Tony Corinda 16 May 1930- 1 July 2010
In terms of magic history and recognition, and particularly amongst the mentalist communities, there are some names that always appear to come to the fore – Fogel, Annemann, Dunninger and perhaps none more so than that of Corinda. Tony Corinda, who wrote 13 Steps to Mentalism, could never have envisaged that this pseudonym would one day become so legendary that if you speak with any respected mentalist and ask about book recommendations, it’ll be hard not to find one who does not mention or possess the 13 Steps to Mentalism; it is possibly the most quoted, and purchased book in mentalism and was written by Corinda in the late 50’s and 60’s. But what about the man himself – what is his story? Surprisingly, considering his reputation, very little has been written about Corinda, who, like Alexander in our first article, had an intriguing and a somewhat dark side to his personality.
He was born Thomas William Simpson, in 1930 in Mill Hill London and his start in life was tough, growing up in the war years in London. Schools were being closed after German air raid attacks and he left school with no qualifications at thirteen and starting work at fourteen years old. Towards the end of World War II he got a job at the National Institute of Medical Research, close to his home in Mill Hill. He was sent to a technical college to improve his education and to train as a microbiologist. After a few years at the Institute he moved to Central Public Health Laboratories at Colindale, and at the age of eighteen was conscripted to the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC); he was posted to Egypt to work in an army research laboratory in the desert. Not far from the lab was a military hospital, and Corinda would visit often to chat to the patients. It was here that his interest in magic developed. At the time he knew six magic tricks and would show them to the patients over and over again; because the hospital was isolated, patients never really had visitors so any form of distraction, including Corinda’s repetitive and poorly executed magic effects, were welcomed by the incarcerated patients. An accidental encounter with a patient who was actually competent magician led to Corinda being taught some new effects (including a center tear and the 3-Kings stacked deck; the patient also gave him a magic dealer’s catalogue (Max Andrews of Vampire Magic). Enthralled with a new world of dealer products Corinda would eagerly read through the catalogue and even slept with it under his pillow. He wrote to the dealer in London and got an updated catalogue and next discovered Davenport’s Magic dealer; his repertoire had now increased to around a dozen effects and he started reading magic books where he discovered mentalism. Like many before and since, he became ensnared into the gentle art of deception. He changed his name to Corinda (using an anagram of the famous German magic author and dealer Conradi) when he was twenty years old.
After being demobilized from the army he returned to London and worked in medical research; however he had lost any enthusiasm for the role and drifted from job to job in various laboratories. One day he put away his white coat and never returned to a lab again. Wanting a complete change he moved to Dover to stay with a chess playing friend, Pete Hammerton. Pete, a Kent County Chess Champion, also had a keen interest in magic and puzzles and his mother was a spiritualist medium; this is where Corinda’s interest in the occult started. Needing to work, Corinda and Pete got jobs at St Mary’s Bay Children’s holiday camp, in roles similar to the Butlin’s Redcoats, where they were hosts and entertained the children. Pete became the resident clown and Corinda the resident magician and mind-reader, doing magic for the children and mentalism for the adults. They were totally unprepared for the huge influx of holiday seekers (the venue took in 2500 children and 500 adult carers). They stayed for two seasons before Corinda returned to London, where, without work, he spent his days studying magic and playing chess. Eventually he found work at a fairground and travelled with them for two years before getting tired with the constant uprooting, travelling, breaking down and setting up which was really physically draining. He decided to use his fairground experience to work at the Battersea Pleasure Gardens in London, which was a permanent showground set up in 1951 for the Festival of Britain. Here he run a magic stool and also performed some magic to visitors. He moved to close by fashionable Chelsea and from there could easily walk to work.
Whilst time lines appear conflicting, Corinda worked at the Pleasure Gardens for two years before moving to premises in Soho’s Berwick street, where he sold mostly psychic, spiritualistic and occult related items along with a limited number of mentalism items. It was whilst running this ‘shop’ (it was actually a tiny room in a shared building where it is said he also lived) that he first met David Berglas and developed a friendship that was to not only to last, but also be a pivotal influence on Corinda’s career. In time he was invited to work for Berglas, who was instrumental in helping him move to more luxurious surroundings in Mortimer Street and who also helped to develop the business. Over the years Corinda worked with Berglas on many TV and radio productions. Unlike other dealers, and there were plenty nearby including Harry Stanley, Ken Brooke, Ron MacMillan, Davenports and others, who would sell some mentalism items, Corinda’s store / studio specialiased in mentalism effects along with selling standard magic effects.
Later Corinda took over The Magic Shop in Oxford Street, London which was originally run by Dick Chavel. This store was at street level so catered mainly to the lay public, so many of the items sold were either practical jokes or beginners’ tricks, but other items and small illusions for semi-professional magicians and hobbyists were also sold over the counter. Around the same period, Corinda had the magic concession in Hamleys Toy Shop in Regent Street and he went on to lease a second premise in Oxford Street. He eventually sold the shops for a significant profit. During the late 50s and early 60s it was true to say that he was a successful businessman running a small empire of magic and joke shops in London’s busy West End and employing around 40 people.
In business he was quite determined and entrepreneurial; at one time had a standing order with Goodliffe placing an advert in Abra each week. Every so often Corinda had to come up with an eye-catching headline for a trick. Once he advertised a trick in Abra without a clue as to what he was going to supply to customers when their eager replies came in the post the following week. It was The Khan Dictionary Test and at the time of the ad had no trick to sell or idea how it would work! After a call to Fogel in nearby Brixton, a quick session ensued that was followed by a visit to the mentalists’ favourite store – a local stationers, during which a box of chalk and a couple of dictionaries were purchased. A few hours later the chalk box had been gimmicked to switch the dictionaries. Fogel had come up with the idea of using a full-length stick of chalk that snapped after writing the prediction. Picking up the broken piece of chalk off the floor covered the switch beautifully; audacious and clever stuff. By Monday morning the production line had begun and the orders rolled in.
