BRITS AT WAR AND MASKELYNE

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Magic Newswire » 09/03/08 01:47 PM

The Times Online has published an article discussing the various forms of deceit that the British army has used over the years to fool the enemy. I was most interested in the Maskelyne references. READ MORE
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Postby David Britland » 09/03/08 01:54 PM

The Maskelyne story is best told on Richard Stokes excellent website:

http://www.maskelynemagic.com/

Well worth a read and a much truer picture of what happened than is commonly told.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/03/08 02:34 PM

We have the whole Stokes story ready to go as a series in Genii, but it's a bit too long at the moment. It's quite fascinating and Maskelyne greatly exaggerated his activities.
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Postby hugmagic » 09/03/08 03:03 PM

You mean a magician would exagerate a story? shocking!

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Postby JimAlfredson » 09/03/08 08:11 PM

Please, Richard [Hughes], recover from your shock! And to you, Richard [Kaufman], I'm pleased to note that something on Richard [Stokes]Maskelyne research will appear in GENII. I read this eons ago when if first appeared in GENII'S JOURNAL (an Australian club publication) and am fortunate in also having a separate copy. Richard also has lectured on this, and it's most interesting. I'm glad that it will be soon released to a wider audience. jim alfredson
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Postby hugmagic » 09/05/08 11:08 AM

Yes, I have recovered from the shock.

Mr. Stokes lecture was interesting but very lacking. He seemed unable to verbally communicate his thoughts as well as he did in writing. In fact, he came across more of a fellow who was just so mad he could not express his thoughts clearly. His website is very interesting and this story does need to reach the masses.

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Postby naquada » 09/05/08 11:20 AM

the program or documentary about maskelyne was broadcast a few years ago on UK tv... I have the program on VHS and now converted it to DVD for my own personal viewing.. its a great program to watch... the program is better than the times article ;)
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Postby Bob Farmer » 09/05/08 02:00 PM

For those interested, as I am, in the use of deception in warfare, there is a fairly long list of interesting books. For the totally committed try THE DECEIVERS by Thaddeus Holt which is a complete history of allied military deception in World War II. Clocking in at over 1,000 pages, Maskelyne rates pages 28,29 and 49.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 09/05/08 03:59 PM

The book Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett is a fictional account of a real-life (I think) plan in which the British built fake plywood fighter planes to fool the Germans into overestimating the strength of the RAF. A great read.
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Postby Greg Edmonds » 09/07/08 07:28 PM

I have, somewhere, the DVD Maskelyne War Magician story from either The History Channel or A&E network. It's not nearly as complete, as you might imagine, as the book. Neither version, I think, are 100 percent accurate, for that matter.

I believe the DVD is still available.

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Postby naquada » 09/08/08 03:36 AM

Greg Edmonds wrote:I have, somewhere, the DVD Maskelyne War Magician story from either The History Channel or A&E network. It's not nearly as complete, as you might imagine, as the book. Neither version, I think, are 100 percent accurate, for that matter.

I believe the DVD is still available.

Greg Edmonds


i think thats the one that was broadcast in the UK that I taped and have now moved to DVD..
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Postby Richard Stokes » 09/12/08 08:57 AM

re. The War Magician
David Fisher based his novelised account on Maskelynes purported memoirs, 'Magic Top Secret'(1949) and on a private scrapbook, 'Deceptive Camouflage Ideas 1941-45', compiled by Maskelyne after the war.

I have examined both sources and have studied relevant declassified files in the National Archives. I have also corresponded in depth with Alistair Maskelyne, Jaspers son who lives in Brisbane, Australia.

My independent research reveals that Jasper Maskelyne did not write 'Magic Top Secret'. The real author was Frank S. Stuart who produced several sham biographies before the war.

To unravel the Maskelyne myth, we need to appreciate Stuart's earlier publications: 'Nothing Up My Sleeve'(1938), a bizarre autobiography of society magician Douglas Beaufort, and 'Immortal Wings'(1943), a melodramatic collection of deathless deeds by heroic aviators. (These can be found in the British Library.)

After the war, Stuart combined these genres of pseudo-biography and wartime 'ripping yarns' and came up with the semi-fictional concoction 'Magic Top Secret.

Stuart's fabrications have fooled many gullible magicians, historians, journalists and reviewers.

Ben Macintyre, the author of the Times article, is merely the latest to join this distinguished list.

Alas, Maskelyne's main war illusions were illusory.

In October 2004 Australian director, Peter Weir, withdrew from the Paramount film project after finding out the War Magican story had no solid factual base.

