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Dave V
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On 2007-03-02 14:02, R P Wilson wrote:
I spent several years pitching Svengalis and the guy I worked for (I think his name was Derek White)

Derek Ward perhaps?
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I was thinking the same thing, Derek Ward rather than White.
R P Wilson
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Derek Ward... maybe.

He was short but looked a bit like the (tall) actor who played the inventor of supercomputer Joshua in the movie WarGames. He had stubby fingers, longish hair and always seemed to be smoking, as I remember.

This was around 1986-88.

Derek was operating a pitch in Edinburgh's Waverly Market using a kid called Stephen Farrier. I met Stephen there and made friends. He roped me into a live show for the shopping mall where I performed for the first time in front of a large audience. I froze in the middle of Card In Sausage (I still remember "marking" those uncooked sausages with a sharpie!). It was fun but not exactly entertaining for anyone but us.

Stephen introduced me to Derek when he came up to deliver stock.

Derek's set consisted of a Waddington's No1 deck, gaffed, with a Dutch Looper (English Monte) and a Mental Force trick thrown in and packaged in a clear ziploc bag inside a large model of the Waddington's card box.

Back then he sold them for five pounds.

I was hired and Derek sent me to Newcastle for my first month and my first time away from home. The booth was in Fenwick's Toy Department and it was there that I learned that skill meant praise but a proper pitch meant cash.

When I was bored I used to perform the pitch using a normal deck and sleight of hand. I sold less but I was amused! I would bring out another deck for the audience test, where I would pick a young child and have him do a simple riffle trick for the rest of the crowd. A few years after I quit I saw a demonstrator selling Waddingtons using the same demonstration (he probably also worked for Derek). I ran to the store and bought a straight deck and during the next pitch I switched the deck on him. He made the mistake of passing the deck around and it was easy to simply pass on a different deck! The guy was completely baffled when a normal deck was returned to him.

It was funny at the time but very childish. Amazingly he still made plenty of sales! At the end he found his gaffed deck back on his table.

Derek hated seeing anything skillful during the pitch. While he did spring cards from hand to hand to gather a crowd and riffled cards louder than anyone I ever met, during the demonstration everything was easy, simple and clear.

I learned to sell the deck then pitch the extras like crazy. The DutchLooper was my biggest draw and I went on to develop my own routine and a brand new gaff (which will later appear as ConCam Monte).

Derek taught me how to pack up the package at the end of the pitch, put it all together and hand it out so people could feel what they were about to buy. These are old pitchman's methods but they were new to me then.

He also taught me how to build a crowd - a skill that proved very useful in later years - by simply starting the pitch when no one was there! By the time a few people stopped to see what was going on I would start the pitch all over again and go for the money.

I learned slowly but I finally figured out how to make it look easier than it was and my sales improved until I was able to make enough money to start asking out girls who worked in the Fenwicks store!

After Fenwicks I worked all over for a few months and was eventually returned to the Edinburgh pitch where I became good friends with Walter "Sonny" Day. Sonny taught me a great deal in the short time I knew him about magic and creativity.

After another Svengali tour I found myself home in Glasgow where, while pitching, I had met Bob Bain, who was a dear friend until he passed away years later.

I've written about Sonny and Bob for Genii magazine and the articles will probably appear in the near future.

While working for Derek I got to see a lot of scams up and down the UK. The flower sellers who picked pockets in London - ladies who sold the same flowers in Newcastle but hustled to read palms and then hit the mark for lots of money. The auctions held in empty storefronts where I spent two and half hours one afternoon and got out simply because I didn't have enough money! The three shell game performed with poorly made ceramic shells on top of trash cans in London. I watched them ditch the crowd several times by tossing the paper in the trash along with the shells. I tried to recover a set only to find they were not wrapped in the paper but were probably palmed away. I went to all the local markets to watch the big pitches and see how they sold complete junk by the truckload thanks to clever pitches and some really impressive demonstrations. The same techniques are applied in slick infomercials and it's surely no coincidence that many of the TV salesmen and women talk with an English accent and the same cadence as those market sellers.

I got to see a lot cons and scams in various forms, thanks to that job, and I saw many more when I left the army a few years later and spent a year doing magic in London. They were always pretty rough scams and, while I sometimes read about more elaborate (and impressive) scams, they were hardly easy to find.

The most unique scam I found was an Origami seller who folded money and switched the model midway. I figured out the switch but it was later, when I read about him in a newspaper, that I found out he was wasn't switching in counterfeits- he was switching each model for another model made from only HALF a banknote! He was effectively doubling his money every day.

