John Milner (magician)

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John David Milner (born 1948 in Stourbridge, Worcestershire) is an English magician, stage and TV performer. He learnt magic from the performer and mentor to many well-known magicians, Ken Brooke.[1] In 1963, he was a finalist in The Magic Circle's Young Magician of the Year competition.[2] He became a full member of the Magic Circle in 1968 and became a member of British Actors' Equity Association in the same year. Two years later, Milner again was a finalist in the Magic Circle's Young Magician of the Year competition.[3] He became a member of the Inner Magic Circle with a Gold Star in 2000.

Early life[edit]

John Milner was born at 43 Hatfield Road, Stourbridge, Worcestershire, the son of Gerald and Eva Milner. His father owned a grocer shop at Stourbridge. Milner attended Hill Street Junior and Infant School and then passed his eleven plus exams to attend King Edward VI Grammar School, Stourbridge. At school, he was a class mate of the Led Zeppelin lead singer, Robert Plant.[4] After leaving school, Milner worked for his father in the grocery shop for a few months but eventually gave this up to become a professional magician. Milner was a Queen Scout, the highest honour in the movement, and held the Explorer's Belt, being only one of two scouts in Worcestershire who won this award.[5]

Magical career[edit]

John Milner's interest in magic began when he was four years of age when a friend of the family gave him a David Nixon Box of magic tricks for Christmas. From then, the family bought him magic tricks as presents. He gave his first paid performance at the age of 10 years. When Milner was at the King Edward VI Grammar school, his English teacher, Mr Davies, had a brother in the Cambridge Pentacle Club who sent him a copy of Goodliffe Neil's Abracadabra magazine. From an advertisement in this magazine, Milner attended a magic convention held at the Midland Hotel, Birmingham, by The Unique Magic Studio (owned by Harry Stanley). Here he met Ken Brooke. Milner watched Ken all day and never moved from his side. Shortly after, Milner entered The Magic Circle's Young Magician of the Year Competition in 1963 and reached the final. After comments from magicians that Milner was "like a young Ken Brooke", Ken began to tutor Milner at Unique Magic's shop in Brewer Street, London.[6] At this time, Milner began to give his first public performances.

In 1965, Milner again reached the finals of The Magic Circle's Young Magician of the Year Competition.[7] Soon after, he left school and worked in his father's grocery shop, whilst performing at all sorts of local functions such as Masonic, Rotary and round table ladies nights. He also became a children's entertainer performing at private birthday parties. At Christmas he worked in local workingmen's clubs, often doing 2 or 3 shows in a day. In 1968, Milner became a Full Member of The Magic Circle and of the British Actor's Equity. He continued performing in working men's clubs locally and was well-known among local entertainment agents. Milner had a contract from Malcolm Powell who worked for Mitchell and Butlers to do the first M&B Road shows. He worked in a different pub every night Monday to Friday for months promoting Breaker Malt liquor. At this time, Milner worked with Colin Crompton from the Wheel Tappers and Shunter's show for months. In 1972, Milner came second in the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) close-up competition held in Margate.[8] Whilst working on the TV series The Canal Children,[9] In 1977, Milner performed for a summer season on the SS Ellinis, Chandris Line, performing illusions such as Robert Harbin's Topsy Turvy Box and Zig Zag Girl[10] with his first wife, Sylvia.[11] Two years later, Milner appeared for a week on the bill of the Leslie Crowther Show, presented by Billy Marsh.[12]

In September 1980, ATV launched a new variety show series, Up for the Cup,[13] hosted by David Hamilton, which set well-known performers against each other in two teams.[14] Milner appeared with Sylvia in one of the first programmes.[15] In December 1981, Milner performed magic at Number 11, Downing Street, at The Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe's Christmas Party.[16] In 1982, Milner began performing The Blindfold Drive, first using his assistant, Sylvia then driving himself.[17] In August 1982, they performed their blind-fold driving act at the Hagley Hall Motor Show to raise funds for the Dudley and Sandwell scanner appeal.[18][19]

When he was doing a children's show in a park in Handsworth Milner met Gerry Mahoney doing a show called the "Man in the Box". Milner joined Gerry in the Merlin Puppet Theatre and they appeared on TV with the puppets. They performed 10 shows a week in schools combining magic and puppetry. Shortly after, Milner joined forces with Tracie Hughes, who had worked in the puppet theatre. They formed a company called Magical Solutions Limited, which supplied magicians to corporate events. Soon after, the company formed a fun casino company, Classic Casinos.

In March 1998, Milner was being promoted to the degree of Member of the Inner Magic Circle with Gold Star. His certificate was presented to him by David Berglas at the Victory Services Club, London.

The performance of one of Milner's favourite tricks – lit cigarette in jacket – came an abrupt end with the introduction of the UK smoking ban on 1 July 2007. The demise of one of his favourite routines was widely reported in the local and national media.[20] As a follow-up to the story, the Express & Star reporter Wendy Lloyd visited the House of Magic (UK) to see Milner perform the cigarette in jacket effect.[21] Due to the growing notoriety of the ban's impact of magic, the Birmingham Mail cartoonist, Colin Whittock, drew a cartoon of Milner at his shop, The House of Magic (UK) contemplating his dilemma.[22] On 25 May 2011, Milner and his son, James, performed in front of Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, and 120 guests at a fundraising dinner for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme at Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool.[23] The event was hosted by the Earl and Countess of Derby.

