Long before Freddie Mercury and his perfect voice began singing about ‘A Kind of Magic’, performers from the Jubilee were dabbling in the art of illusion and wizardry. They collected magic tricks of one sort or another. In the archive we found a leaflet from Ken Brookes Magic Place in Wardour Street London (a short walk from the inspiration for Diagon Alley), who kindly offered a money-back guarantee on everything he sold. The tricks often included his own personal instruction sheets and notes, so you could learn the patter and how to best present the trick. Back in 1978, for a mere £1.60 in Wardour Street you could get ‘Bob Read’s Transpo Tumbler’ – a trick for which you only needed a glass, paper and a hat. Bob Read was a popular performer who had turned to magic later on in his life, after a career in the wool industry. With this particular trick, you covered a glass with a piece of newspaper. Then you scrunched up smaller pieces of the paper to flick at the audience, to raise a laugh or perhaps to provide a little distraction. The final piece of paper was put into the glass, and the glass then inverted. A hat was placed brim down on the other side of the table. The magician tells the audience that the piece of paper will go from the glass to the hat. Various attempts to do this are made without success. Eventually, the paper-covered glass is smashed and the glass is then revealed under the hat. Cue more laughter. It’s the kind of knockabout humourous routine Tommy Cooper used to great effect.
The award winning playwright and Birmingham University alumni Terry Johnson, in those younger days, introduced Jubilee to the weird and wacky world of stage magic. Working with them on a pub show he taught them to do magic tricks. The ability to suspend belief, whether with theatrical flourish or thaumaturgy was a key ingredient of the work of the early Jubilee Theatre. One proponent was Davie Purvis, who often wore a top hat (essential for magic), and could shift between ringleader and slapstick, from clowning to master of ceremonies in twinkle of stardust.
His surname was of early medieval origin, mostly found in the northern counties of England and in Scotland. It was ‘the occupational name for the appointed official who was responsible for obtaining the supplies needed for a monastery or manor house’ – in short, a purveyor. Indeed, his name matched his talent, as a purveyor of humour, theatrical largesse, comical and magical services.
Although there is Facebook group called ‘I am a Purvis’, sadly we have been unable to track down this gentleman. Somehow, in this super-connected world, he has magicked himself away entirely. There was a Davie Purvis living in Shelby, Texas in 1910, aged 15, but it’s unlikely to be him – unless he really did have a special kind of magic. (Indeed there were many of the Purvis clan to be found as migrants to the States.) He has disappeared from view, though still well remembered in the Black Country.
Here in this rare photograph of him hatless, he is communing with a Christmas object. This was a 1978 seasonal show where he and Steve Trow played two tramps in search of a good Christmas party to go to, where hopefully there would be plenty of festive cheer and mince pies, jokes and mayhem.