It’s universally accepted that Ken was probably the best magical demonstrator not only of his time but possibly of all time. His quirky and infectious humour coupled with his expertise made him a ‘draw’ in any situation. He operated his own dealership in Bradford until he joined Harry Stanley’s Unique Magic studio in London. Latterly he started ‘Ken Brooke’s Magic Place’ in London’s Wardour Street, and for over a decade brought his taste and style to some of the very best magic available.
Biography by Ken’s Family
Kenneth Brooke was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England, on 3rd November 1920 and died in London on 26th February 1983 aged 62. Ken had an older sister and a younger brother, Dennis. His father Charles was in the grocery trade. His mother, Annie, died when Ken was 10 years of age.
Initially inspired by his Uncle Walter, Ken was fascinated by and learned from a magic set when he was 7 years old, which was when he gave his first performance. He took magic lessons with Walter Jeans, other early influences included Albert Verity, Jack Ledair, Dr. H. Park Shackelton, Trevor Hall and Roland Winder. Ken left school at age 14 to work in the tailoring trade and later met Margaret Joy “Madge”, they married in 1942. During World War II, Ken served in the Royal Air Force in North Africa, the Western Desert and Italy. He was placed in charge of an entertainment unit and regularly entertained the troops. He was twice mentioned in dispatches.
In 1947, Ken worked in Alan Milan’s theatrical costume shop in Bradford where he introduced a ‘magic’ section. A year later, Ken acquired the shop from Alan with the backing of Paul Veroni, and it became the Veroni House of Magic. In 1951 Ken launched his own business in Thornton Road , Bradford, unfortunately the business failed and Ken lost everything in the ensuing bankruptcy. Ken then worked in London as the manager-demonstrator for Harry Stanley who engaged him to manage the Unique Magic Studio in Soho, London. Ken travelled frequently between his home in Leeds and London, supplementing his income by working the cabaret circuit. Brooke performed his first show to the London Concert Artists Association in summer 1962 to a professional audience including Billy McComb, John Brierly, Frank Farrow and Alan Shaxon. For a time, Ken looked for a more stable income and opened a shop with one of his sisters-in-law in Leeds, refurbishing to a high standard and selling pre-owned baby equipment such as prams and cots, etc. Subsequently, however, he returned to his first passion and continued at the Unique Magic Studio until 1965. In 1966, he seized the opportunity to open his own premises, Ken Brooke’s Magic Place at 145 Wardour Street, Soho, with Frank Farrow, his business partner. At the time he was the only magic dealer in the world who offered a money-back guarantee on everything he sold. Many star magicians, including Fred Kaps, Finn Jon, Gaetan Bloom, Johnny Thompson, Scotty York, Wayne Dobson, Ali Bongo and Terri Rogers all gave Brooke exclusive marketing rights to their effects, routines and ideas. Ken was generally acknowledged as probably the greatest demonstrator of magic tricks ever, and his extremely detailed magic trick ‘instruction sheets’ set a new benchmark in providing key information on the technique, handling and performance of the effects he sold.
Ken received a number of awards over the years, in 1960 he received a Performing Fellowship Award from the Academy of Magical Arts, in Los Angeles, California, and a year later he received a Diplome d’Honneur from the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques (FISM). 1n 1980, a Fiesta of Magic was held in his honour at the Blackpool Magic Convention, for services to magic. In 1981, he was awarded a Special Fellowship Award from the Academy of Magical Arts.
In 1982, Ken suffered a serious stroke and sadly gave up the Magic Place the following year. Ken died on 26 February 1983 and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium in London. A memorial service was held for him at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. Readings were given by Paul Daniels and John Fisher. The service was conducted by Roger Crosthwaite.
Ken Brooke was a very accomplished performer and greatly enjoyed his role as an entertainer with the priceless gift of generating laughter, the Studio was always full of laughter not least when he was “clowning” about. Ken also had a profound influence on some the greatest performers in the UK magic scene, including David Nixon, Tommy Cooper, Paul Daniels, David Berglas, Geoffrey Durham and Wayne Dobson.
