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Geoff still has a few magic tricks up his sleeve

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

Nine of hearts. Keep it to yourself. It's the card I've silently chosen at random from a splayed pack held up in front of me by veteran Shropshire magician Geoff Rushworth.

Nine of hearts. Keep it to yourself. It's the card I've silently chosen at random from a splayed pack held up in front of me by veteran Shropshire magician Geoff Rushworth.

Seconds later he is showing me the pack. There is a card missing. And there's a card in his pocket.

You can guess which one that is.

And I'm left asking the cliched question: How on earth did he do that?

Not that there's any chance of him letting on, of course.

In his long career, 70-year-old Geoff has appeared around the world. He's been on television, in shows, at Hollywood, in clubs, and on cruise ships, and entertained the likes of Muhammad Ali, Priscilla Presley and Cary Grant.

"I was three years, 11 months and one week old when I saw a magician at an event at the Gay Meadow. My sister won the baby competition, which is how I remember the date.

"The magician performed from the back of a dray. He was very good. He was, I've found out since, Dan Leano, from Wrexham. He did three tricks – razor blades from the mouth, aerial fishing, where he produced goldfish over the crowd, and a dove vanishing in a little box.

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"It sowed the bug," he said.

The next key event was a motorcycle accident in 1954.

"I had dabbled a little bit before that, only minor stuff, but while I was in hospital my wife bought me a magic book, and I started from there."

He and his wife Molly started off by doing charity shows, using their stage names of "Geoff Ray and Pat". Molly's first name is Patricia, but where Ray came from is less sure, although she thinks it was her mother who suggested it. On cruise ships, they went as "Kordan and Patricia".

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As for Geoff's parents, they did not think a lot of magic.

"They were Plymouth Brethren. It was against their religion."

Geoff, from Shrewsbury, made a name for himself as a top manipulator and was the youngest member of the Inner Magic Circle with a Gold Star.

He would practise five hours a day to ensure his close-up magic, typically done with cards and coins, was faultless and spellbinding. At one stage he decided, as a novelty, to do his act on a unicycle. It took him two years, practising in the dark on a Shrewsbury footpath, to master the skill.

And he is a long-time pal of Paul Daniels.

"I knew Paul about 50 years ago in competitions before he was famous. When he performed at the Wheeltappers, that was the turning point in his life. I got him into a convention in Blackpool which said it was full and would not allow him in. I managed to persuade them to get him in. We've known each other ever since.

"We've (that is, the family's Rushworth furniture firm in Shrewsbury) made illusions for him. We made a lot of illusions for him in his last series."

Geoff designs the illusions, while his son Paul, who is also a magician, makes them.

One of the illusions they made, a 7ft French guillotine made out of solid oak, was used by Daniels for 14 months at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. But when Geoff went to watch the show, the two Pauls conspired together to play a prank on him.

"As they unveiled this guillotine a lump of metal fell off – the safety catch.

"For a few seconds I was completely fooled and thought they were going to chop a member of the audience's head off during the act. We had been put in the middle of the row so I couldn't get out."

As the act reached its climax, Geoff sat in the audience saying to his son: "Paul, Paul, do something!" before realising that he had been tricked.

Daniels is, says Geoff, a marvellous magician. "We've been on holidays in Spain with him several times."

Meanwhile there is also a new breed of talent coming through.

"There are a lot of very good Koreans coming up. They're incredible. It's like a new era of manipulative magic."

Magic isn't the only string to Geoff's bow, however. He's a fifth dan black belt at judo and won the Midland championship in 1960. If things had been different, Geoff may have even represented his country at the Olympics – he made the last six for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but was injured in a bout shortly beforehand.

He lectures in magic, and still keeps his hand in, performing at weddings and social events and, as his sister Josie had multiple sclerosis, does two shows a year for the MS Society.

Back to the tricks. He gives me a penny and tells me to hold it tight. When I open my hand it's become a silver half dollar.

Oh, if only I could do that.

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