In 1905 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 generally considered to be the oldest of its kind in the world. For fifty years ‘Freddie’ Walker held the position of Secretary, steering the Society through two world wars.
From the very beginning the Society was associated with famous magical names: David Devant was the first President and held the office for three years. His equally famous partner, John Nevil Maskelyne, designed the Society Emblem and gave considerable help in forming the Rules.
Ernest Noakes, the second President, became a prominent member of The Magic Circle which was formed six months 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.
Over the years, prominent members have included Gus Fowler the ‘Watch King’, Clive Maskelyne, Burtini, Milton Woodward of ‘Wonder Bar’ fame and many other well-known performers. An illustrious list of Honorary Vice-Presidents, past and present, includes Carl Hertz, remembered for his Vanishing Cage and Canary, the internationally-known Servais Le Roy, along with stars of television: David Nixon, Robert Harbin, Paul Daniels, Ken Dodd, Wayne Dobson and Past President of The Magic Circle David Berglas. Plus TV guru John Fisher, Geoffrey Buckingham, Leslie Levante, Peter Warlock, John Ramsay, Roy Johnson, Derek Lever. Indicative of the close ties that exist between professional and semi-professional performers.
JOHN NEVIL MASKELYNE
1839 – 1917
For the first eighty-five years the Society (along with most magic clubs) only admitted male members. In 1990 the rules were changed to open its doors to lady magicians. Since then there have been a number of active lady members and two female Presidents.
The programme of meetings consists of talks and demonstrations by performers who are experts in their specialised subjects. Plus shows, competitions, quiz nights and practical work-shop evenings. A number of temporary headquarters were used in the beginning, but for over 50 years a permanent home was found at the Imperial Hotel, Temple Street, in the centre of Birmingham. The Society then moved to The Friends Meeting House (The Quaker Society) in Bull Street, and eventually to the Birmingham and Midland Institute where it remained for many years.
This is where the magnificent Library of nearly 2000 books, DVDs and videos on Magic and Allied Arts was housed, many of which are still available on loan to members. The BMS publishes a bi-monthly Newsletter that reports on shows, lecturers, upcoming events and other subjects of interest and is distributed to all members by post or e-mail.
Whilst mentioning the printed word, one cannot omit the stupendous efforts by the late Goodliffe, three times President (1951-52, 1968-69, 1979-80), who created the world’s only international weekly magic magazine ‘Abracadabra’. It was edited for 20 years by Fabian (E. Ray Griffiths) who was President in 1947/48, then by Donald Bevan, President 1999/2000, for 41 years until retirement in December 2006. The magazine ceased publication in March 2009.