A brief history
OF THE SCOTTISH CONJURERS' ASSOCIATION
The Scottish Conjurers' Association was the fourth magical society to be founded in the city of Glasgow but is the only one to have endured.
The first, the Universal Society of Magicians (1917), was succeeded in 1919 by the Glasgow Society of Magicians (G.S.M.), and then in 1920 came the Mystic Twelve founded by F.R. Burnette. When the G.S.M. was wound up in 1924 after its Treasurer had decamped with the funds the Scottish Conjurers' Association (S.C.A.) arose, phoenix-like, from its ashes. Duncan Johnstone and his boyhood friend Jimmy Findlay, as teenagers, had been very junior members of the G.S.M. but now became Founder Members of the S.C.A. together with their older G.S.M. friends, De Vega (Alex M. Stewart) and Richard Armour. These names were to become synonymous with Scottish magic.
De Vega was the first President and W.P. Wilson the first Secretary but within a couple of years Duncan Johnstone, aged 21, took over the latter office, which he was to hold continuously for a record fifty four years. Although he also served for a short time as President he did not relinquish his role as Secretary during this period. De Vega, a personal friend of Houdini, subsequently became Treasurer, a post he occupied for almost forty years and ended only when he left Glasgow for Wakefield following the death of his wife Nan.
In the early years members from other Scottish towns joined the club and the concept of the S.C.A. becoming a national society, with branches known as Clans being formed in other locations, was envisaged. Initially there were three such Clans (Dumbarton & Alexandria, Ayr Brother Conjurers and Paisley Magical Society) but the idea did not appeal to some existing societies, particularly Aberdeen, and thus it fairly quickly foundered.
From 1928 the S.C.A has had its own club magazine, The Thistle. This has been produced in both mimeographed and printed formats over the years and, although often appearing at irregular intervals, it has always been well received by members with its news of club activities and articles of general interest. Over the years it has also built up a library of books on conjuring and the allied arts, which approaches a thousand volumes.
During the 1930s, and for a while after World War II, the club presented an Annual Night of Magic at the Lyric Theatre in Sauchiehall Street in the heart of Glasgow. The S.C.A. was also placed firmly on the British magic scene in 1938 when it hosted the first-ever Scottish Magic Convention. (The magic convention is now a very common event. Literally dozens take place in the British Isles each year with at least two or three being held in Scotland). The convention took place at the Grand Hotel. It attracted many visitors and performers from the rest of the British Isles including John Young of The Magic Circle, Dr C. Denham of Dublin, Leslie May, Percy Press, the young magiciennes Paula Baird and Lucille Barnett, and dealers George Davenport, Brunel White and Max Andrews. It was the year of the Empire Exhibition, held at Bellahouston Park on the south side of Glasgow and conventioneers took the opportunity to visit this to see the great Australian magician, Carmo, who was featured there. Plans to hold another Convention the following year were ruined by the outbreak of war. However, throughout the six years of hostilities, despite the loss of many members to the Armed Forces, the S.C.A. continued to function effectively.
The club continued to present magic shows in and around Glasgow during the 1950s and 1960s, performing in local Town Halls, church halls and the premises of numerous charitable organisations. Then, in the 1970s, they twice hired the McLellan Galleries in Sauchiehall Street for complete weekends, which gave the citizens of Glasgow the opportunity to experience a bonanza of magic. Crowds were attracted into the Galleries by the Sword Suspension and Zig-Zag Girl illusions, which were performed in the open-air on Sauchiehall Street. During the course of the Saturday and Sunday of each event members of the S.C.A. put on some 14 shows of stage magic and illusions, 10 shows of children's magic and 6 performances of Punch and Judy. Additionally there were more than 30 acts of close-up magic, together with displays dealing with the history of magic consisting of antique apparatus, theatre posters, books and other memorabilia. There was an attendance of roughly 1,000 people during each weekend.
For the past couple of decades the S.C.A. has changed course. Instead of putting on shows for the paying public, they have channelled their energies into performing for people in their own clubs and institutions with an emphasis on charitable organisations. Old peoples homes, the Institute for the Deaf, and Multiple Sclerosis Society are just some of the organisations and charities that have benefited from this policy. Christmas parties have also featured prominently with Boys' Brigade and Cub Scouts being invited to the clubrooms.
In the 1950s the S.C.A. started to host lecturers from overseas for the benefit of its members. It commenced with such luminaries as Hen Fetsch, Dai Vernon, Dorny, Milton Kort, Al Goshman and Scotty Lang. This tradition has happily continued with increased vigour to the present day.
The history of the S.C.A. is littered with milestones. One of the first was its 21st Anniversary in 1945. The occasion was marked with the publication of The Magic of the S.C.A edited by Dick Armour. A good friend of the club in these years was a Scottish-born American magician Max Holden who toured the variety theatres of Britain with an act which included shadowgraphy. When he gave up performing he returned home to New York, became a world-famous magic dealer and subsequently published an American edition of the S.C.A. book.
