One hundred years ago this coming weekend, an English magician named Percy Thomas Tibbles literally and painstakingly cut out a sealed wooden box containing a woman.
It was a sensation and has since become one of the best known magic tricks, performed with all kinds of tools and varying degrees of blood, always involving someone cut in half and almost always miraculously reassembled.
Sunday January 17 the magic circle It will mark the centenary of cutting someone in half, such an iconic illusion, said its president Noel Britten, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
It has a “rich and fascinating” history, Britten said, although the reasons for its almost instantaneous popularity in 1921 may not be the noblest. Suffrage was the hot topic of its day, so “for every person who thought it was cool that women got the vote, there were other people who thought it was cool that they put a woman in a box and cut her in half “.
The illusion was invented by Tibbles, who understandably called himself PT Selbit, and was first performed at the Finsbury Park Empire in North London on January 17, 1921.
Since then, it has been performed by countless magicians in many different ways. “It is a very simple and clear idea and it is easily understandable as impossible,” he said. Will Houstoun, resident magician in the department of surgery at Imperial College. “As an effect, it has a neatness about it and has a lot of possibilities for development and reinvention.”
Houston said Selbit’s original illusion did not have the woman’s head and feet sticking out of the box, which would become tradition. The sawing was real and slow too. “It would have been quite a long process … I suspect the attention span would be slightly different today.”
The Magic Circle is planning a night of online events around the history of illusion telling stories like how the BBC shocked the British nation in 1956, broadcasting a Panorama showing the Great Sorcar cutting a young woman in half with a circular saw.
Because the show was live and out of time, host Richard Dimbleby stepped in to say goodbye before the woman came back to life. “The switchboard was packed with people who thought they had just witnessed a murder,” Britten said.
Houston said one of the most memorable versions for him was by Simon Drake on the 1990 night on Channel 4’s Secret Cabaret. It involved medical personnel cutting Drake from crotch to chest and Drake would not wake up. “You don’t forget it,” said Houstoun, who was too young to see it in the first place.
American magician David Copperfield will show viewers his magical museum in Las Vegas and talk about his performance, using a huge “death saw” that pierced him after he failed to escape from the table.
Naomi Paxton, an academic and interpreter and the Circle’s Equality and Diversity Officer, will explore the links of illusion to suffrage and reveal how Selbit boldly invited militant suffragette Christabel Pankhurst to be a part of his act as the woman cut in two.
It came after Pankhurst advertised his services in a newspaper for “paid and non-political work” and while Selbit’s offer was entrepreneurial, it was also “grossly disrespectful,” Paxton said. As expected, she said no.
The night will also see Debbie McGee, the partner of the late Paul Daniels on stage and in life, recounting her experiences of being regularly dismembered. “Debbie has been sliced, diced, cremated, shredded, divided and decapitated more than most, so she has a great story to tell,” said Britten.
Details of how to view the event broadcast by Facebook will be in the Magic Circle Facebook Page Unlocked.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism