It’s Wizard – but it’s safe!

Granada’s It’s Wizard aims to present science to kids in an entertaining – but safe – way

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From the TVTimes for week commencing 13 March 1960

MAGICIAN Billy McComb was sitting in a comer of the studio talking into an empty cocoa tin and writing “Yours, Ahkkx LbBnla” in an autograph book.

Even for a master of the unexpected this was an unusual performance … one that demanded an explanation. As if he read my thoughts, Billy whispered into the tin, mysteriously: “Hold on a minute. I’ve got a visitor.”

Then he turned, and said: “I’m just trying out our new studio telephone. All you need are two tins, two nails and a length of string. But it really works.”

That made sense — the tin can telephone was a trick I remembered from my own boyhood. For the uninitiated — you take two cans, bore a hole in each, tie a piece of string to a nail each end, passing it through the holes. Two people then hold the string taut, one listening while the other speaks. The sound vibrations travel down the stretched string.

But what about “Ahkkx LbBnla”?

A man smoking a pipe watches a woman listening to a shell
He tells this girl she can “hear the sea” equally well in a tumbler

Said Billy: “Oh, that’s my code name -just another of the things we’ve been getting up to in It’s Wizard. It’s simply Billy McComb with each letter moved a step backwards in the alphabet.”

Since this Granada children’s programme started three weeks ago, Billy McComb has been devoting his spare time to the fascinating ways of presenting science with smiles.

“It’s one of the most satisfying shows ever done,” said the veteran of 200 television appearances. “In fact, everything I have learned in my life seems to have been leading up to It’s Wizard.

“There’s been the pre-medical course I took at Trinity College, Dublin and the medical and Bachelor of Science course I took at Queen’s University, Belfast, which have given me the scientific background that is essential for this programme.

“Then my long study of magic helps me in the presentation of effects. And my experience as a cartoonist makes it easier for me to give clear blackboard demonstrations.

It’s Wizard is one of the hardest types of show to put on,” he said. “You can either make it wildly complicated and unentertaining or extremely simple and still unentertaining. However, we feel I have found the perfect formula for presenting science to children in a way they can all understand. Everything I do in the show is tried out beforehand on my boy Sheron. He understands exactly what I’m doing and what I’m getting at, and he’s only nine.

“The main idea is that almost every experiment we do can be repeated by a child in his own home and using everyday objects. The average child cannot ask his mother for a cathode-ray oscilloscope, but he can borrow a basin of water or a packet of baking powder to try out something he’s seen on the programme.”

But whatever ingredients are required, there will never be any risk of a young viewer blowing up the kitchen after watching It’s Wizard. One important rule of the programme is that no experiment must be attempted that is in any way dangerous.

Two images of a man writing on a tube
Left, Billy McComb displays a strip of jumbled letters. Right, wrapped around a cylinder it reads: “Attack at dawn”

“In fact, we would like parents to cooperate with us,” said Billy, “not only by watching the programme but by helping children try out experiments for themselves.

“An interested mother or father can be of great help to a child, and they will find that It’s Wizard will also broaden their own knowledge about the workings of things around them.

“I know it’s doing a lot for me personally. Every now and then a bell rings in my mind as I relearn something I first knew about during my own schooldays 15 or 20 years ago.”

Since he gave up medicine to make a profession of his boyhood hobby of conjuring, Billy McComb has travelled widely.

He has been seen on television in seven countries. Viewers from the north of Germany down to Monaco have known him as a magician. The Italians have seen him as an illusionist, the Spaniards as a lightning cartoonist. And in America he has worked as a television producer.

But his first interest has always been magic.

He is an international authority on the subject. One of his books on magic is a standard textbook within the profession. He is one of the three examiners who test magicians for membership of the Inner Magic Circle.

And in July he will be the No 1 lecturer at a world gathering of wizards, when he flies to Boston, Massachusetts, for the International Congress of Magicians. This will be the second time he has been star attraction at the Congress.

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