I have no idea how this memory surfaced, and in fact it’s not one that has often come to the fore, but something in my head triggered me to look up: Alan Alannah’s Magic Shop, Holborn.
When I was a kid in the 80s, and I somehow happened to be with my dad in Holborn, I was mesmerised by what Google corrects as Alan Alan’s Magic Spot (so my memory wasn’t intact!). A dark little shop run by a famous magician – and I gathered this then because the cash register had a sticker of the man, and I didn’t know anyone else with a professional-looking sticker of themselves – who, I think, on my first or second visit stood out to me because he had Frankenstein bolts in his neck but was acting as if this was ordinary attire.
Alan Alan (real surname Rabinowitz) was quite a character. My dad and I probably ever only exchanged a few sentences with this man over 3 visits to this long-defunct shop, but you couldn’t forget him. The first time I ever went in there, my dad was engaged by the various contraptions for sale, which when touched would unleash their magic trick payload. My dad, like an unfortunate mouse, set off quite a few things in succession, and Alan – in what I think was acted displeasure – told him tersely not to touch anything. And this made me laugh. But not out loud.
To a kid (even grown-up ones) the shop was as good as visiting a sweet shop. There were all sorts of clever magic tools there and my dad fed my brief practical joker period by getting a few things. The first was a bog-standard whoopee cushion, which burst in a couple of days because a particularly built kid sat on it with full force at school.
The second or third time (one of these times we just looked) I had been gifted with a large silver coin that sprung and exploded with a cap bomb spark when you touched it; there were realistic plastic flies which I stuck to my teacher’s felt chair which freaked her and the girls out when I offered to pick them up; and there was a retractable plastic dagger. In these days getting your friend to collude with you while you stabbed his chest and feigning death wasn’t frowned upon. Not much anyway.
It turns out that Alan’s shop closed down in the mid 90s and I hadn’t gone there since at least ’89/’90. But I’m glad to hear the guy (who was getting on then) is still around. There’s a picture of him in his shop on his Wikipedia page, and fortunately for me this tallies with my memory.
On another note, I was once given a tube of Smarties by one of the iconic performers of the Punch & Judy puppet show. We were in Hyde Park I think and – if my memory isn’t flattering me – he picked me out from the deck-chaired audience because I was a ‘handsome boy’.