World-famous Preston magician Johnny Hart dies, aged 75

Internationally-renowned Preston magician Johnny Hart has died at the age of 75.

Friday, 14th December 2018, 3:56 pm
Updated Friday, 14th December 2018, 4:08 pm
Johnny Hart was famous for his act with budgies
Johnny Hart was famous for his act with budgies

Much of his success came in the United States, where he was the first British magician to appear on the hugely popular Ed Sullivan Show. He is best known for an act involving budgerigars, which he used to produce apparently from thin air.

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Born in Lytham St. Annes, he was the first winner of the Magic Circle's Young Magician of the Year competition in 1961.

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Lancashire county councillor Jim Marsh sat next to Johnny when the pair attended the old Harris Technical College in Preston during the 1950s and recalls his friend's early talents.

"He couldn't get down the school corridor without someone shouting, 'Show us a trick, Harty!'," says Jim.

"At the end-of-year school shows, he would do these amazing tricks, like making a cane dance around him to the tune Rock Around The Clock."

And, according to Jim, his talent got a teenage Johnny out of some scrapes.

"A teacher who thought he hadn't been listening in class told him to come and write on the board what the lesson had been about. Johnny picked up the chalk and made it disappear - before producing it from behind his ear.

"Anybody who dared to applauded and even the teacher was won over in the end."

He started life as John Bernard Hart on August 29, 1943 at the war memorial hospital, Lytham St Annes.

He was bought up in Preston and went to St Josephs Boys RC school and then Harris Secondary Technical and Commercial School.

Johnny lived in Robinson Street, in Preston, with his mother Rosaline (known as June) who worked at Littlewoods and on the buses, his stepfather Robert Wright, a bus driver, and Johnny’s brother Peter.

Although he worked hard at school and was working towards being a research chemist, he was always practising his card tricks during and after school and would use his talents to entertain classmates.

Johnny was a member of the Preston Magic Society, Blackpool Magicians Club and The Modern Mystic League in Blackburn.

He was also a member of The Ramblers Concert Party.

By the age of 17 he was on the bill at the English Electric Co Ltd children’s party at the old Public Hall in Preston.

Johnny was famous for producing budgerigars from thin air, and bought the birds from a local pet shop and breeder.

His magic act also consisted of producing endless fans of cards from his empty hands as well as a live dove, cockatoo and a cat. At the end of the act the cat and cockatoo would vanish from a large box.

All of these animals were his pets and were lovingly looked after during his career.

Johnny won the very first Young Magician of The Year’ competition in 1961, organised by The Magic Circle.

Soon after, he went on to feature on Sunday Night at The London Palladium.

Johnny then went on a whirlwind career working with all the top stars of the time in summer seasons, including Dick Emery, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Mike Yarwood, Max Bygraves and many more.

Johnny worked all over the world and had many seasons in the USA, including two years at the MGM Grand Hotel in Reno before retiring to Preston.

Johnny Hart's funeral will take place on December 21 at St. Michael and All Angels with St. Mark Church in Ashton-on-Ribble.