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A Bombardment of Bewilderment

April 6, 2011

Benyon flyerThe University of Waikato was good enough to offer me its writer-in-residence position to complete Blue Smoke. So (a local reviewer sniffed) I should have responded by doing some research and including more Hamiltonians in the book. Musicians of national significance or influence born in Hamilton – or who made their name there – did seem to be hiding when I was looking for them. (After all, Ngaruawahia supplied the piano greats Nancy Harrie and Mike Nock).  Many passed through, such as Phil Campbell and Nolan Rafferty, and there were many important locals, such as dance-band pianist Johnny Corban.

But who were the contenders that I missed? I’m open to suggestions (see email form at right). Meanwhile, here is a flyer for a night of entertainment in Hamilton that we were unlucky to miss. Auckland born, Christchurch raised Edgar Benyon was perhaps New Zealand’s most important magician. So highly regarded was Benyon that the Variety Artists Club named its top award for entertainers after him.  (For years I assumed it was after promoter Benny Levin, or longtime dance-band pianist Edgar Bendall.)

Benyon gets an entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, which says:

Benyon colourEdgar was famed for the inventiveness of his optical illusions, his mind-reading tricks and the skill of his juggling. Perhaps his most famous feat was to spin a billiard cue like a propeller on the tip of another cue held horizontally – something he claimed to have learned from watching Maori stick games.

Researching Benyon just now I came across this great jpeg of a poster, from the vintage poster blog of Christchurch antique dealer Deric Blackler. At the website for his store Portobello Antiques, Blackler tells the heartbreaking story of his experiences in the February 22 Christchurch earthquake. Luckily, there is a happy ending, thanks to some Australian rescue workers who obviously weren’t trained in heritage awareness by our bullying Minister of Demolition. For the original red Benyon flyer above I must thank my Hamilton-born friend, the Amazing Gina.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2011 4:56 pm

    crickey I can remember the Great Benyon performing at Robertson Rd Primary when I was in pre-stubbies – his magic words were something like oomper lumper stick it up your jumper. something like that anyway. did a bit of quick change stuff as well.
    us kids were well pleased indeed.

  2. Tigger permalink
    May 29, 2015 1:39 am

    I woke up this morning remembering this friend of my childhood for the first time in many years. Clicked on’the great Benyon’ without much hope – and here we are….
    Most people don’t know that he did his juggling act while blind in one eye! He had to cut down from four Indian clubs to three after he fell off a ladder while putting up scenery, in Havelock it was, I think.
    He arrived back in New Zealand from the UK with a troupe of about 30, but within a year or two cut that down to his family plus one musician. He also had a Hammond organ, the only one in the country at the time, I believe. They toured the country in two large caravans, one for him and his wife, one for his daughter Doris and her husband; Doreen had settled down – in Australia, I believe – when I knew them. And they’d put up all their own scenery in the theatres and halls where they performed.
    Before the days of internet, his skills, his illusions, his dedication to his work AND his friends was amazing.

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