Ali Bongo was one of the UK’s most popular stage magicians in the sixties, but it was his work as an advisor to other magicians and television shows involving magic that made him so successful.
A member and president of the Magic Circle, he was for many years associated with the magician and conjuror David Nixon. He taught tricks to Robert Lindsay when he appeared in the role of Fagin in Oliver! at the Palladium and was the advisor to the hit children’s TV series Ace of Wands. He was also the inspiration for the character of the TV detective Jonathan Creek, played in the series by Alan Davies.
Bongo was born William Wallace in Bangalore, India, on December 8, 1929. He was educated at schools in India and Sutton Valance School, Kent. After doing his National Service he worked as a cartoonist, illustrating several books about magic and he later became the manager of the magic department in Hamley’s toy shop in London.
By the late fifties, he was working in variety, billed as the “Shriek of Araby” and eventually he was given his own TV series, Ali Bongo’s Cartoon Carnival. He went on to work with Nixon for nine years, as well as acting as advisor to magicians such as David Copperfield and Paul Daniels. In 1997, David Renwick wrote the series Jonathan Creek and said that he had based the lateral-thinking detective character of Creek on Bongo.
In 2003, Bongo and fellow magician Jack Devlin were due to appear in a charity show at Prince Charles’ Highgrove estate, when a lorry hit the side of their car. Both men were taken to hospital, but later released.
Bongo was elected president of the Magic Circle in 2008. He was also a member of the Inner Magic Circle.
He had been taken ill recently in Paris after attending a magic function, but died on March 8 in St Thomas’ Hospital, London, after suffering a stroke and complications from pneumonia. He is survived by his sister.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.