TV Cream


The man who excelled: Paul Daniels (1938-2016)

The man who excelled
A true light entertainment giant? Yes, Paul!

In light of the sad news, here’s a ruffle through the TV highlights of Mr Paul Daniels…

It’s the man who excels, Paul Dan-i-els! And yes, we’ll come to that in due course. The former local government auditor from Middlesbrough started his magical career in night clubs, initially performing alongside his then wife in a double act called The Eldanis (do you see?). We think Paul’s first telly appearance was on Opportunity Knocks and he slogged away on the circuit for many years, gradually working his way up the bill. One of his first proper TV gigs was this Saturday teatime series which promised, it says here, “non-stop, now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t magic, mirth and music” with Paul billed alongside Faith Brown and some other names we don’t recognise.

Probably the man most responsible for turning Paul Daniels from a middle-of-the-bill novelty act to a star name was Granada’s legendary star-spotting Head of Light Entertainment John Hamp, who hired him for several appearances on the Wheeltappers where his mix of magic and aggressive comedy caught the eye. He was successful enough for ITV to give him his own Christmas special in 1977 and then the next year he was booked to front a variety series, his tricks interspersing the traditional fare, the highest rated episode pulling in 12.8 million viewers in August 1978 with a guest list including Roy Walker and his old Wheeltappers mate Colin Crompton. However Paul’s spell on the light channel was short-lived as he was then poached by the Beeb.

Paul’s move to the Beeb saw him launch a new series that would eventually run for fifteen years. The key word in the title was “magic” because the show was devoted to tricks and nothing but, with no opportunity to wheel on a singer or comedian when inspiration ran dry. A hugely successful series, it seemed very much the flagship light entertainment show on the Beeb, with extremely high production values, while it was constantly entered for, and won, awards like the Golden Rose of Montreux and, for four years in the early eighties, was rewarded with the much coveted slot on Christmas Day. We join it up there in 1981, during the period where the show had a “jury”, twelve members of the studio audience who would sit on the stage in the interests of seeing everything was above board and there were no camera tricks or anything. And there was that unforgettable theme tune, inviting us to “look at this trick and that trick”, not quite Ronnie Hazlehurst’s finest few minutes.

As well as his magic show keeping him busy for many years, Paul also spent over a decade capably hosting a trilogy of amiable, if unexciting, game shows which would happily while away an idle half hour. This was the first, heralded by surely the strangest composition that man Ronnie ever came up with, though just right for the daft titles with Paul’s “haven’t got it… nearly got it… got it!” faces. Revolting set, though. The point of the game was to, well, spot the odd one out in lists of things, but it’s fun to play along and we wouldn’t mind if a channel commissioned two hundred episodes of it to run every day. Paul’s banter with the contestants and audience was a bit brittle but he had the quick wit to keep it all running smoothly for four years, unsurprisingly getting its highest ever rating just before the end of its run in 1985 when it found itself opposite a three hour documentary on the Miners’ Strike on ITV.

This kids’ series is fondly remembered, albeit mostly by people who haven’t actually seen any of it for many years. Paul narrated and starred in this series about an anthropomorphic triangle thing (we wonder if his face was modelled on Paul’s craggy features) who travelled around Puzzleopolis getting involved in encounters that inevitably involved magic and puzzles the viewers were invited to figure out. And Paul rapped the theme tune which we’re sure you’ll now have running around your head for the next few days. Sorry.

Apparently Larry Grayson and Russell Grant both recorded pilots for this show but in the end Paul seamlessly moved across from Odd One Out to front this new series. As with his previous quiz, there was nothing particularly earth-shattering about it but its enjoyable playalong format and Paul’s gags meant that while it was something you’d never stay in to watch, you wouldn’t switch it off if you stumbled across it. It flitted around the schedules a bit – we most associate it with Friday nights when Blankety Blank wasn’t there, but it was on Saturdays for a while and towards the end all over the place – but lasted seven years which isn’t bad going. However even at the end nobody knew exactly what the contestants won (it was the first prize they won, and the last, but not the prizes in between). The highlight of course was when a telly was a prize and it showed the Every Second Counts logo in teletext. And Paul’s fantastic wave at the end, natch.

