Steve Short on Harry Stanley
Steve Short holds the record as our most frequent visitor, and members turned out via Zoom on May 9th to welcome him again with his latest presentation on ‘The Unique Harry Stanley’.
As usual, the topic had been meticulously researched, and Steve began at the beginning with Harry’s birth in 1905 – the son of a shop-owner and with the surname of Ruderman. His interest in magic was ignited by a performance by Chung Ling Soo at a Shoreditch theatre in 1913, when he was just eight years old.
We heard that Harry was not only magical but also musical, spending some time as part of the famous Jack Hylton orchestra. During the War, Harry served in the Royal Artillery, and produced many editions of the regimental show ‘Stand Easy’. Harry’s son Bill arrived in 1946, and we were treated to a delightful clip of the young chap performing magic in a home movie, on colour cine film.
We soon moved on to Harry’s associations with the likes of Ali Bongo, Jack Hughes and Gil Leaney and his production in the mid-1950sof the television programme Focus on Hocus, fronted by David Jacobs.
There was, of course, a focus on the so-called Unique years, when Harry ran the Unique Magic Studio with the assistance of the legendary Ken Brooke. We heard about his publishing ventures, notably with the Lewis Ganson books, and the long-running Gen magazine. There was an amusing anecdote relating to Tommy Cooper, and the occasion when Orson Welles helped to pack up copies of the magazine. The point was made that Harry was probably the first dealer to provide lengthy instructions with his effects, complete with advice about presentation often running to four or five pages. He also wrote the biography of Sandy Powell – Can You Hear Me, Mother?
Naturally, there was quite an overlap with the Johnny Hart story, with Harry being Johnny’s manager, but as a former MML member it was a pleasure to see again the clips of Johnny performing on The Good Old Days and Harry boasting about negotiating fees in excess of $2,000. Thanks to Harry, Johnny notched up a record seven appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
We also revisited David Nixon, a previous lecture subject, and saw him presenting the Wild Card on his own TV show and Chase the Ace on Sunday Night at the London Palladium with host Jimmy Tarbuck.
We saw adverts for items such as the Devano Rising Cards and the Card Sword, and Steve demonstrated the well-constructed props for Man in the Moon – or possibly the Sun in the Clouds, working on the sliding die-box principle.
Along the way we came across a photo of Francis White opening the Stevenage Hobby Shop for Harry, and Steve had delved into the family archives to uncover Harry’s Member of the Inner Magic Circle certificate, dated 1976. Other documents included a selection of handbills and programmes.
Sadly, Harry’s son Bill was unable to join Steve owing to illness, but we were pleased to welcome John Henley, who spoke about teaming up with Remo Inzani in 1959 to form the Inzani-Henley partnership, well known for producing high quality apparatus. John contributed some fascinating observations and stories relating to magic and its practitioners.
And so to the conclusion, with the information that Harry Stanley died in 1991 at the age of 86, his wife Rita living to the grand age of 99.
Steve has a relaxed, easy delivery, underpinned with a gentle humour which makes his lectures especially engaging. All were absorbed by the afternoon, whether they had had personal dealings with Harry, had just heard about him or, indeed, had little previous awareness of him. Steve managed to bring him into our presence for a while, and we look forward to his next visit, when his current project on Ali Bongo has been completed.