I really cannot believe what happened today, but as every day those around me and those I meet socially all ponder upon why there's nothing much worth watching on TV, perhaps it is more surprising that I am surprised.
The email message, at first glance, seemed to be a proposition to do a magic show. Actually a bit more than a magic show. It was from a woman and contained all the usual blurb that they must teach in media studies about how this programme was going to be the most wonderful, fabulous, 'treat magic as an art', which I have always thought it was, ever ever made. Believe me I have really cut down on the superlatives.
The programme, to be made by an independent production company, is to be called The Story of Magic and would tell the tale of Western Magic since Victorian times to the present day. From the wording of the letter it was obvious that the person doing the research/story telling did not know anything about magic at all. Good beginning, not.
More than that she wanted me on the phone to help her with this project. OK. It's a job. Magic is my job. I forwarded the message to my manager, pointing out that I was surprised that if such a programme was being commissioned that we weren't making it, or at the very least called in early as consultants. That isn't a conceit. I have spent a lifetime in the study of all aspects of this fabulous art and enjoyed quite a bit of success in the direction and performance of a vast range of magical genres.
I also asked him to ask if the woman knew of a book called Paul Daniels and the Story of Magic. It turned out she did and it was on her desk. OK, he said, let's talk money.
To his boggled astonishment she said there wasn't any.
Forgive me if I get a little angry here. How the hell do these people think we make a living? We get paid for our knowledge of magic, of our performances of magic, we are the specialists. Another man that I recommended, it turned out, had already been approached and said 'no' because they were not going to pay him! Like me he has spent a lifetime in the study of magic and in my opinion is the magical historian of the world. He said no. Good decision Professor Eddie Dawes, good decision.
It is no good the BBC saying they haven't any money. The license fee is now bringing them in more money than ever before. I don't argue against the license fee; I love TV without advertisements stopping the flow of the programmes. Sometimes in the studios I would ask the audiences in the recording gaps about the license fee and they all moaned. Then I asked them if they would pay 50p each to see me do a show in the West End of London. They all said a resounding 'Yes'.
That was when I pointed out that if that was the case, my pay for the last show should have been £8,000,000 because I had 16,000,000 viewers. From the gasp you could tell they had never worked out just how cheap they were getting their national independent television AND radio. Thanks to millions of us all paying our way, Auntie does have the money to make great programmes, and if they haven't, they must be wasting a helluva lot on daft decisions like moving north and selling the Centre.
So, if this programme is going to be made, if this writer/researcher is going to be paid, if the cameramen/soundmen/production crew and all and sundry are going to get paid, why aren't the people who are REALLY making the programme come to life being paid? So if this programme goes out folks, and I am sure it will, instead of being the great story it could be, don't be surprised if it isn't nothing more than a filler with inserts from 'magicians' no one has heard of but think that being on TV will lift their status.
It's unbelievable, but more than that, it is so sad.