When I was six, my grandparents bought me Ali Bongo’s Book of Magic. Here it is:
It’s the best magic book for children I’ve seen – hell, it compares well to many adult versions. Most magic books are dry, technical affairs – lists of instructions and often-cringeworthy patter – but Ali Bongo’s is a delight.
It starts off simply, with scientific ‘tricks’ requiring no skill, before moving onto close-up effects using household1 objects. Then there are simple tricks to impress friends at parties, and classic effects like the cups and balls. The setups get more elaborate as the book progresses, and I had great fun building trick boxes and cardboard scenes, while nagging my parents to buy me sponges, handkerchiefs, ribbons and pom-poms, as I appropriated half their kitchenalia.
All the magical secrets are said to come from ‘Pongolia’, a wonderfully-realised land somewhere between ‘the Middle and the Far East, surrounded by a range of magnetic mountains’, and stories of this far-off land litter the book. Similarly scattered are cartoon introductions to famous magicians:
(secrets blurred out, as Mr Bongo would have wanted) as well as guides to stagecraft, costume, patter, and generally putting a coherent act together:
That kid is totally me.
I performed everything in the book. If I knew any children interested in magic – and, now I come to think of it, I do – I’d buy this book for them without hesitation. I can’t think of a better introduction.
Ali Bongo was a stage magician in the 50s and 60s, but is more famous for his behind-the-scenes work. He was advisor to the Paul Daniels Magic Show in the 80s, and the David Nixon show before that. He designed countless effects: his tricks were always amongst the most quirky and elegant in the Davenports catalogue, and I’m sure I bought plenty. I haven’t been active in the magic world for nearly ten years, but Ali Bongo still turned up from time to time. He was the inspiration for Jonathan Creek, and last year became President of the Magic Circle.
Ali Bongo died a few weeks ago. I’d love to have met him. RIP Mr Bongo – you made a big difference to me.
- genuinely household too – other magic books have been known to push this definition somewhat [↩]