The art of magic has long remained largely unrecognised for its contribution to the world of entertainment. That being said, David Berglas, an internationally-renowned magician and longtime supporter of the College of Magic in Cape Town, has now been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Years Honours List for services to Magic and Psychology.
“I am delighted to accept this honour but even more pleased that the art of magic has at last been recognised. I have spent over 60 years entertaining people in person, on radio and television – “reading their minds” – but I certainly didn’t see this one coming,” Berglas, who is 92 years old, says.
Berglas has been an inspiration to magicians worldwide. On hearing of the award, Derren Brown, a world-famous illusionist, said that this honour recognises one of the world’s greatest living magical performers. “Generations of magicians owe him a debt of gratitude. Each of my shows is indebted to his artistry and astonishing body of work. I thank him for his constant inspiration,” Brown said.
Berglas’ extraordinary career started in the 50s. Six weeks at the Windmill Theatre in London in 1953 was followed by a whirlwind tour of variety theatres, where he often topped the bill.
He became a household name with his regular performances on radio, conducting “Nationwide Psychological Experiments” involving millions of listeners. He received the largest collection of fan mail ever for a BBC radio series. In the 70s, he hosted a late-night phone-in programme on LBC.
Berglas had his own BBC television show, Meet David Berglas, in 1954, which had an audience of over 19 million, and he later hosted the first ever commercial TV series in 1955. In the 80s his series The Mind of David Berglas on Channel 4, he entertained celebrity guests such as Omar Sharif, Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee.
Dubbed the “International Man of Mystery”, Berglas was renowned for creating big stunts – driving a car blindfolded around central London, hurtling blindfold down the Cresta Run, stopping the traffic – and people – in Piccadilly Circus being among them. He also confounded the magical profession with his heart-stopping routine and ability to persuade strangers to levitate heavy tables.
The Magic Circle president, Scott Penrose, says: “I am sure our members both in the UK and around the world will join me in congratulating David Berglas on receiving this award which recognises his immense contribution to magic. As our former president, he was deeply involved in the successful development of our permanent HQ in London. His influence on magic and magicians have been profound for over 60 years and many magicians owe him a real debt of gratitude.”
Berglas’ version of the Any Card at Any Number routine has been known for many years as the Berglas Effect and magicians consider this the holy grail of card magic. He has also acted as a creative consultant on many major films, most notably five Bond movies.
Berglas has entertained most members of the Royal Family and a host of celebrities, including Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. He was even at one time the opening act for the Rolling Stones.
In the magic world, Berglas has received most major international honours. He was President of The Magic Circle, the world’s premier magic society, from 1989-1998 and helped to revitalise the society. During his tenure, The Magic Circle began admitting women as members, established the Young Magician’s Club and acquired and refurbished the old warehouse in Euston that became the society’s first permanent HQ.