MEMOIRS - 10 - Disturbances

Up to now, I have been telling you about my experiences in England, but some of my African experiences also stand out in my mind with great clearness; and I think I have performed in every town, of any size, on the East Coast of Africa from Suez to Cape Town including Aden and Zanzibar. To name a few of them; Mombassa, Tanga, Dar-es-Salaam, Mozambique, Beira, Lorenso Marques, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape town.

Disturbances and rowdy audiences are experiences which no Artist of long standing, can escape. I have experienced many of them, and the most outstanding one in my mind, was at Nairobi, Kenya, in the early days, at Garvie’s Bioscope; when I was giving a magical Interlude, between the pictures.

Some real rowdy lads at the back of the hall were out for a bit of a rag; and when I made my appearance; I was greeted with a salvo of applause and a stamping of feet. It was some minutes before I could get started, and I had no sooner done so, when one of the lads started playing a tin-whistle of sorts, much to the amusement of his friends and some members of the audience. I, of course, realised that I must put a stop to this disturbance as soon as possible, otherwise my show would be a flop; so I invited the man with the tin-whistle to come up onto the stage and assist me. He willingly agreed and marched up, playing his whistle all the way. When he arrived on the stage, I asked him to be seated on a chair which I brought forward for him and had placed well down stage, close to the footlights; so that he was in good view of everybody. I then borrowed his whistle, wrapped it up in a piece of newspaper and made it vanish; much to his amazement. This got a good laugh in my favour and certainly stopped him playing his whistle again during my performance. I then requested him to select a card from a pack which I handed to him, and he was to remember the card, and show it to the audience. When he had taken the card out of the pack, he said, "May I show this card to the audience in any way I like?" I, of course, gave my consent and he said, "Very well, I will show it individually to each member of the audience." He then marched off the stage with the card in his hand and started showing it to his pals at the back of the hall; so I took the opportunity of proceeding with my performance. I had no sooner finished my first trick, when he once more walked on to the stage, saying he had shown the card, and what was I going to do about it. I asked him to please retain the card for a little longer and be seated for the time being. I continued with my programme, and after each trick he jumped up and asked me to do the trick with the card he had selected; each time I put him off and said I would attend to him in a few minutes. This went on till I had finished my show, and I then gave the signal for the curtain to be lowered, and down it came just behind him. I had finished my show, and he, poor fellow, sat like a fool in front of the curtain, still holding his card, with all his pals and the audience, roaring with laughter at him; so after all, the disturbance was turned to my own advantage.

On another occasion, I was booked for a split week, to give a show at Ladysmith, during show week, and as my performance had taken very well indeed, I was invited to finish the week there. During the first part of the week, I had included a few card tricks in my programme, and as I had noticed that they were received very favourably by the audience; I decided to increase the number of card effects for the last few nights. All went well till Saturday night, when much to my surprise, a man at the back of the hall, interrupted me just as I was starting on my card routine. He stood up and said that he and his pals had watched these card tricks each night, and he was convinced that I was working with confederates, and that the assistants who had come on the stage were all known to me, and he challenged me to do the same tricks using himself as my assistant.

Of course, this was a challenge I could not ignore, so I invited him to come up and act as my assistant. He came up in a very aggressive manner and asked me to do my tricks with the pack he had brought with him. Of course I agreed, and he then opened a new pack of cards, shuffled them and handed them over to me with a look on his face, as much as to say, "Now I’ve got you fixed." I could see that I would have to be very careful in handling this young man, as he was obviously out after my blood. I knew I would have to subdue him a bit, before I could even try to present my best tricks, so I started by counting six cards on to the table, one by one, but as I did so, I pretended to mis-count one card, and when I said, "We now have six cards on the table, " he said "No, you have not; there are only five cards there." So I asked him to count them himself; and when he did so, he found there were six after all. I then said, "How many cards have you got there?" and he said, six, of course; so I asked him to count them once more, and when he did so, he found that he had seven cards. This rather rattled him, as the laughs were going against him in a way he could not quite understand, and his face got redder and redder, and he began to get flurried. I then proceeded with the trick, but during its presentation, I pretended to palm a card in my right hand, when suddenly he pounced on me and grasped my wrist saying, "Ah, now I’ve got you; you have a card hidden in your right palm;" but when I opened my hand, of course it was empty. Again the laugh was against him and he was beginning to wish that he had not come up on to the stage, and I thought that perhaps, just one more laugh against him would put a stop to him trying to mess up my show; so I said to him, "It never object to anybody trying to find out how my tricks are done, but it is hardly fair of you to appropriate some of the cards, while I am performing." He said he didn’t understand what I meant. So I explained that he had taken a few of the cards to prevent me from doing my show. He denied this. So I said, "What are these cards in your pocket, and with that, I plunged my hand inside his pocket and produced about a dozen cards. What a laugh! And he himself had to join in; I knew then, that he was beaten, and I had no sooner started my next trick, when he whispered in my ear, "For God’s sake, get on with your tricks, and I will not interrupt you again." So I won the day, and proceeded with my programme without any further interruption from him. He turned out to be a good sport, for he came round to the dressing room later and apologized for his behavior, and said he was glad I had taught him a lesson. That is one of the good qualities of the South African, he is a good sport.