The funeral takes place today of Noel Brookes, founder member of the Darlington Magic Circle, who has died aged 83. PETER BARRON tells the story of a born entertainer…

WHEN nine-year-old Noel Brookes unwrapped a brightly-coloured book on Christmas Day in 1950, little did he know that the first chapter in a lifetime of magic was opening.

Growing up on a Teesside estate, he and his siblings knew not to expect too much, but the book on magic cast an instant spell on starry-eyed young Noel.

He started learning tricks straight away, and was still performing magic shows more than seven decades later, right up to his recent death at 83.

At midday today, Noel’s funeral takes place in his hometown of Stockton, and a life of laughter, entertainment, and magic will be celebrated.

(Image: Brookes family)

“It was magic all the way with Noel,” smiles Marion, his wife of 62 years, as she reminisces with their daughter, Paula, and son, Martin, in a family home overflowing with a huge collection of home-made props and memories.

John Noel Brookes was the oldest of four children but, as a Christmas Day baby, he quickly became known by his festive middle name.

His grandad, Pop Oliver, was a holiday camp comedian and entertainer, and Noel got an early taste of showbusiness during childhood trips to see the old man on stage in Morecambe.

However, Noel’s first jobs when he left school weren’t quite so glamorous. He started out as a dental technician but soon swapped that for a role with Hintons supermarket, in Corporation Road, Middlesbrough, which is where he met Marion.

While Noel worked in the warehouse, Marion served in the shop, and he started walking her to the bus stop after work. Their first date was at the Gaumont Cinema, in Linthorpe Road, and they went on to marry in 1962.

By that time, Noel was working as a postman, but he always found time to earn a bit on the side by performing magic shows, mainly at children’s parties, with Punch and Judy being added to his repertoire.

“He was naturally funny and just loved entertaining people,” recalls Paula. “Wherever he went, he had a pocketful of balloons and, if he saw a child upset, he’d make them a balloon animal – a giraffe, a dog, or a monkey in a tree.”

Noel’s big break came during a family holiday to Butlins, at Filey, in 1972, when Marion secretly packed some of his magic tricks and entered him in a talent competition.

Noel won, earning a place in the national final at The London Palladium. He scooped the £500 first prize and won the contest the following year too.

Soon afterwards, Marion spotted an advert, in Stage magazine, for a cruise ships entertainer, so she sent in an application for her husband. That led to Noel going to sea for months at a time, while Marion stayed home to look after the children.

He clearly made a big impression because he ended up as cruise director for the Chartered Travel Company, managing Russian cruise liners for a while.

But no matter where he sailed, he always loved coming home to his family on Teesside and the friends he’d made at the Middlesbrough Circle of Magicians. They included Paul Daniels – known as Ted in those days, and destined for TV fame.

(Image: Press Association)

“While me and Paul’s first wife, Jackie, watched the kids, the men would be practising their magic in another room at their house in South Bank,” recalls Marion.

Noel was always looking for fresh material and making new props. “At Christmas, he’d even nick my presents – a toy car or whatever – because he’d thought of a way of using it in a new trick,” laughs Martin.

Birthday parties for Paula and Martin would invariably feature magic shows but, while their friends were enthralled, Noel’s own children weren’t so impressed. “We’d seen every trick a million times! Paula explains.

As well as the children’s parties, Noel built up his experience in old folks’ homes, and workingmen’s clubs, including Portrack Social Club, known as The Blood Tub because all the ‘turns’ got slaughtered.

Noel, using his daughter Paula as his assistantNoel, using his daughter Paula as his assistant (Image: Brookes family)

In the seventies, he appeared on TV’s New Faces, the year it was won by ventriloquist Roger de Courcey.

The climax of Noel’s act was sawing host, Derek Hobson, in half, but he didn’t listen closely enough to his instructions, and ended up with a cut finger.

There was also the time Noel bought an electric chair prop in Newcastle, and was transporting it back home on top of his car.

He was pulled over by a police patrol car, having been spotted going a bit too fast with a strange load on the roof-rack of his Morris Minor.

“What have we got here then?” asked an officer.

“An electric chair,” Noel replied.

“What are you – a comedian?”

“No – a magician!”

A few days later, Noel got a call from a police inspector, asking how much he charged for kids’ shows.

“It depends whether you’re going to charge me!” countered Noel.

“Oh, I think we can let that go,” agreed the officer.

And that’s how a Stockton police inspector’s child ended up with a free magic show for their birthday.

Noel continued to share his love of magic for the rest of his life, becoming one of the founders of the Darlington Magic Circle in 2001, going on to have two spells as president before being made Honorary Life President.

He passed away in the Butterwick Hospice after a short illness, and the family have nothing but praise for the care he received.

(Image: Sheila Watts)

“The hospice team were fantastic,” said Marion. “They’re angels.”

In addition to Marion, Paula and Martin, Noel leaves four grandsons and five great grandchildren.

Since his death, tributes have flooded in. Nick Richmond, Darlington Magic Circle secretary, and Noel’s friend for more than 50 years, says: “He was the epitome of generosity – always willing to share his time and talents. He became like a big brother to me, and he must have entertained thousands upon thousands of people over the years.”

Ian Wragg, another Darlington Magic Circle stalwart, adds: “Noel was a mentor to many – always happy to help and raise a smile with his jokes. He’ll be a huge loss.”

As is tradition with The Magic Circle worldwide, Darlington members are planning a ‘Broken Wand’ ceremony in his honour.

Shortly before he fell ill, Noel’s family found him out in the front garden, putting on an impromptu show for the local kids, who turned out to be his last audience.

“He just loved making everyone happy,” says Marion, wiping away a tear.

As epitaphs go, what could be more magical than that?

  • Noel’s funeral is at 12 noon today (June 19) at the Salvation Army Citadel, in Palmerston Street, Stockton, then Stockton Crematorium at 1pm, followed by a celebration of his life at Roseworth Social Club.

Noel Brookes with wife MarionNoel Brookes with wife Marion (Image: Brookes family)

(Image: Brookes family)