John Milner has mentored a chosen cache of magicians in the art of stage illusion and magical performance. For instance, in The Magic Circular, January 2003, Andrew O'Connor, owner of Objective Productions, spoke about being taught by John. "I had done magic as a young kid and had I met a man called John Milner, who was an extra on a television series I worked on. John was a student of Ken Brooke's and John taught me magic and later Ken Brooke taught me."[24] He has also conceived and performed bespoke illusions for many corporate clients, including The Vanishing Microwave for Whirlpool and a model corporate van stopping at any chosen card for Autoglass. He still performs many of the most successful routines today at both private and trade events.

House of Magic (UK)[edit]

In early 2001, John and his business partner, Tracie Hughes, decided to open their own magic shop.[25] The House of Magic UK was officially opened by Wayne Dobson on 22 September 2001.[26] Before the launch, the interior of the premises was fitted to look like a traditional magic shop, with a hidden door, secretly-operated props and a life-size Wizard Merlin just inside the door. One wall was painted with a magical mural by the local artist, Tim Jarvis.[27] The grand opening was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of Stourbridge, the President of the British Ring, Mike Gancia and the President of the Wolverhampton Circle of Magicians, David Oakley.[28] At the beginning of 2003, John and Tracie opened the House of Magic (UK) School of Wizardry to teach aspiring magicians.[29] On Friday, 12 September 2008 the magic shop was extended and the new section was opened by the President of the Magic Circle, Ali Bongo.[30]

British Actors Equity[edit]

During the mid-1970s, John was the vice-chairman of the British Actors Equity, Wolverhampton branch. In 1976, he wrote a letter to the Daily Express complaining about the difficulties many actors experienced in trying to join Equity.[31] In 1989, John challenged the union because they refused to issue his wife, Kim, an Equity card because she was not an "integral part" of the performance. In an interview, John told The Sunday Express that "He thinks he has a strong case, because he slices her in half during his act".[32]

James Milner[edit]

John's son, James Milner, born in 1991 followed his father's footsteps into magic. He first appeared on stage aged seven, being produced from three giant cards at An Evening of Magic, Stourbridge Town Hall, February 1998. In 2001, he helped Wayne Dobson open the House of Magic.[33] Later that year, he joined Lance Burton on stage during his Las Vegas magic act.[34] In 2006, James made his first TV appearance on tricky TV.[35] The following year, James won a place in the final of the Young Magician of the Year competition.[36] In 2008, he was one of the young magicians who entertained the Magic Circle. The following year, he again reached the final of the Young Magician competition, performing the "vanishing skateboard".[7] As a finish to his Young Magician's act, James produced a stack of goldfish bowls.[37] Both Following the Young Magician competition, John and James appeared together on Central TV News.[38]

Acting career[edit]

In the early 1980s, John was a full-time professional magician working with known actors and entertainers such as Ken Dodd, Danny La Rue, Tommy Steele, Bernard Manning, Frank Carson and Leslie Crowther.

John's acting credits include: ATV: Crossroads, The Jensen Code, The Kids from 47A, Boon, Woof!, Chancer, Soldier Soldier, The Barchester Chronicles and Doctors. Thames Television: This Week 1844. BBC: The Incredible Robert Baldick. He Said, She Said, Thirty-Minute Theatre, The Brothers, The Pallisers, Gangsters, Z-Cars, The Brothers, Angels, All Creatures Great & Small and Doctor Who (as a unit soldier with Tom Baker).[39] TV Credits as a magician: ATV’s New Faces.


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  2. ^ Davis, Clifford (6 April 1963). "It's the magic of youth...". Daily Mirror.
  3. ^ "Magic from the boys". Express & Star. July 1965.
  4. ^ "Rock star Rob's back to school". Stourbridge News. 1 May 2003.
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  7. ^ a b Colley, C Michael (2011). The Young Magicians: The History of a Competition. The Echo Library. ISBN 978-1-4068-6971-2.
  8. ^ Editorial (6 October 1972). "Rabbit beat John into first place". County Express for Stourbridge and Brierley Hill.
  9. ^ "Magician John performs tricks for TV serial". County Express. 20 August 1976.
  10. ^ Harbin, Robert (1970). The Magic of Robert Harbin. Robert Harbin.
  11. ^ Seascape: Published Daily at Sea. At sea, en route to Gibraltar: Chandris Lines. 1977.
  12. ^ Swansea Grand Threatre programme. Swansea: Swansea Grand Theatre. 1979.
  13. ^ Milner, John. "Up for the cup". Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  14. ^ Deighton, John (7 September 1980). "Up for a fortune". Sunday People.
  15. ^ "It's magic for all-change girl". Sunday Mercury. 14 September 1980.
  16. ^ "Entertaining at Number 11". THE STAGE. December 1981.
  17. ^ "SUN SPOT". The Sun. 26 August 1982.
  18. ^ "Super Sylia plans 15-ton lorry drive – blindfold!". Dudley Express & Star. 25 August 1982.
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  31. ^ Milner, John (8 June 1976). "Why let Sir Harold get in on the act?". Daily Express.
  32. ^ Weaver, Tony (26 November 1989). "Shattered dreams for the would-be stars who cannot get their coveted blue cards". The Sunday Express.
  33. ^ "Wayne waves magic wand". Express & Star.
  34. ^ "Air of magic at show". Express & Star. 16 November 2001.
  35. ^ Williams, Alan (26 October 2006). "I've a few tricks up my sleeve". Birmingham Mail.
  36. ^ "That's magic! James into the final". Stourbridge News. 26 April 2007.
  37. ^ Milner, James. "James Milner presents the Goldfish Bowls". YouTube. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  38. ^ Milner, John. "James Milner-Young Magician-Central News.wmv". YouTube. Retrieved 20 August 2011.
  39. ^ "Magician John performs tricks for TV serial". The County Express. 20 August 1976.