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Ten things we are going to miss when we leave Britain – Part 5. Derren Brown

July 10, 2010

Your humble writer looking positively chuffed because the hand on his shoulder belongs to a certain Mr Brown

Imagine if you will, that you are an illusionist. You have come up with a method to seemingly predict the outcome of a casino roulette wheel. You realise this will make a great piece of television, especially if filmed live from a genuine casino. The problem is, however, that for some reason, related or unrelated to your method, you cannot film the exterior of the casino. You can have secret cameras set up inside the casino, but not outside. You realise the lack of exterior shots renders your method useless as viewers will come to the conclusion that the programme is recorded in a studio with a specially made roulette wheel.

What would you do? (By the way, spoiler alert: if you plan to watch Derren Brown The Events episode 4 and wish to enjoy it at its full intensity, do not read on.)

The solution Derren Brown and his team came up with was to miss the prediction by one slot. It was a very powerful ending for the people watching and I can say that personally for, to this day, I can still remember the number he bet on and the number the ball finally stopped at – it was 8 and 30 (the two are adjacent to each other on a roulette wheel). At the time after the broadcast, some people called it an “EPIC FAIL“. I think it is in fact quite the opposite – missing by one is still probabilistically close enough to be considered a success of some degree by most and nobody even questioned the genuineness of the filming location.

Derren Brown has made some memorable and often intriguing television over the years which earned him the Youtube-fame much needed by performers of this age, but the stage is where he truly shines. While his television programmes are intense and thought-provoking, his stage shows are lively, funny, atmospheric and full of surprises. His understanding in theatre and audience management meant the finales of his shows are always incredibly climactic. As a magician / illusionist, he stands out because he has (and is faithful to) a very clear purpose in his performances: to encourage the audience to be more sceptical to their beliefs. So instead of merely showing you a trick, he gives you wonder and makes you ponder.

In my years in the UK, I have seen Derren Brown’s TV programmes, read his book and seen him on stage once. The things I have learnt from him, magic-wise or else, is countless. (If I could choose one thing to teach my ten-year-old self that might make my life easier, it would be the mnemonic techniques I first came across in Derren Brown’s book, Tricks of the Mind.) The one time I talked to him in person was at the stage door after watching his show. When I asked him to autograph my playing card, he asked me whether I was a magician. I told him that I was “trying to be one”, which is exactly the sort of unimpressive answer one gives when one is star-struck. Hopefully, one day, as I continue to polish my skills on my hobby, I can go back to him and give him the answer I wanted to give.

I am going to start my first job the day after tomorrow, so I shall leave it to my dearest secretary for the next post in the series.  I promise I won’t be absent for too long!

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