Right from the start, the 1985 Christmas Special suffers from something of a dance overload. Paul introduces us to his two assistants (Kate Bellamy and Donald Waugh. Yes, Hughsey from Grange Hill) who he proceeds to lock into two individual cabinets which have been made to look like chimneys. So far, so predictable. But then Paul ambles off the stage as the Brian Rogers dancers move onstage and proceed to leap about in a highly energetic manner. They add a bit of glamour – albeit on the cheesy side.
As the orchestra grinds out a version of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, the dancers take over the illusion – some of them start to slice the cabinets up whilst the more attractive lady dancers are content to preen themselves. This is all very odd, although there is a reasonable payoff when we see Paul – clearly deciding that he should get a little more involved in proceedings – mildly berates them for mixing up the boxes. This means that the assistant’s clothes are revealed to have been swopped once the boxes are reassembled (a neat extra trick to go with the puzzle of where they disappeared to in the first place).
If Paul largely sits this one out, then he doesn’t really contribute a great deal to the remainder of the show. There’s a few close-up illusions – the three card trick (done with four cards!) and a trick with a fifty pound note – but otherwise he’s fairly inactive until the end of show spectacular. More on that in a minute.
The Jazzy Jumpers come from America and are a young, energetic skipping troupe. Not the most exciting of speciality acts, but undeniably skilful. Lance Burton (direct from Las Vegas) offers us a reasonably good performance of the substitution trunk (created by Maskelyne, popularised by Houdini) although it’s odd that we never actually see the person inside the trunk who Burton had swopped with. Zhou Shurong offers eye-watering feats of flexibility.
It’s always fun when two great magicians meet – and so it is here as Paul comes face to face with Sooty. Yes it’s Sooty, making a rare return to the BBC (and mistaking Paul for Terry Wogan – easy to do) whilst causing havoc with a miniature fountain. This is apparently a scaled down version of an illusion performed by Dante and although it’s only a bit of throwaway fun it’s still appealing. It was nice to see Sweep as well (oh, and Matthew Corbett too I guess).
We then have a cutesy overload as Paul proceeds to tell a young chap called David all about Snow White. David looks too neat and scrubbed up to have been pulled out of the audience, so presumably he was selected well in advance (not that this really matters, as David’s main function is to react with wonder as the story of Snow White comes to life).
This is the cue for the return of the Brian Rogers dancers and there’s more dancing to come as we meet Snow White – who just happens to be played by Debbie. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the whole closing sequence had been designed in order to show off her dancing talents (you may not be surprised to hear that Snow White gets the chance to do a spot of hoofing). A few illusions are thrown in but they’re all rather secondary to the showbizzy razzle dazzle (the seven dwarfs are played by children, for that extra awww factor). It’s nice to see Fenella Fielding as the wicked Queen though.
The showbiz feel is maintained right until the end as each performer returns to the stage in order to take their bows. As a Christmassy extravaganza this is decent enough fare, but as a magic show it’s something of a disappointment.