I saw this guy (he looked latin american) in Leceister Square in London back in 1988 and was thrilled to repeat the same scam (with the same switch) eighteen years later for the Real Hustle in the same location. The only difference was I used a table while he had a blanket on the floor.

I finally saw a Monte gang in Newcastle around 1989 but, unfortunately, they were awful. I think one of them had learned the handling from a book and was trying to start up a crew with some friends. I watched them twice. The first time they got confused and I think they even lost some money. An argument broke out and the whole thing descended into chaos. A few nights later someone made another mistake and the whole crew started fighting each other until they were dragged away by the police. My first Monte crew and they were total amateurs, unlike the guys I'd seen playing the shells in London.

I stopped working for Derek sometime around 1990. I think it might have been late '89.

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Great story Paul.Thats had to be fun times for you.

The Svengali pitch will always make money.I've been pitching them for over 30 years now and they have been very good to me.I'm sure you understand when I keep telling guys that "pitching" makes you a better performer and a much better magician.I would love to hear from you in a post here about pitching and what it did to help you in performance and becoming a better magician in general.

I have several DVD's out,one on the Svengali pitch and the other on "How to Build a Tip" that you talked about.If you go to scroll down,you can see a clip of both of them.(yes,its ok to

Thanks for a most interesting post.I see you not only "talk the have walked the walk..."

Have a great day,
R P Wilson
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Don - I think that pitching definitely prepared me for performing. It threw me in at the deep end and forced me to think on my feet (literally).

That said, the pitching style can be developed into the typical commercial magic style - snappy lines, quickfire repertoire etc.

As anyone who's watched my DVDs will tell you, I decided to be myself and work on the dry humour approach rather than try and be flashy or obvious about my performing style. It works for me and, in the real world, can be very strong. Thanks to the lessons I've learned while pitching and working restaurants and banquets, I can still get maximum impact without becoming a clown version of myself.

The biggest lesson I learned was building that crowd. I tried my hand at street magic for a couple of years, working the Edinburgh Festival. I hated it but I found three excellent ways to ensure a big crowd - all based on my lessons from the sven pitch. When I worked a few tradeshows the same methods worked just as well.

I think that, even if you don't want to pitch Svengalis, by learning how they are moved and the secrets to every level of the pitch, you will be much better prepared as a performer.

My friend Jeff Thomas managed a magic store for several years before returning to the movie industry. I used to work behind the counter when we were hanging out. As I advised anyone who would listen, I picked three or four items and learned not only how to do them but how to pitch them to the punters.

I sold dozens of Tenyo Phantomas, Hotrods, sponge bunny sets and steel ball and tubes. But when I picked up a Svengali deck the old pitch came back and five went out the door - then another five - I think I sold every Svengali deck they had that day!

The truth is I'm not a pitchman - those guys are a force of nature behind the booth - I just learned how to pitch and it was an excellent lesson to learn.

A quick story about the flower sellers in Newcastle. Actually I think they sold white heather. If you happen to buy they immediately grabbed your hand and started giving you a reading. This happened to me and it incredibly accurate - at least I thought so before I learned about cold reading. The woman even hit upon my aunt's name, who I was living with while in town!

The funny thing was that, when I went to give her some money I went for the loose change in my pocket. The woman insisted that only paper money would do. A few years earlier the paper one pound note had been completely replaced (in England) by one pound coins so the smallest paper denomination was five pounds!

Unfortunately the paper one pound note was never phased out in Scotland. When I handed her a Scottish one pound bill she got very upset and threaghtened to curse me. I made a quick exist, keeping my head down in case of being struck by lightning!

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Thanks Paul...another great story and good info for the up and coming guys here.

Maybe we will catch up with each other someday and get to " jackpot" That would be fun.

KV Magic
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I just want to echo what Paul and Don have been saying about how pitching makes you a better magician.

I bought Don's Svengali Pitch DVD last year. (You can find reviews about it and his Building a Tip DVD at )

Last summer I went out and pitched the decks and made some good money. But the other benefit was that, somehow, my magic shows got better. Either from learning about the "tip" and keeping them interested, or as Paul mentioned, "diving in the deep end" and performing for all types of people.

Either way, my shows are better AND I enjoy pitching!

Also, I wanted to mention that I received Don's Building a Tip DVD this winter and can't wait to try it out on the streets!

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