Ken has 2 children, Michael and Drew, and 2 grandchildren, Zoe and Xavier. Behind the scenes, the family helped Ken to make up tricks and routines and Michael did many of the line illustrations. Neither of the boys continued in the magic business, Michael became an Educational Psychologist though his first degree was in the Fine Art, and Drew had a long career as a professional musician. Zoe currently works as a research scientist and Xavier is a Clinical psychologist.
IN CONVERSATION WITH KEN BROOKE PART 1
Pat’s intro – I’ll show you one – card trick – (great patter) Ace.2.3 _ gags – dems sales pitch – Pat – first became interested – Uncle Walter Bicycle shop – he bought a fish and chip shop – Sunday visits to relatives – showed Ken a vanishing penny (coin fold) – two little dickie birds – ruination – first magic set – the Co-op Guild – occasional parties – performed – 50 years ago – cardboard card box – set fire to it – first conjuror – Father’s grocery assistant Dennis Guest – did conjuring – went to Ken’s house – cards through the door – card manipulator of sorts – dems Nudist deck – Alf brown first magician – milkman – children’s entertainer – Dove Pan – 90 now – first magic shop visit – Sunday’s Salem Institute (Salem Brotherhood) – used to go to Walter Jean’s shop – he had a Waxworks and Penny Arcade – had a showcase outside – magic tricks – ball vase, etc – fascinated Ken – shop closed on Sunday’s – first trick from Jeans – a Barrell Jack in the Box – took lessons from Jeans- became great friends – I was in the tailoring trade – Town Tailors – Weaver to Wearer – 30 shilling suit – paring bottoms – paid 1 shilling and pence a dozen – waving sleeves – left school at 14 – street market – Joe Squinters – Leeds Market – Our Magic – A lesson in Magic – Tommy Bowman – Arthur Gaunt – used to watch Joe – bought first set of Linking Rings from Joe – Davenports – one Saturday raining – used to practise in living room in Cross Gates – Joe at the door – Prediction – paid 10 shillings – Swami Gimmick – never got it from Joe – first paid job as a magician – performing at Iris Greenwoods Wedding for 7shillings and 6 pence plus tea – Odin ring count – Walter Jeans – clubs – Glass Through the Hat -.got paid Fridays sent money to George Davenport – didn’t work Tuesday mornings – the trick would arrive from Davenports – piston principle – took to Jeans – performed this effect at wedding – used Guinness – covered Iris Greenwood in Guinness – Egg Bag dem – they’ll pinch my gags – watch – observe – above your head – give me the egg – local theatre visits – best times of our lives – Empire first house – City Varieties second house – go home and practise his tricks – magic sets – card glass penetration – Rice Bowls – 15 years of age – Jack Ledair – great friends – Dante – Leeds Empire – sensation – enthralled – The Barber Shop routine – great thrill – Jack Ledair – Jack and Mary Kinson – C. Ivor Smith Mysteries – card in cigarette – seat A9 Leeds Empire second house every Tuesday – performed at Jack’s Golden Wedding – Sucker Silk and Frame Up – studied Jack Chanin – mastered sleeving – Sucker Silk Al Koran – Billy McComb – met Al latterly – when he went on the halls – What’s My Line TV show – been published in Abra – Kilner Jar – magnet – sensation – didn’t do well – Leo Lyons – Chiswick Empire – set to work to give him a walk off – taught Al the Rings – 3 Ring Routine – Al thought modern – was a great magician – become a dealer to make a million? – admire Davenports – knew Gus – how he became a dealer – two tailors in Leeds – Alan Milan – managed his shop.
