Thursday, 8 April 2010

5th April 2010

Part of Ali Bey's Act- Okito Boxes.

Today I am at Nanny’s house in Hunstanton. We started work on my research, and did an hour long interview (video recorded-will post when i overcome technology)) starting about the way the act worked, and moving on through what it was like to tour and travel and different stories about life in the theatre.

Speaking to Nanny I realise that her part in the act was as she says more of an ‘endurance’ than choice. At only 17, her dad (David Lemmy) had just expected that she would play a part in the act, so she toured day in day out for over five years.

I spoke to Nanny afterwards and she said that the time in the theatre was just part of her life, something that had happened. I think that the lonliness she experienced played a great part in how she views the time. Nanny takes quite an objective view, saying she learnt lots, met interesting people; but going from expecting to be a nurse to relentlessly touring the country – staying with your father, separate from the other young girls, separate from your friends back home and as a result losing those friends, was very hard. The repeated thing Nanny kept saying was that it was a job- if you think contextually, this was post-war, times were pretty tight. She explained that she met my granddad whilst working as a secretary in the Great Northern Hotel in Peterborough, she was working whilst at home between tours because of the need for money. Even their top-of-the-bill theatre act didn’t pay enough to leave much money spare.

It’s strange to think that behind the supposed glamour of a magician’s act, there was the difficulty of a young girl travelling alone with her father, her mother at home for the need of work, and all the implications that had on having a ‘normal’ life. Nanny said it was probably a naturally assumed path, as during the war she was in a dance group and performed with them, so the theatre was a natural progression, but I don’t think she ever thought she’d be making a living from it. It’s rare in the theatrical world to get such a quick progression form amateur to professional performance. I think this most certainly reflects the vary hard work, imagination, ingenuity and skill put into this act.

To think that David Lemmy totally designed and crafted his entire act and all the equipment is incredible. Nanny says one of his friends was a skilled painted and so painted all the cabinets and boxes etc.
I think it’s interesting to know that this determination to make everything yourself came from when, as a young boy, after first becoming interested in magic David saved up his pocket money for months to buy some magical equipment from a well known suppliers. When it arrived however, the equipment was all shoddy, so he vowed to make his own from then on.
(for full story on starting interest in magic see article- Magic Monthly 1947)

“The First World War was at it’s height, and great efforts were being made to produce funds for forces’ comforts and the like. Tom Lemmy’s oldest boy had been out in France for three years, his daughter’s were supervising labour in munitions factories, and only twelve year old David was left at home. A concert to raise funds was held at the local Co-operative Hall, and to this function Tom took his young son.
The youngster was highly delighted to find that there was a conjuror on the bill, and when the time arrived for an assistant from the audience to ascend the platform, he was excited to see his father hurriedly make his way forward. His excitement turned to embarrassment when he saw a glass of beer being produced from the centre of his strictly teetotal father’s head. This left its mark on the boy’s mind, and when they had returned home, he submitted his father to a close inquisition on whether he had secretly been engaged in liquor traffic.

His father had a sudden inspiration. “If you would really like to know how it was done,” he said, “there is a book in the book-case that will explain it all, and if you are really interested, you may have it to keep.” The book was Hoffman’s ‘Modern Magic’, still highly thought-of among conjurors. It had been purchased for 3d. from a second-hand bookstall 31 years before. David found it out and read it avidly, and thus were the seeds planted which were to grow into a magical career. Twenty-either years were to pass before they came to fruition, and before the David Lemmy of those days was to become the Ali Bey we know today.

The events of those twenty-eight years could (and one day probably will) fill a book. For the present, space will only allow a brief outline of his interesting career. Until he left school at the age of fourteen, David had to content himself constructing his apparatus out of cardboard and paste; his 1 ½ d. a week pocket money would not run to any more. Even a decent pack of cards was out of the question. He started work as an engineer’s pattern maker, and his weekly income rose to the princely sum of three shillings. At last he felt that he could have many of the wonderful articles advertised in the various magical cataloques, and accordingly he sent off, after months of steady saving, a sizeable order to one of the large London houses which in those days offered to provide would-be magicians with apparatus. Alas! Months wasted. Money wasted. The apparatus sent by the supply house (which has since gone out of existence) was shoddy and useless."

Mini questions with Nanny as I was typing:

How did your parents meet?
They met through the Baptist Chapel in Peterborough. They were both members of the band of hope. There was nothing else to do in those days, no television, you made your own interest. And that’s of course when he started all the magic, going out doing all these concerts. As you know it was Jack Bancroft who owned the embassy theatre in Peterborough, he said “you are a fool Dave, you ought to do this professionally”; so he took a year out then, and created the act. Bancroft said if you put the act together and it’s any good I’ll give you your first weeks work. Which he did.

Not only did Jack help him along there, but granddad had to put all the act together, and we had all our rehearsals- we used to rehearse in a church hall, and then Jack let him use the theatre one Saturday to finalise everything.

Were all the main componenets of the act there from the start?
It was devised and put together, and became like a play, if you like.

3.31pm 4th april 2010.

“I know he was very excited when he became an honorary member of the Magic Circle with gold star. That wasn’t awarded very often.”

Recording the interview with Nanny reminded me of Hans Speigelman’s book ‘Maus’, which describes a Jewish family's experiences of the holocaust through the son interviewing his dad. It is presented as a graphic novel, with all Jews as mice, so the mice son and daughter in law, the son visits his mouse dad and interviews him about living through the holocaust, and then within the medium of the graphic novel this expands to visually show the reader the stories.

This made me consider the possibilities of making some sort of book about my Nanny and Great Grandad’s time in the theatre, but then with only six weeks to complete this project, I think I can’t do the source material justice with so little time.

I think this project won’t stop here though- I would like to continue and record all of these memories in an interesting way- either animating the interviews I am doing with my Nanny, or making a graphic novel, I’m not sure. I’d like to combine recording my Nanny as I know her now with her remembering her past- so I can draw the lady I have known my whole life and also the young girl in a magic act. I think either outcome would work well as they are quite flexible.

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