Legendary magician Paul Daniels, who sadly died of a brain tumour yesterday at the age of 77, performed thousands of magic tricks during his incredible TV career, but the illusion that shocked the nation was one that looked like it had gone horribly, gruesomely wrong.
Daniels made a live Halloween special of his show for the BBC in 1987 in distinctly gothic surroundings, the grand finale being his version of the famous Iron Maiden escape, inspired by Harry Houdini – in short attempting to escape from a metal box before he is skewered with metal spikes.
Teeing up the tension, and jettisoning his usual quips, he explained to the audience: “Now this is very dangerous. If anyone at home is of a nervous disposition, I have to warn you, this can go wrong. That is not a joke.”
Prior to climbing into the box he even asked – somewhat ominously – that his assistant (and wife) Debbie McGee ‘leave the room completely’.
Continuing to explain that the trick is being performed live, he stresses that BBC staff have been trained to deal with the situation should it go wrong.
Once secured and the attempted escape has commenced, the door dramatically slams shut before the timer has had a chance to run out… seemingly with the magician still inside. There even appears to be movement from behind the screen in front of Daniels seconds before the door slams.
The audience seems genuinely confused, as do the other assistants, who start looking at each other in panic, before a BBC announcer is heard to say 'Ladies and gentlemen, please leave the room in an orderly fashion’ as the credits roll in silence.
It was reported that over a thousand viewers called into the BBC immediately after the trick to find out whether or not Daniels had been killed, and Daniels himself had told only a tiny number of the production staff what was going to happen.
In 2014, he tweeted that he had indeed created the trick with the intention of shocking the nation.
It’s also said that broadcaster and 'Weakest Link’ host Anne Robinson was among the audience that night, and never spoke to Daniels again.
In Daniels, the world of magic has indeed lost one of its most consummate showmen.