For the record, Maskelyne did not conjure up a battleship on the Thames.

In 1941 Maskelyne did not build an elaborate decoy harbour to protect Alexandria Harbour from German night-time attack. This myth probably grew out of the creation of decoy fire sites or QFs around Alexandria in early 1942. This work was performed by other camouflage officers, not Maskelyne. These glorified bonfires were not as sophisticated as the Starfish decoy sites already established in the United Kingdom.

In 1941 Maskelyne did not vanish the Suez Canal. In 1942 he built a prototype spinning searchlight, but this was never battle tested. Even if it had worked, the successful defence of the Canal from German aerial attack had already been fought and won the previous year using conventional methods. Maskelyne's
'miracle weapon' would have been irrelevant.

In the early 1980s, Fisher, who never met Maskelyne, embellished these far-fetched tales and claimed Maskelyne was the architect of the Alamein deception plan. This is nonsense. The Archives contradict Fisher's account.

Maskelyne was not involved in either the creation or the implementation of this deception operation. Tony Ayrton was the camouflage officer who deserves most of the credit, but he died tragically of meningitis during the war.

Maskelyne certainly deserves some recognition for developing 'sunshields', a clever form of tank camouflage.
However, the original idea of transforming tanks into lorries came from General Wavell. Maskelyne's wooden protoype, designed in May 1941, fell to bits under transport. An improved version, made from tubular metal, was more resilient.

Predictably, the disguised tanks left tell-tale tacks in the sand. To rectify this flaw, weighted track erasing devices were attached, but these proved impractical.

Also, British tanks regularly broke down in the desert and sometimes had to be abandoned. As early as August 1941, the cover was literally blown. Enemy intelligence knew the British were disguising their tanks as lorries. These problems are documented in Maskelyne's private scrapbook, but Fisher's sanitised account of 'sunshields' glosses over these battlefield complications.

Sunshields were used at Alamein in September 1942 as part of the deception plan, but Maskelyne played no direct part. Credit should go to the South African 85th Camouflage Company (which, incidentally, Ayrton helped establish!)

Maskelynes main contribution to the battle was entertaining the troops with magic shows in the month before the showdown.

Jasper Munchausen Maskelyne was a great showman and a fine stage magician, but was often in dire financial straits. After the war, he desperately needed money and publicity. He authorised his ghost writer to produce an entertaining yarn based loosely on his wartime adventures. Advance extracts were sold to the People newspaper.

Frank S. Stuart, the anonymous ghost, was arguably the greatest hoaxer in modern magic. Maskelyne's marvelous illusions did not require a legion of assistants. These masterpieces of misdirection merely required a typewriter.

Stuart deserves a shrine at the Magic Circle for his services to the Maskelyne magic dynasty.
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Postby Allen Tipton » 09/16/08 06:29 AM

Although I knew there were exaggerations what a pity the myths had to be exposed & boyhood dreams shattered!
Right from early teenage, when I read in a magazine that Jasper Maskelyne had let the Forces have the family secret formula, used in fire tricks, to prevent the soldiers burning their hands on red hot shells, I dreamed.???????????
So he was in financial trouble! Now I know why he was angry when my friend Leslie Melville & I went up on stage, in 1949, at Dudley Hippodrome. Worcestershire, UK, to assist in Selbit's 'Thru The Eye Of A needle'. Leslie hit the metal plate, which sealed the gap between the 2 barrels, so hard, the wooden mallet broke!! Jasper refused to see these two 14 year olds backstage. Ah.
In the UK & Sky TV documentaries, it was another great disappointment, when just odd glimpses of Jasper's Magic Shows were shown.I suppose somewhere the full tapes must exist.
One day --- perhaps?
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Postby Bob Farmer » 09/16/08 11:10 AM

Richard -- that's an excellent bit of reportage. Have you compiled all this into an article or book? I'd be very interested in adding this to my deception collection.
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 09/16/08 11:25 AM

Bob, we have it as an article for Genii. It's too long, so we're trying to figure out how to get the whole thing in.
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Postby Joe Culpepper » 05/28/10 02:48 AM

Many thanks to all of the voices contributing to this thread. You've all saved me a lot of time discovering a lot of this misinformation on my own.

I'm with Bob on wanting to see Mr. Stoke's work published in Genii or in book form.

Any movement on that?
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Postby Dave Klaiber » 05/28/10 08:25 AM

Richard,

Maybe you could add it in a booklet like you did with the Jinx....
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