How Do They Do That?

The true story behind the infamous Three Card Trick on How Do they Do That?

You may remember the furore surrounding the exposure of the Three Card Trick on How Do they Do That? on ITV. John Lenahan has been living off his notoriety ever since the episode aired.

Lenahan was "expelled" from the Magic Circle in London and got lots of publicity out it, some may say it did his career a lot of good and consolidated his position as the bad boy of magic in the UK.

The truth, however, is very different and I know this to be a fact because it was 'me what done it your honour', yes I did the Three Card Trick and not Lenahan.

Anna had been extremely ill for a while, I didn't want to be away from home and Betty Davenport very kindly offered me a job in the Davenports Magic Shop in Charing Cross. One afternoon Lenahan came into the shop and asked me if I could do the Three Card Trick on TV (the following day I seem to remember, either he'd been practising and couldn't do it or everyone else had refused). I agreed and arranged to go to his house to prepare a "scenario" that would play well on TV.

The actual filming was a nightmare for me because I had to play the part of a dodgy con artist (Honest Dave). Lenhan, to cover up the fact that his technical ability was not up to it, told them he would get someone who did this for real on the street. I remember at one time the director asking Lenahan if I could throw the cards more into the centre of the table because the camera was picking up too much of my crotch when the cards were near the edge of table, this was a valid observation but I was standing next to Lenahan at the time - everyone was terrified of me.

Lenahan had it all worked out so that at one point he would throw a card onto the floor and he would bend the corner of the Queen while I went to retrieve the card. My job after this was to complain and while I was complaining to take out the bent corner and bend the corner of a different card, this is a very standard sleight and I can do it in my sleep but the problem I had was that because Lenahan couldn't do the trick and didn't understand the mechanics of what had to happen he kept bending the wrong corner of the Queen. So, I would start to pick up the cards and feel for the bend to take it out and it just wasn't there. This happened time after time and it was suppose to be shot as a live show. The audience started to get a bit restless and I couldn't help playing to them and making them laugh - not what I was paid to do and Lenahan was not a happy bunny.

The explanation of the Three Card Trick I gave was very clinical and detailed because that is how I analyse sleights so I had to go with my instincts.

After the show aired the shit hit the fan with a faction of the magic world up-in-arms about such exposure.

Because Lenahan fronted the exposure he was hauled in front of the Magic Circle committee to explain himself. What you have to understand is that at that time Penn & Teller were starting to make in-roads into British TV and I think Lenahan resented the fact that other American magicians were popular on British TV - and also they appeared to have popularity because of their "exposure" of tricks and methods. Lenahan wanted some of this action and the issue with the Magic Circle was playing directly into his court. If he could get kicked out he would be the Bad Boy of British magic and hopefully the public would embrace him.

After all these years he still writes that he was expelled, in fact he resigned the same as Pat Page did when he was supposedly expelled for writing an excellent book for the public. Both Lenahan and Pat Page resigned because it left the door open and they could be reinstated with no loss of face to the Circle. Everyone's a winner; the Circle don't lose face and both Lenahan and Pat Page got the publicity they wanted.

The great Ali Bongo, he told me afterwards, fought my corner and said I was to be applauded because I actually showed that magicians have some skill as opposed to the ridiculously plotted "real magician's tricks" that had been paraded on How Do They Do That in earlier episodes.

Not everyone was as gracious as Ali Bongo, Alan Alan told me I should donate my fee to the Magic Circle benevolent fund and when I questioned his selling the rights to an effect I knew did not belong to him he stormed away swearing at me.

You may wonder why I never got into trouble with the Magic Circle, well the fact is I was not a member - I actually have a letter from the Magic Circle that states that I am not a member and probably never will be. This was because of my appearing on a TV show and supposedly exposing tricks - as usual the over reaction was due to people not actually looking at what was happening and just assuming things. The Magic Circle even sent a letter to the TV company threatening legal action, they actually sent it to wrong TV company, that's how much interest the committee really had.

As you can gather I am not a fan of Lenahan or the Magic Circle but it actually goes much further than Three Card Trick episode and maybe, one day, I'll write about him and the other well respected magicians who have ripped off my ideas and passed them off as their own.


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