As Ive travelled through life Ali Bongo was my hero, my mentor, my colleague and my employee. But mostly he was my friend.
As a boy his books Be a Magician and The Ali Bongo Book of Magic were an inspiration to me, introducing me to the wonderful wacky world of someone who actually invented magic tricks. Tricks which Id seen performed by Paul Daniels on his BBC TV show! Wow, I thought, maybe one day I might actually invent a trick too?
That boy could never have dreamed that one day, not only would he be inventing tricks, but that hed be working alongside Ali Bongo and Paul Daniels on those BBC shows. But that is what happened to me. And along the way, over several years, Ali became my friend.
When I started a magazine (The Dungeon) he was one of the first big names who agreed to do an interview. When a bunch of friends and I had a bash at being a magic dealer (Dynamic FX) Ali let us release one of his tricks. When I was elected to The Magic Circle Council he was one of those who supported my initiatives, like the Regional Events and Club Night Newsletter. When I took over as editor of The Magic Circular, he became a contributing editor and a columnist. When John Lenahan and I started Monday Night Magic in London, Ali agreed to perform.
After our time working together with Daniels, Ali and I worked together as consultants (along with Patrick Page) on The Quick Trick Show. On subsequent series of that show I became a producer, but made sure that I always found time to participate in those brainstorming sessions with Patrick and Ali. And that series won Ali, Pat, the Production team and I a BAFTA, the UK equivalent of an Emmy.
Ali worked for me in an official capacity on other UK television shows which Ive produced since then. But it was in an unofficial role that Ill always remember him. Ive lost track of the number of phone calls I made saying Were thinking of. Immediately he came back with a brilliant idea or source or thought. And often a beautifully handmade prop would follow a few days later.
Away from work Ali invited me to join him at the annual gathering of a small organisation of international magicians known as the Fruit dOr de Montaneuf. This unique group was started back in the late sixties by Claude Rix and Fred Kaps. Its members included many of Europes greatest magicians, including Richard Ross and Tommy Wonder. Today its members include Gaetan Bloom, Pavel, Norbert Ferre, Marc Paul and Dominique and Alexandre Duvivier.
The members gather annually in Monteneuf in the champagne region of France for a weekend of magic, food, champagne and good company. Membership is by invitation only and those approached to become members must participate in a number of bizarre initiations, including performing a unique audition. Ali loved his time with that group of his closest international friends. In recent years those gatherings have been tinged by sadness with the loss of Ross and Wonder. Therell be a lot of tears in Monteneuf this year.
Over the last few weeks, since the sad news of his collapse in France came through, Ive replayed scenes from all of these memories in my mind. And last week I went to see him hospital in London a couple of times in an attempt to do what I could to encourage him to fight on. By Friday the pneumonia was taking hold and he was not in a good way. The brilliant brain was frustrated by its struggle to communicate.
Ali wrote a song (of course he did!) and the lyrics sum up perfectly his attitude to magic and to life.
Just a little touch of magic,
helps to make the day seem bright.
Just a little touch of Hocus Pocus,
makes the darkness light.
A little prestidigitation,
puts a smile on every face.
When you dabble in deception,
Or extra sensory perception,
You can make the world a magic place.
RIP Ali Bongo, The President of The Magic Circle. You made the world a magic place.