Halloween was never that big a deal in the eighties but with 31st October falling on a Saturday in 1987 Paul took the opportunity to present some suitably spooky illusions in this special, climaxing with the hugely memorable moment where apparently the iron maiden trick had “gone wrong” and the audience were asked to leave while the credits rolled in silence. Apparently the Beeb switchboard melted and, after the Python repeat, Paul popped up to tell us he wasn’t dead after all. Twelve months later there was a second special but because Halloween was on Monday it went out at ten o’clock after Panorama and nobody noticed it, but we’ve got that in full!. That one ended with Paul being burned alive and the following day Tracey McCoy, age thirteen, from Wembley wrote in her diary for One Day In The Life Of Television that, in her opinion, “whoever thought this up must be mentally disturbed”.

QED (BBC 1988)
Two memorable guest appearances here. We wish there was a show like QED now, which certainly put the pop into pop science, using all kinds of gimmickry to bring science and innovation to the masses, whether that was getting Kenny Everett in to explain visual effects of inviting Steve Davis to take on a snooker-playing robot. In 1988 Paul presented a special edition of his show devoted to “The Magic of Memory”, with all his usual patter to explain the concept of brain training. Then on Red Nose Day 1989 he did a trick with a milk jug that went ever so slightly wrong in an amusing fashion, its failure becoming something of a running joke on Comic Relief for the next few years, as whenever they invited viewers to vote to see a clip again, they would always offer up The Moment Paul Daniels’ Trick With The Milk Jug Went Ever So Slightly Wrong.

Given it’s now ten years into its run we should probably alight on The Magic Show again as here’s what it looked like in 1990. The jury had gone, as had that theme tune, replaced by a rather anonymous theme and the opening titles with CGI magic props, which is certainly the era we most remember. A decade on Paul was still finding new ways to present the same old tricks, in things like The Bunco Booth, and unearthing interesting special guests, along with regulars like Tom Noddy and Hans Moretti. But it was starting to show its age a bit and in those days you could always tell when a BBC Saturday night show was on its way out as it would either be moved to a weeknight (a la Russ Abbott) or moved from the winter to the summer, and hence in 1994 the Magic Show moved from its cushy January start date to April, got shoved around from pillar to post during the World Cup and then unsurprisingly came to an end after a marathon run. But he wasn’t quite finished!

Every Second Counts had come to an end but Paul moved straight on to another show, with even the set looking virtually the same – and as with the previous two the format made for an enjoyable, if hardly exciting, half hour of your time. After three series the show moved to daytime and Lord Bob Monkhouse took over and Wipeout purists suggest that it took a turn for the worse at that point. We can’t agree because we simply can’t accept Lord Bob being second best at anything, especially not a game show, but we will admit Paul did a decent job of it and his version certainly had a far better theme tune.

So no more of the Magic Show, but certainly not the end of a Paul Daniels magic show. In its place came Secrets, which had a faux-nightclub setting, allowing for the slightly cheesier aspects of his shows to be stripped away and more concentration on close up magic. A Christmas special in 1994 was followed in 1995 by a whole series, but not on Saturdays, in the week where it seemed a bit out of place and, sadly, a bit out of date. It was probably a bit too close to his last series to allow Paul to reinvent himself and though he said in the final show “that’s the end of our series, if you liked it, write to the BBC”, clearly not enough people were compelled to shell out the price of a stamp and Paul took his leave of primetime BBC1 after nearly two decades. For the rest of his life, though, he was a regular presence on television and, while perhaps never much-loved, was certainly respected and admired by all.



  1. Glenn Aylett

    March 19, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I think Paul was becoming fed up with the BBC by the early nineties, he told the Daily Mail in 1992 that they were cutting corners with his show and were seeing his act as old hat, even if it was still attracting over 10 million viewers. However, in his heyday about 30 years ago, Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie Mc Gee were very hot property and that trick on Halloween in 1987 was a stroke of genious.

    On a different note, Paul had a generous side and not long before he died, donated thousands to an appeal for Christmas presents for the Redcar steelworkers children.

  2. Glenn Aylett

    March 21, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Just to add, I bet the television as a prize on Every Second Counts was a 22 inch Ferguson TX with teak effect cabinet, teletext and full remote control and made in Britain, which is why most game shows gave away Ferguson products.

  3. Richardpd

    July 28, 2021 at 11:00 pm

    Another controversial stunt was when Debbie dressed as a witch & was balanced on a spike, but suddenly was seemingly run through by the spike.

    For many years Paul’s magic sets were popular toys, my brother was given one for Christmas one year.

    I remember the picture on the box was from when Paul still wore a wig, & looked a lot younger than he did on TV at the time.

    I’ve not been able to find a picture of it online. I think Paul admitted to gradually thinning his wig out before he stopped wearing it so it wouldn’t be a shock to fans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top