World’s oldest magician retires after 80 years in show biz to RMBI’s Queen Elizabeth Court
A world-famous magician and wartime entertainer is celebrating the start of his retirement at RMBI Care Co. Home Queen Elizabeth Court in Llandudno, after an astonishing 80 years in show business.
97 year old Mark Raffles, who is now a resident at the Home, is looking forward to a well-earned rest having entertained millions of people all over the world over four decades, including D-Day troops during the Second World War.
Mark became a regular on our TV screens during the 60s, 70s and 80s, appearing on popular variety shows with his famous pickpocket act under the stage name of Ray St Clair. He also guest starred on TV game shows such as 3-2-1 hosted by Ted Rogers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5dClXAs-q8g (we d
Born in January 1922 in Manchester, Mark discovered he had a gift for magic at an early age. His family were in showbiz – his grandfather was a comedy star at the beginning of music hall in the 1800s, while his uncle F.V. St Clair appeared in the very first Royal Variety Command Performance in 1912. Mark’s mother Amelia appeared with film legend Charlie Chaplin in the original stage production of Casey Court.
Mark’s first professional engagement was in 1938 at the Queen’s Park Hippodrome in Manchester. He performed a silent magic act due to having a debilitating stammer.
With the onset of the Second World War, having failed his army medical because of his stammer, Mark worked as a bricklayer building air raid shelters. He was also part of the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) rescue squad during the Manchester blitz.
Before long, Mark was directed into the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), an organisation set up to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel. For the next three years, Mark entertained servicemen and women in army barracks and theatres all over the UK.
It was during this time that Mark developed his famous pickpocket routine, standing in the foyer before the show looking like the perfect gentleman who later produced items on stage, stolen from the amazed audience.
Following D-Day in 1944, Mark was drafted into Europe, performing to British, American and Canadian troops. In May 1945, soon after Liberation Day, he performed for troops and civilians in the Channel Island of Guernsey.
Mark later received the Veterans Badge from the Ministry of Defence in recognition of his wartime service.
After the war, Mark returned to playing the Music Halls with his famous on-stage pickpocket act. He first appeared on our television screens in 1949.
Mark began a new act after falling in love with his late wife Joan. For many years the couple toured as ‘Mark Raffles and Joan’. They had three children who followed them into showbiz.
Mark and Joan later took over a well-known variety act called The Wychwoods. They had twelve toy poodles, which were seemingly produced out of thin air. The act played during summer seasons, pantomime and television for twelve years.
Mark is a life member of the Inner Magic Circle with a gold star. He is also both a past President of The International Brotherhood of Magicians and a life member and past President of the Blackpool Magicians Club. He is also a Life Member of the Invisible Lodge in the U.S.A.
Mark still corresponds with his many fans around the world and has inspired a new generation of magicians, such as Newcastle escapologist Chris Cross. He has also produced a number of books and DVDs.
Mark, who was known as the oldest working magician in the world before his retirement, said: “I’ve had a marvellous life and I am lucky to have been able to continue for as long as I have. Magic has led me to meet all sorts of interesting people and enabled me to serve my country.”
Speaking about his wartime service, Mark said: “Many were the times I was approached after an ENSA show by a serviceman saying he was a magician. Out would come his treasured pack of cards, ropes and thimbles. Magic was very much alive in the armed forces during the war.”
On one occasion, before a show at a Royal Airforce Base in Lincolnshire, Mark recalls: “We were given a piece a chalk and shown buggy loads of bombs. We were invited to chalk our signature, messages or cartoons to Mr Hitler and we did it with gusto. Later that night, some members of our audience had to deliver those bombs and I couldn’t help but think, had we delivered the last bit of laughter and glamour some of those airmen would ever see? It certainly made you work hard to please.”
Gary Carr, Activities Coordinator at RMBI Home Queen Elizabeth Court, said: “It’s fair to say that Mark has brought more than a touch of magic to our Home. Our other residents and staff love hearing about his amazing career. His immense wartime contribution keeping up the spirits of our troops is humbling and it’s a privilege for us to care for him.”
RMBI Home Queen Elizabeth Court is run by RMBI Care Co., part of the Masonic Charitable Foundation. For more information please visit: http://www.rmbi.org.uk/