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CULTURE: Finding the bottle to pull off the legendary Cooper trick; Geoffrey Durham helps Sid Langley crack the magic nut.

Byline: Geoffrey Durham

Conjurer Geoffrey Durham soon works his magic on me. He's the chap you've probably seen on Countdown, usually at the end, where he does a few tricks right under the lens of the camera. He's a fine conjurer - but he's a better talker. Spellbinding, to be honest.

He used to be The Great Soprendo, a supposedly Spanish magician, who enjoyed pretty serious success with his comedy conjuring routines. On the side, Geoffrey was becoming obsessed - 'that's not too strong a description', he says - with the history and inner lore of magic and tricks.

He's a member of the Inner Magic Circle, and has won their equivalent of an Oscar, and these days when he's not out onthe road with his one-man show he does lots and lots of consultancy work - he shows directors how to make effects work, coaches actors who are playing magicians and works with corporate entertainment companies who want to make spectacular effects for special presentations.

So, naturally, when someone was needed to show Jerome Flynn how to do Tommy Cooper's tricks in the biographical show Jus' Like That, only one name came out of the hat - Durham, Geoffrey, conjuring coach extraordinaire.

But he had a problem. 'So much of the stuff Tommy used simply isn't available any more,' he said. 'He had flowers made of feathers and those famous bottles, the table with the legs that fall off, all the stuff that people remember him using on television just isn't around any more,' he said.

'Of course, his live act was very different, but people goingto the show will remember him from the TV tricks, so that's what we had to do.'

Geoffrey got round it by exploiting his connections. He had some of the equipment remade and contacted retired conjurers to get the bottle trick, for instance.

'Actually, Jerome has worked with the tricks so long now thathe's better at them than me,' says Geoffrey, prompting my next and the blindingly obvious question with Tommy Cooper.

Was he a brilliant conjurer masquerading as a fool or was he really as bad as he seems?

The reply comes without a moment's hesitation: 'He was a genius. A comic genius. He was also what we call a magic nut. Heloved tricks and the mechanics of conjuring, but he never really understood how they worked.

'His perception was that of the audience. He didn't have the performer's grasp of how to do it, he really didn't. So what he did, with this gift he had of making people laugh, was turn his shortcoming to great advantage.'

Cooper, says Geoffrey, would have been a star whatever he did.

'He was one of what I call the demob generation, people who came out of the forces after the Seond World War having spent some time in ENSA (the military-run companies of inuniform performers who entertained the troops).

'There were lots of them who went on to become household names - people like Norman Vaughan, Harry Worth, Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan. They all did stints in variety theatres struggling to fill six-minute slots with gags from one particularimported American joke book - written by a conjurer to go with his act, as it happens.

'Most of them had no idea what to do. Tommy loved conjuring tricks, so his route was obvious. But he was a genius, no doubt about it.'

He reminds me of the legendary television joke where Cooper talks of finding a Rembrandt and a Stradivarius in his attic, holding up a violin that looks like scrap wood and pointing at a dreadful painting.

'Trouble is, Rembrandt couldn't make violins and Stradivarius was a terrible painter.'

We share hoots of laughter, rather mixed with a certain sadness because Cooper is no longer with us.

'But see the show,' Geoffrey urges me. 'Jerome's got the tricks off brilliantly. In the famous routine with the hats I think he's even funnier than Tommy.'

Now that I have to see
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 28, 2005
Previous Article:CULTURE: Genius of the unpredictable clown; The genius of Tommy Cooper is a recent discovery for actor-director Simon Callow Terry Grimley discovers.
Next Article:CULTURE: CULTURE VULTURE: Poxing clever for a half term treat; It's a dirty job, so Sid Langley has to do it - visit Warwick Castle, that is.

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