Born in a Fire Station, Will Blyth spent his entire life living in one of the London Salvage Corps’ Stations (an organisation overseen by the London Fire Offices). Working alongside his father, John, and his brother, Herbert, Will held the position of Superintendent and was a highly respected and trusted member of the Fire Services. Even after his retirement in 1929, he was called back to assist in reorganizing the Corps following the infamous Harris fire frauds.
Blyth’s work involved presenting lectures on fire prevention and safety and it was at one of these presentations that he met a young Francis White, a magician who would later go on to become the longest serving President of The Magic Circle.
With encouragement from White, Will became a member of The Magic Circle, and a few years later, he was elected Honorary Librarian, a role that he held until his passing. At a banquet held in November 1925, the then President, Clive Maskelyne, praised Mr Blyth’s significant contributions to the society and highlighted Will’s dedication to the library saying that when he wasn’t writing books himself, he was looking after more than a thousand volumes in the Library while always being unfailingly courteous, prompt and business-like to his fellow members.
Aside from his academic work for The Magic Circle, Will Blyth actively participated in the society’s events and entertainments. He was known for his cheery smile and whether on stage or socially, he exuded goodwill. As a magician, he specialised in entertaining children and it’s said when he appeared on stage, all became children to him, and that his jolly, infectious humour never failed to provoke a broad smile from any audience of any age. Without the slightest trace of self-consciousness, he would often start carolling in his rich baritone voice and everyone instinctively knew that “dear old, Will” was thoroughly enjoying himself.
In recognition of his contributions to the society, Will was promoted to an Associate Member of the Inner Magic Circle (A.I.M.C.) in 1923, before shortly being awarded the highest honour of “Member of the Inner Magic Circle”, solidifying his esteemed status within the society.
When publisher C. Arthur Pearson launched the ‘Amusements for the Home’ books series, Will emerged as its primary magic author, producing more books than any other magician. At the time these books were referred to as the ‘Yellow Perils’, supposedly by magicians worried about exposure of magic tricks to the general public. Interestingly, this controversy may have been an early marketing strategy and was certainly not a problem for Will. As a senior member of The Magic Circle, he proudly boasted his membership on the book covers, which also featured the club logo. In fact despite their controversial nature, many, if not all of the books, found a place in The Magic Circle Library, with several club Presidents even contributing introductions.
Will Blyth was a man of many talents and interests, he worked hard on numerous Committees, researched papers on various subjects, and contributed many interesting articles to The Magic Circle’s private monthly magazine, The Magic Circular. His activities were so numerous and varied that it’s probable much of his influence has been lost to history. However, what is remembered is the manner in which he carried out his activities. Will was always ready to give practical help or advice, and he was a constant friend and mentor to the young conjurer. He often made it his business to single out new members at the informal Clubroom meetings and try to put them at their ease and make them feel at home.
When he lost his wife, to whom he was devoted, instead of nursing his grief in solitude, it was noted that he faced-up to it with his old smile and continued to dedicate himself to other people both as part of the London Salvage Corps and a member of The Magic Circle and magician.
His last public appearance for the Magic Circle was at the Children’s Christmas Party in 1936 where he not only performed, but held the Chair, welcoming the children in his own homely and deeply sincere manner.
Will Blyth passed away suddenly in his office in Watling Street, E.C., on Thursday, the 7th of January 1937. Over 200 representatives of Fire Services, Magical Societies, and friends were present at his funeral.
In his obituary it was written “Many of us have lost a true friend who set us an example, both in being and doing, which may well be followed. Shakespeare had an apt and often very true saying, for most things and people; the tag to Julius Caesar applies most aptly to our old friend WILL BLYTH:— “His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the World, ‘This was a man.’”
Will’s legacy lives on in the memoirs of those who knew him and, in his books and articles, and his writing continues to inspire others to this day.
“It’s easy enough to look pleasant
When the show goes along like a song,
But the magician worth while
Is the one who will smile
When one of his tricks goes wrong.”