Despite his reputation today, it appears that Corinda was not a prolific performer by any stretch. He had had some experience of working in various magic shops as he had demonstrated for Dick Silverman’s (Cheval magic shop in Oxford Street) where he had worked with Pat Page and Ali Bongo. He also demonstrated in Gamages where he would work the Svengali deck for three months solid leading up to Christmas. He estimated that he had done the routine 18,720 times during this period!
Corinda started writing the First Step of 13 Steps to Mentalism in 1958, in his late twenties. Initially there was no intention in making a series but after writing a few, he muted the idea past Berglas to perhaps write 10 booklets, each on a different subject; he was unsure if he would find sufficient material and was re-assured when Berglas suggested he could write a lot more than ten booklets on various topics in mentalism! Berglas, having a penchant for the number 13 (which he thought a mysterious number) suggested thirteen for the series. So, each one of the 13 steps of the book were originally written as individual booklets each dealing with a different aspect of mentalism or an allied art, with much advice and contributions from Berglas, Jon Tremaine and Eric Mason; Corinda’s work with Berglas proved pivotal as many of the effects and routines (or certainly the concept behind them) developed for the Berglas shows were included, some with permission and some without. Tremaine and Mason illustrated the books. When the final Step 13 was completed it was the only book (series) at that time that explained every detail – not only the effect but, more importantly, how do it, what to say, when to say it, how to manufacture the necessary props, as well as discussing stagecraft, misdirection and so on; the booklets were originally published as 13 individual ‘courses’, first compiled as the encyclopedic “Corinda’s Thirteen Steps to Mentalism,” and published in 1964 as a complete volume by D. Robbins and Co. Interestingly whilst each booklet was sold for around 10 shillings, when it was made into one complete volume Corinda wanted to sell it for 130 shillings, which was an extraordinarily high price at the time for a book (only a few copies were ever sold at that price). Eventually the book was sold at a more reasonable price and it was then that it became an international success having also been translated into numerous languages. It was later produced as a hardcover bound volume by Harry Clarke, a printer who produced many other books for magic studios at that time. In 2011 Corinda’s Thirteen Steps to Mentalism was republished in the Encyclopedia of Mentalism and Mentalists
It was later adapted into video format by mentalist and magician, Richard Osterlind and the book went on to be regarded as the essential ‘mentalism’ reference book bar none. Interestingly, not knowing the working relationship between the two mentalists, John Carney once remarked “if Corinda’s 13 Steps to Mentalism are the tools, The Mind and Magic book by Berglas is the manual”
Despite the huge success of the book Corinda was not commonly remembered for many inventions; however these were numerous and included: The Khan Slate Test, Untouched by Hand, Connda’s Ghost Outfit, Connda’s Spirit Bell, Hypno-heat, Cormda’s Billet Pencil, The Khan Dictionary Test, Dr. Simon Spirit Slate, Choma Tobem, Connda’s Third Choice, The Camel’s Eye, Vienna Dice Trick, Birds of a Feather, Bombshell Prediction, Fantasy in Flame (with Maurice Fogel), One-in-a-Million Newspaper Test, Connda’s Dictionary Test, Ouijamental, Predicted Card-in-Balloon, Connda’s Money Box, Psychosight, Paradox, Three-of-a-Kind, Connda’s two-person Communicator, Blind Date, The Spirit Telephone, Q5 Pocket Index (with Pat Page), Fata Morgana and Cormda’s MasterGimmick. His personal favourites being the Khan Envelope Test and the Powers of Darkness. He credits his passion for chess, and his analytical thinking, to his ability to create effects with a logical premise.
In an interview debating the ethics of explaining the rationale behind mentalism (psychic ability, telepathy etc.) he referred to his colleague Fogel’s own philosophy “if you don’t have to admit anything , keep your mouth shut” asking who said that originally Fogel replied “Al Capone”. One of Corinda’s own favourite sayings was ‘Good timing is invisible. Bad timing sticks out a mile’
Corinda was proud of his Membership of The Inner Magic Circle with Gold Star (awarded in 1959). At that time he was one of the youngest recipients; he was also proud of his Life Membership Diploma of The Psychic Entertainers Association (PEA), and both certificates were on display for all to see.
Apparently, fed up with the rat race he retired to a quiet life in Norfolk and became a virtual recluse, distancing himself from the magic community. He still kept his interest in the world of Mentalism, and would often write articles for the Psychic Entertainers Association’s monthly magazine, Vibrations. For the latter part of his life he kept in touch only with a very small handful of people including Pat Page, Martin MacMillan and Chris Woodward. Corinda sadly passed away at the age of 80 on 1st July 2010; on a dramatic wet and windy day on 15th July was remembered at the Funeral Service at the Mintlyn Crematorium, King’s Lynn crematorium accompanied two dozen mourners; the small but devoted gathering of kind and thoughtful local friends and neighbours were there to pay their last respects to someone, unbeknownst to them, who had become a legend in his own lifetime as a result of his The Thirteen Steps to Mentalism. No other magicians attended except Martin MacMillan. His reputation will live on.
Atmore, Joseph, “13 Steps to Mentalism”, Magic Magazine, Vol. 17, No. 7 (March 2008): 26-34.
Berglas, David, Magic Week. (July 2010).
Woodward, Chris, “Tony Corinda. Beyond the 13th Step”, Magic Circular, (March 2008). 74-75
Woodward, Chris, Obituaries, Magic Circular, (October 2010): 302
Thank you also to David Berglas for some background information and Alexander Crawford for references.