When I was a student back in 1998, I was on the JCR* committee for our Halls of Residence in Bristol.
For Freshers’ Week we traditionally had a hypnotist show, but several members (myself included) of the committee were also members of the Christian Union, and we declined to book a hypnotist due to a misguided belief that it was somehow “ungodly”.
(I’m rather embarassed at my attitude, looking back, but fortunately I’ve since shaken myself out of that particular area of lunacy… in my defence I genuinely thought I was doing the right thing, albeit with the misguided zeal of a 19 y/old who knows they must be right!)
Anyway, a couple of our members had already approched Derren about doing a show - back then he was just starting to get his act up-and-running in the Bristol area, and the uni was a good place to try various techniques out.
When he was told of our reasons for not going ahead with the booking he wrote me a long letter explaining his whole philosophy. He made it absolutely clear that he was not claiming any psychic, telepathic or otherwise “supernatural” powers… his act was based 100% on psychology, suggestion and a “scientific” approach to manupulating human behaviour.
It was clearly something he’d come up against a lot - either religious antangonism for his “pagan” machinations, or a skeptical suspicion that it was all fake (stooges etc). In fact, Derren had previously been a member of our CU, but had left some years back when he started recognising some of the traits he was developing for a show being used by the Churches in the area.
He said that his techniques wouldn’t work on everyone, as you need to be of a certain disposition to react to his suggestions - that in itself was refreshing (i.e. an admission that he couldn’t manipulate some people).
I called him up a few months later to apologise, and we booked him to come to our Valentine’s Ball to perform some close-up magic in our casino area… he was fantastic, really gifted technically. He even told us when he was going to switch cards etc, but we still couldn’t see it (although I guess that itself was part of the misdirection!).
So anyway, the guy is a real showman and is genuinely interested in what he can achieve without stooges and TV editing. With TV there’s always some cosmetic editing, but from my (brief!) discussions with him he’s more interested in what he can do without that kind of flim-flammery.
*Junior Common Room, basically the Student Entertainment and Welfare Committee