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"Okay, It's official. With the release of the English magazine The Gen in a digital format we now all have access to enough good magic to last us at least four lifetimes...I have often wished that I had a complete file of The Gen. Happily, I now do. I urge you to support this project."-Michael Close MAGIC Magazine

The Digital Gen is now ready from Martin Breese and it comes on four CD Roms complete with a 161 page index compiled by Dr Michael Collie. The GEN ran for 26 years starting in 1945 and it has nearly 9000 pages, over 300 issues and it took a team of two experts just under 3 months to scan all the pages and to correct over 13500 photographic images. The price in the USA is $120 and in the UK and Europe it is priced at £75 post free. Harry Stanley published the magazine and it was edited by Lewis Ganson. There were hundreds of well known names who contributed to the GEN but here are just a few: Al Koran, David Berglas, Ed Marlo, Billy McComb, Ken Brooke, Robert Harbin, Juan Tamariz, Roy Walton, Jack Avis, Dai Vernon, Fred Lowe, Bob Driebeek, Fred Kaps and many, many more.


I had an order a while ago from a gentleman with the name of Hugh Miller. Could it be the one and only Hugh Miller? And it was. We exchanged emails and when the Digital Gen came out Hugh ordered it immediately. He told me that he had not only written several magic books for Harry Stanley but he also wrote for the Gen and worked at the Unique Magic Studios as well. He mentioned the days when he and Ken Brooke and the rest of the boys used to pack the Gen ready for despatch around the world and the story was so interesting that I asked him to write it up for our website. Hugh is a busy man still and writes for tv as well as writing a wide range of novels for general consumption. If you can still remember the days when the Gen magazine was published and if you ever took a trip to the Unique Studio then this article will evoke happy memories for you. If you are a little younger then you will still find this article to be really fascinating.


by Hugh Miller

One evening at least forty years ago, at the end of a particularly wearying day at Unique Magic, Ken Brooke put on his jacket, poured a couple of glasses of Scotch from a dusty bottle labelled ROUGHING FLUID, and handed me one. 'If we put as much time and energy into any other business,' he said, 'we'd be millionaires.' 

He was probably right. As I recall it, our commitment to the magic business was total. Cy Endfield said our eagerness for the job resembled an unhealthy religious fervour. At 7.30 sharp, six mornings a week, we would unlock the door of the Unique Studio in Soho and blunder in, yawning and invariably shivering. There was an opening drill: Ken turned up the heating and I put on the kettle. We would have a swift cup of tea and be started before eight. At that time the magic business was on a roll (for those of us with London W1 addresses, at any rate) and the pressures of the working day could be relentless. Often we didn't get back home before 10 o'clock at night, but Ken appeared to thrive on turbulence and he cut through it without a shudder. I did my best to keep up. 

To this day Ken's magical brilliance and his formidable talent as a demonstrator are well known to the fraternity, but demos and selling were only part of his job at Unique. For years he single-handedly managed the mail-order side of the business, packing and despatching mailbags full of magic five days a week. He spent hours routining and writing detailed instructions for most of the tricks marketed under the Harry Stanley banner - a task that required Ken himself to type the text directly on to stencils and then print the 'Magi-Tutors' on a Roneo duplicator. On Saturdays from 9 until 4 he held forth in the studio, demonstrating and talking magic to visitors, blending his skill and humour with an awesome talent for selling. Years later, when Ken was running his own business on Wardour Street, he and I would meet occasionally to down a few and talk over old times. Invariably the conversation would turn to Gen Day, the monolithic monthly event when the pressure went up and we struggled to meet Harry Stanley's sacred deadline.

Our secretary Mavis had the date boldly marked in red on every sheet of her calendar: during my years with Unique Magic, Gen Day was usually the 15th of the month. It was publication day, drop-everything-else day, the day Harry insisted we get his beloved magazine packed and despatched worldwide to subscribers and magical dealers, all within four hours of its arrival in the studio.

'I don't want phone calls, I don't want complaints,' Harry would say. 'People expect to get the Gen on time. I hate apologising when they don't.' 

Early on the morning of Gen Day hundreds of envelopes and labels were fed through Mavis's addressing machine, a primitive device which she swore would jam if she took her eyes off it. As soon as the printers made their delivery, Ken and myself - and whoever else we could recruit - began ripping open the parcels and setting out the magazines in stacks on the workbench. In my early days at the studio Ken taught me how to load a Gen into an envelope and tuck in the flap, all in one smooth movement without lifting the envelope off the bench. It was a swift and rather elegant manoeuvre, a combination of rhythm and dexterity. I took a while to get the knack, but by the time I finally cracked it my packing speed had trebled. 

After packing, then stacking according to country of destination, every envelope, packet and parcel had to be franked with the correct amount of postage. Here was another area where rhythm and nimble handling could make all the difference, although our elderly franking machine could spring surprises. On one occasion Harry's son Bill, new to the machine, bumped one of the adjusting levers with his knuckle as he whizzed the magazines through the slot. Before he knew it he had franked eight envelopes at over £7 a time and used up all the credit on the machine.

On Gen Days we often had celebrity packers, because many professional magicians were regular customers of Unique Magic, and we never hesitated to ask casual visitors to help. None of them ever objected to 'mucking in', as Ken put it. Subscribers would have been intrigued to know that many individual copies of the had been packed at various times by Robert Harbin, Al Koran, Tommy Cooper, Maurice Fogel and quite a few other big names in the business. Harry once let me see a snapshot he took in the early 1950s, showing Orson Welles sitting at a card table in the old Frith Street studio. The actor was a keen amateur magician and on his visits to England he often bought equipment from Harry. The picture showed Welles hammily puffing on a cigar as he popped a copy of the Gen into an envelope. 

Looking back on it all, I realise my time at Unique Magic coincided with a gilded period in 20th - Century magic. Back then our trade had a status we can scarcely imagine today. Countless professionals were working regularly and actually topping bills; talented amateurs played to large, appreciative audiences; a genuine and boundless enthusiasm permeated the entire magic scene and on all sides there was innovation, as a study of any issue of the Gen will demonstrate. For most of us in the retail side of magic it was a time of great fun - and in spite of the strain and occasionally ragged tempers, it was even a bit of a lark to pack a mountain of magazines once a month and schlepp them down to the Post Office. In my six years at Unique Magic I never missed a Gen Day, and in 1970, when Harry called and told me the last issue had been printed and sent out, it felt like news of a sad passing.

But the Gen lives on, after all, preserved in its digital entirety on the magnificent four-disc edition from Martin Breese. It's bliss to ramble through the magazine again, any time I like, with no clutter or fuss, and no fear of doing damage to such a precious resource. As a bonus, there is a distinctly magical glow in knowing that every issue of the Gen is tucked safely away in a corner of a desk drawer. Harry Stanley would have loved that.
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