The History of the British Magical Society
In 1905, with King Edward Vll on the throne and the Boer war only three years in the past, a Mr. F.E. Walker invited a few magically-minded friends to his home in Birmingham and The British Magical Society was born. The Society is considered to be the oldest of its kind in the world.
From the very beginning the Society was associated with famous names; David Devant was the first President and held the Office for three years. His equally famous partner, J.N. Maskelyne, designed the Society Badge and Emblem and gave considerable help in forming the Rules.
For fifty years "Freddie" Walker held the position of Secretary, nursing the Society through two World wars. Ernest Noakes, the second President, became a prominent member of the Magic Circle which was formed a month after the inauguration of The British Magical Society and there has been a strong bond of friendship between the two Societies over the years, with many members common to both Societies.
Other members have included Gus Fowler, The "Watch King", Clive Maskelyne, Burtini, Milton Woodward of "Wonder Bar" fame and many others, all well known performers throughout the country, whilst an illustrious list of Vice-Presidents included Carl Hertz, remembered for his Vanishing Cage and Canary, and the internationally-known Servais Le Roy, David Nixon and Robert Harbin.
A number of temporary headquarters were used in the beginning, but for the most part of 50 years the members met at the Imperial Hotel where lectures, monthly shows and the Annual Dinner became the regular routine. The Annual Dinner, which at the present time attracts over 200 people, has frequently been graced by the presence of the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and other celebrities, and many famous artistes from all over the world have performed at these functions. This is now held in March at Jarvis Penns Hall Hotel, Sutton Coldfield.
The present headquarters are situated at The Selly Oak Ex-Servicemen's Club, Selly Hill Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham. The programme consists of talks and demonstrations by performers who are experts in their specialised subjects plus shows, sales and practical evenings.
Over the years the Society has given many shows and raised money for charities. Four beds were endowed in the Woodlands Hospital, and the B.M.S plaques are still over the beds to this day despite nationalization. The cost of each bed was the equivalent of buying a medium sized house.
On the occasion of the Society's Golden and Diamond Jubilees, four-day Conventions were held in Birmingham and these attracted hundreds of magicians from all over the British Isles besides artistes who travelled from the Continent and America to appear on the many shows that were part of the celebrations.
Throughout the years the B.M.S has built up a magnificent Library of nearly 2000 books on Magic and the Allied Arts which are available on loan to members. The B.M.S. News is published bimonthly has always been devoted to recording reports on shows, lecturers, coming events and other subjects of lively interest. This is issued free to members. Whilst mentioning the printed word, one cannot omit the stupendous effort by the late Goodliffe, three times President, who created and edited the World's only International weekly magic magazine known as 'Abracadabra' for over 35 years. It was edited by Donald Bevan who was President in 1999/2000. Donald Bevan retired as Editor of 'Abracadabra' in December 2006 after 27 years in the 'Chair' and 41 years producing the magazine. The magazine ceased publication in March 2009
In the performing field the B.M.S has always been to the fore. On four occasions Members have won the International Brotherhood of Magicians Shield which is recognised as the premier competition award in the country, as well as many other awards for manipulative magic and originality. Past Presidents Donald Crombie, Ted Whebell and Tony Shelley as well as members Geoffrey Robinson, Mike Gancia and Milton Woodward, have all been honoured by being elected to the Presidency of the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
In 1989/90 the Society was very privileged when Tony Shelley was granted the ultimate honour of being made International President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Edward Maurice, author of the book, "Showmanship and Presentation", presented a trophy to the Society, as did Charles Duval, an extremely clever sleight-of-hand performer. Both of these trophies are competed for annually but are only awarded if the performance reaches the standard of excellence required. A further Trophy for Close-up Magic competed for annually was presented to the society by Ray Bradbury in 1978.
In 1994 we re-started our Junior section, where young people from ten years of age upwards, with a genuine interest in magic, meet regularly and are guided by our own performers.
B.M.S members are known everywhere and many professionals have graduated from its ranks to appear on films, theatre, television and top cabaret and clubs throughout the country. Whilst television has been responsible for the closure of many cinemas and theatres, the Society has not suffered but has gone from strength to strength, its members adapting themselves readily to these changing demands of the times.
Other of the Society's functions of recent years have been the "At Homes" where parties of 50 - 60 are entertained at the Headquarters, and the 50/50 shows where the B.M.S. co-operates with other organizations in need of funds at outside venues on a 50/50 monetary basis. The star-studded shows that are presented have made both these functions very popular.
The Society was greatly honoured when Paul Daniels, Ken Dodd and Wayne Dobson accepted the position of Honorary Vice-Presidents and their election was indicative of the close ties that exist between professional and semi-professional performers. Also in the list of distinguished Honorary Vice-Presidents, we were delighted and honoured to welcome David Berglas, a Past President of the Magic Circle.
Since its inception, the Society (for 85 years) had only admitted male members, but in 1990 the rules were changed to open its doors to lady members.
The B.M.S. is ALIVE! It has played its part in the past; enthusiastic members are constructively moulding its shape in the present, and what's more, The British Magical Society has a great future.