About

Our History

Key moments from the back story of The Magic Circle

In the beginning

Since 1905 when 23 amateur and professional magicians got together at Pinoli’s Restaurant in London’s Soho district and decided to form a society, The Magic Circle has been at the forefront of the magic community in the UK and worldwide.

The Green Man pub in SoHo, London

Entertainment

Magic was a massive part of theatrical entertainment back then and that very first meeting was chaired by Servais Le Roy, a star illusionist and its first president was David Devant, regarded by many as the greatest of all magicians.

The first official meeting was held at the Green Man pub in Soho, London but later the society met at St George’s Hall, where Devant and his partner John Nevil Maskelyne regularly performed to large audiences.

Incidentally Maskelyne was an inventor of many things including the first pay lavatory. His door lock required the insertion of a penny to open the door – hence the expression “to spend a penny”.

The Magic Circular

Maskelyne edited the first edition of The Magic Circular, the society’s magazine, and on its cover were the signs of the zodiac, which together with the Latin phrase “Indocilis Privat Loqui” (not apt to disclose secrets) were destined to become the iconic emblem of The Magic Circle.

The magazine has been published continuously to this day (and is now available online as well as in print) and links our 1,500 members worldwide. They also keep in touch via a private Facebook page.

The oath

The oath not to reveal secrets was to cost Devant his membership in 1910 when The Royal Magazine serialised his book Tricks for Everyone. He was reinstated later in the year. His partner Nevil Maskelyne had already replaced him as president, a post he was to hold for 18 years.

Devant was to be expelled again – or “asked to resign” – in 1936, by which time he was in the Royal Home for Incurables in Putney. The Magic Circle, perhaps influenced by Devant’s famous moniker “All Done with Kindness” looked kindly on the founder and he was readmitted a year later and made an Honorary Life Member.

The society met in a variety of venues in London over the years and they held lavish dinners in top hotels where magic was always the entertainment.

Our members

Over the years top magicians and personalities have been members, some professional, others not. TV personality Stephen Fry, former racing driver Nigel Mansell along with QCs, captains of industry as well as policemen, teachers and journalists are members now.

Our most well known member is Prince Charles. In 1975 he joined after performing a cups and balls trick. Perhaps the result was a forgone conclusion. His certificate was already signed and was presented to him on the night.

And let’s not forget Sooty, our only non-human member. He lives in our museum.

Moving with the times

In the 1980s a campaign to admit women gathered pace. Some had joined pretending to be men before their ‘subterfuge’ was discovered, but in 1991 the campaign was successful but not without stout resistance from die-hard traditionalists. Now there are over 80 female members including Fay Presto, Katherine Mills, Laura London and Megan Knowles-Bacon who became our first female secretary and is now the vice-president.

Over the years the discussions about secrecy have continued and various members have been expelled for exposure, notably John Lenahan, the comic magician who is now back in the fold and others who were involved in The Secrets of Magic, a TV show which explained the mechanics of tricks.

The Magic Circle Headquarters

The wish for a permanent home for The Magic Circle occupied much of the time for the Council, the society’s governing body. Eventually, with the hard work and generosity of members and with cash from the National Lottery, the headquarters in Stephenson Way, near Euston Station was purchased, completely refurbished and officially opened in 1998. Its official title is The Centre for the Magic Arts and it is a fascinating building.

Membership of The Magic Circle continues to grow and magic continues to play a part in entertaining the UK and the world. The Magic Circle would like to think it has played a part in this. There’s no need to keep that a secret.

 

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