IN CONVERSATION WITH KEN BROOKE PART 2
Leaving Alan Milan Ken became self employed – on my own – Thornton Road – 109 Thornton Road , Bradford, Dr. Park Shackleton – Roland Winder Trevor Hall – the All Yorkshire Magic Club – many visiting magicians – happy times – had to be called – in Bradford – Albert Verity helped – people who counted – sold him 3 card trick – Albert Verity – made with metal – with a shell – early trick – lasted a brief time – I lost everything – came to London – Ramilies Arcade – the Dutch Looper – the pins – cards to pocket – worked for Harry – then a break – still respect him greatly – we fought like the clappers – but he did a great deal for British magic – Harry Clarke – Vernon book – Slydini – Routined Manipulation – reason I went back to Yorkshire – Brewer Street to Frith Street – bomb – had to move again – I was getting busy as a performer – Agent – was in shop 7.30 – 12 months later – discovered Harry told me he was your manager – Harry’s possible loss was the reason – Ken was wanted for the Ed Sullivan Show – Harry wouldn’t let me – it’s over and forgotten – I made thousands of Pop Eyed Pips for years – 6 shillings a card – Harry found me a flat in Hounslow – no grudge – good luck to him – opening The Ken Brooke Magic Place – Frank Farrow used to buy tricks from me – I taught him tricks – always took me out for a pie and beer and a packet of cigarettes – 20 Players – Tuesday evening he asked how much would it cost – I said two thousand pounds – he took out a cheque book and wrote the cheque – in Soho – it was the American and Scandinavian keeps magic afloat – flash paper – had worked for Sidney Lipton – Henry Hall – agents – Joe Collins – at The Embassy Club – felt secure but need an anchor – the reason why the shop – safety pin through hanky – Bert Brooks – met John Calvert – pressure points – got on well – wanted me to go with him – The Alhambra Theatre – Ken in America – always resisted – unhappy first time out – I’d been wary – did magicians magic – didn’t want to be a flop – fear – I can’t do the act I once did – no longer afraid to fly – maybe write a book – chief fear – not able to sit and show anything – the things I do I know they’re good for people – wouldn’t want to let anyone down – gag – not a 30 piece orchestra – pay off – Ken in North Africa – Louis Lamb books – Egg Bag – Western dessert – Cairo – Italy – in charge of Entertainments – auditions – Bob Harbin – unknown Tommy Cooper – Jack Gwynne – Andy Dalziel – expert – the classic fan force – the top change – Billy O’Connor – forced as Walter Jeans taught – Lionel King – the misdirection is so strong – Ricky Jay top change on Parkinson – handling spectator for cover – magicians don’t know I’ve forced them – best description is in The Royal Road to Card magic in another section of the book – I prefer a comedy force – stop force – entertainment – important let everybody enjoy the selection – useful tools – experience – old fashioned methods – audiences today would stand for what Billy O’Connor would do – couldn’t recommend spending time learning too many card sleights – major money from leading Agents – in cabaret – new approach – Channing Pollock – Johnny Hart – learn to be an entertainer – magic is only a part of show business – find a visible stand up act to do anywhere – strike in a couple of minutes – conventions – some magic is disgraceful – improvement – chop them down a bit – wish clubs would pay the real pro’s to answer questions – stealing – no reply – menace – blue material – always upset somebody – not for me – Paul Daniels greatest – he’s got a modern approach – advice make them laugh – Chop Cup – Paul listened – Fred Kaps and Jack Ledair – Ken reminisces – Fred helps – the greatest all rounder – knew Jack in the early days – said there the sayers and there the doers – selling specific tricks– I sell with sincerity.
KEN BROOKE CEREMONY – 26.11.1976
A ceremony that celebrated 10 years in business of Ken Brooke’s Magic Place.
Ken Brooke and Frank Farrow. Ricky Jay. John Fisher. Chase the Ace. Brainwave Deck. Frank gift of Whiskey. Ken £150 record token gift. Paul Stone. Numerous friends in attendance.
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