The 30th Anniversary was celebrated with a dinner and entertainment at "The Gordon Restaurant". The surprise of the evening was the appearance of Jack and Mary Kinson, who were playing the Pavilion Theatre that week, and to everyone's delight they presented their music hall act, which closed a splendid evening.
Next came the big one, the Golden Jubilee in 1974. This was a gala occasion, which began with a Civic Reception in Glasgow City Chambers. The action then moved to the Bellahouston Hotel with a one-day convention featuring lectures by Alfred Gabriel and Harold Taylor, followed by a Dinner and Entertainment presented by the lecturers plus Van Buren and Greta. Mac Wilson represented The Magic Circle and Bill Stickland the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. A book titled Fifty Years Later, edited by Alan Hodgson and Stuart McMillan, was published to mark this landmark in the S.C.A.'s history.
A decade later the Diamond Jubilee was an international affair, graced by the presence of Jay Marshall from Chicago, and held at the same venue. Lectures by Alan Shaxon and our Honorary Life Present, Dr Eddie Dawes, preceded a Dinner and a great Cabaret, presented by Jay Marshall and Lefty (his glove puppet), Alan and Anne Shaxon, Leslie Melville and John Shearer.
The 75th Anniversary in 1999 was celebrated with a One-Day Convention at the Swallow Hotel. It featured lectures by Alan Shaxon, Hank Moorehouse from the United States and Aldo Colombini, an Italian now living in the U.S. Following Dinner this trio provided a wonderful Cabaret, which got a great review in The Herald newspaper.
Throughout its history the S.C.A. has been blessed with an enthusiastic membership of amateur and professional magicians. While it may seem invidious to single out the contributions of a few individual members from the past, we should acknowledge that some have left their mark permanently by their deeds. Duncan Johnstone, apart from his aforementioned marathon spell as Secretary, was an avid collector of all things magical. One facet of collecting that especially interested him was the acquisition of articles relating to magic that appeared in non-magical periodicals. De Vega, an inventor and performer, published thirteen manuscripts, a book jointly with Chris Van Bern, and numerous articles in magic magazines. One of his illusions, the Divided Lady, is said to have been Robert Harbin's inspiration for his famous Zig-Zag Girl, arguably one of the most popular illusions in the past 40 years. Jimmy Findlay compiled nine Collectors Annuals and authored nine books and enjoyed an international reputation as an outstanding collector. Edwin A. Dawes, a member for almost half a century and Honorary Life President since 1963, is a world-renowned collector and historian. He has written many books relating to the history of magic and in recognition of this literary prowess has received awards from the Academy of Magical Arts in Hollywood and the Society of American Magicians. In 1998 he was awarded 'The Maskelyne' by The Magic Circle for his contributions to British Magic. Duncan Fletcher was President of the club for a record 32 years, terminated by his tragically sudden death in 1995. Thanks mainly to his efforts during this period, famous magicians from all corners of the globe visited the S.C.A and experienced the hospitality of Duncan and his lovely wife, Olive. Frederica (Tommy Frederick), another collector and a clever originator of tricks, authored The Magic of Frederica and countless articles for magazines and also ran a magical dealer's business for a period.
Our Honorary Life Vice Presidents include Dex Warren who joined the club in 1931 and is still incredibly active and willing to perform his magic at the drop of a hat; John Shearer with a mere 49 years service who has travelled the world performing at places as far apart as Carnegie Hall, New York, and the Sydney Opera House; Jay Marshall who appeared on Broadway in the final edition of the Ziegfeld Follies and also in countless television shows, including several times on the Ed Sullivan Show; Alan Shaxon who has taken his magic to over 30 countries as well as appearing on many of the top cruise ships. He has been described as "one of the top ten after-dinner acts in the world".
There were other illustrious members. John Ramsay from Ayr, whose sleight of hand was legendary, took great delight in fooling some of the world's best magicians. Savola won the Theo Speaker Cup in 1952, Mae Howie the Ladies' Trophy in 1967, and Drew Masters, assisted by his wife Tess, the British Ring Shield in 1967 at British Ring Conventions.
One could continue but the fact remains that every member, past and present, has each in his or her own way contributed to the Society to which we are all proud to belong. Today, at the start of a new millennium, we can look forward with quite confidence to the club's future successes.
Edwin A. Dawes, M.I.M.C.
Honorary Life President
De Vega, Will Dale, Harry Vernon, JB Findlay, WP Wilson, Fred Smith.
1924 - 27De Vega
1927 - 30Richard Armour
1930 - 33Will Dale
1933 - 36Richard Armour
1936 - 42Nelson Lyford
1942 - 43Tom Ellis
1943 - 44Nelson Lyford
1946 - 47Duncan Johnstone
1947 - 49Douglas Swanson
1949 - 50George Pigott
1950 - 59Harry Postlethwaite
1959 - 63Eddie Dawes
1963 - 95Duncan Fletcher
1995 - 99Harry Gallacher
1999 - 07Alex R Proctor
2007 - 11Mike Archibald
2011 - Jim Kelly