For our February meeting we welcomed Walt Lees back to the League after a gap of twelve years, and a goodly number turned out to greet him. Walt's topic on this occasion was pitching Svengali decks, and he was resplendent in a loud checked suit to complement the image.
Walt began by defining the ideal product for such a salesman, and the ubiquitous Svengali deck fit all of the suggested criteria, in terms of size, cost and immediate 'do-ability'. It was even possible to make up your own packs with basic equipment.
Walt then described the many characters he had been associated with over the years, at Hamleys and Harrods, and was able to sum up the techniques of each, from Johnny Neptune (Dawson) to Val Andrews and Eric Ward. There were detours into tales of potentially fatal escapes from cardboard boxes on bonfires and the character who existed on a diet of crisp sandwiches and lived in the exhibition hall, concealing himself under the stand each evening.
Walt explored the psychology behind pitching; not appearing to be a magician, gradually building up the vocal volume, ensuring people could hear even if they couldn't see, taking the first purchases from the back of the crowd and so on . . . all based upon a decade of regular work in this field. Comparisons were drawn with fairground hustlers, and Walt concluded with a typical pitch to the audience present.
In the second part of the afternoon we were treated to a discussion of the ball vase and shown various methods of additional handling with the production of multi-coloured billiard balls, which owed much to Edward Victor.
There was also a master-class on the memorised deck, using the Bart Harling stack as a basis, and showing how it could be made even more powerful if combined with a 'mighty memory' scenario.
Throughout, Walt stressed the importance of weaving stories around effects, and the whole session was brought to a close with a pun-filled tale told using the prompting of a large pack of cards which owed much to the styles of Ken Brooke and Mel Mellers.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, and Walt was thanked fulsomely for his efforts. Brian Lead
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