Johnson said: “I was 20 when I joined the Middlesbrough Society of Magicians and that’s where I got to know Paul Daniels who joined as a youth.

“I beat him once in a competition to be the best close-up magician in Derbyshire, but he’s done ever so well since then.”

Mr and Mrs Johnson’s friendship with the former Strictly Come Dancing contestant stretches back some 50 years and remains just as strong today.

“Every time Paul has been in Market Drayton to do a show, he’s always picked us out in the crowd and we’ve gone out for a meal with him afterwards,” Mr Johnson said. “We know him as Edward Newton Daniels. He’s phoned me a few times to ask for advice on how to do a particular trick.

“He’s a bit like me in that he’s more of a comedy magician who can do things impromptu such as tricks with his hands.”

Mr Johnson is looking forward to giving more attention to his wife, three sons, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, one of whom is showing signs of magical promise already.

“Our great-grandson, Ethan Welford, who is six and lives in Cleveland, won a gold star for doing a magic show at his school,” Mr Johnson said. “He even produced a rabbit out of a hat, but kids today are into all sorts of things before losing interest later.”

The Johnsons, who have lived in Market Drayton for 29 years, are both members of the Shropshire Magical Society. They are also honorary vice-presidents of the Middlesbrough Magic Circle.

Mr Johnson said: “There’s a satisfaction in fooling people and pulling the wool over their eyes, especially if you add a touch of comedy to it.

“The audience thinks you are cleverer than them and everybody likes to feel they are cleverer than the next person.”

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