Derren Brown

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Derren Brown
Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is a British psychological illusionist (mentalist). He was born in Croydon, Surrey, and while studying Law and German at the University of Bristol he attended a show by the hypnotist Martin S Taylor, who inspired him to turn to magic and hypnosis as a career. From the mid-1990s he worked as a conjurer, practising the traditional skills of close-up magic. Later, Brown changed his act to focus on more psychological trickery. Many of these psychological illusions are skilfully performed and enhanced by Brown's personality and showman's flair to influence and misdirect.

Although he often states that his stunts are based on mind control he has been criticized for not being true to his audience, and that the stunts are in fact magic tricks and not based on psychology or mind control. [1] (


Television shows

Mind Control

Since the first broadcast of his Channel 4 television show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000 he has become increasingly well known for his "mind-reading" act. Derren Brown makes no claims to possess psychic ability. He claims to achieve his results by making use of deep psychological insight. Using his knowledge and skill he claims that he is able to predict and influence people's thoughts with subtle suggestion, manipulate the decision making process and read the subtle physical signs or body language that indicate what a person is thinking.

He began his television work with three sixty-minute specials over two years which led up to the six part series Mind Control which incorporated new footage with the best of the hour long shows. Selected highlights from the first series are available on DVD and video entitled Derren Brown - Inside Your Mind.

Russian Roulette

On October 5, 2003, Brown performed his most controversial stunt to date, playing Russian roulette on Channel 4 live (though with a slight delay in case the stunt was not successful). Because of British laws banning the possession of handguns, the stunt supposedly had to be performed outside of Britain, at an undisclosed secret location. A volunteer, chosen from 12,000 who applied for the task, and whittled down to 5 by the day of the stunt, loaded a single shot into a revolver with six numbered chambers, then counted from one to six. Attempting to predict the location of the bullet, Brown pulled the trigger on chambers 3 and 4 with the gun aimed at his head, before appearing to decide on chamber 5 and firing the gun away from him. When that chamber proved to be empty as well, he paused for several minutes before aiming at his head again for chamber 6, and then immediately firing the (supposedly) live round in chamber 1 away from him, striking a sandbag.

The stunt was initially condemned by senior British police officers, apparently fearful of copycat acts. However, when the filming location was revealed to be Jersey, where handguns are also banned, suspicion grew that the stunt had in fact been a hoax. This was apprently confirmed several days later when the Jersey police said they had been consulted about the programme in advance, and revealed: "There was no live ammunition involved and at no time was anyone at risk." [2] ( As demonstrated earlier in the programme, firing a blank cartridge at oneself at point-blank range can still be extremely dangerous or even fatal, and it is still unknown what steps Brown took to avoid this.

Brown himself defended the program, saying, "It probably sounds odd. But as a magic-related performer to have that event being asked: Was it real? Was it not real? That lifts it to a level that I'm very comfortable with. What's left is that fact that it was a terrific piece of television."


Brown's next project was shown on Channel 4 on 31 May 2004. In Derren Brown: Sťance he brought 12 members of the public together to re-create a live sťance. He placed an advertisement in a magazine, inviting students to come along to the event. Explaining that the location (Eltham Hall) had a history of paranormal activity after 12 people killed themselves in a suicide pact in 1974, Brown cleverly demonstrated the methods used by spiritualists.

The show attempted to involve the television audience with interactive activities, the first of which being the directed choice of one of the members of the suicide pact by looking at photographs. The 12 pictures were shown on screen in a set pattern with half of them in colour and half black and white. The viewer was instructed to choose one of the colour images that they "feel a connection with". Brown then directed the viewers in a movement pattern between the photographs (for example, move left or right to one of the adjacent black and white photographs). The positioning and movement instructions were carefully planned to ensure that no matter which photograph was initially chosen the viewer would finish on the picture of Jane. Ten of the students also chose Jane. During the following Ouija board scene, the "spirit" guided the students to spell the name Jane.

Two of the students, along with the television viewers, were asked to write the name of a city. Both students chose London.

The final scene, the sťance itself, saw the group "contact" Jane. One of the students was speaking as if she was Jane and gave some details about her life. These were confirmed to be true in a letter and in a small film.

Brown went on to explain some of the manipulations he had used, including the photograph positioning/instructions and the use of the ideomotor effect during the Ouija board. The suicide pact had not taken place and "Jane" was taken to meet the students at the end of the show.

The show received a record number of complaints, most before it was aired. Viewers that "[felt] something unusual" were invited to call a phone number, with callers told that the show was carefully planned and that no paranormal activities were going on. Brown also warned viewers of the impending Ouija board scene asking for those that objected for "religious reasons or otherwise" to stop watching the show.


Shown on 7 January 2005 Derren Brown travelled to the United States to try to convince five leading figures that he had powers in their particular field of expertise: Christian evangelism, alien abduction, psychic powers, New Age theories and contacting the dead. Using false names each time, he succeeded in convincing four of the five people that he had powers and they openly endorsed him as a true practioner. The fifth expert, whilst impressed by Derren's performance, asked to meet him again before giving an endorsement. The concept of the show was to highlight the power of suggestion with regards to beliefs and peoples abilities to not question them. Brown made it quite clear with each experiment that if indeed his subjects accused him of mind control or trickery, he would immediately come clean about the whole thing. His final summary was that people tend to only hear things that support their own ideas and ignore contradictory beliefs.

Psychic powers

Derren asked a leading figure at a psychic training school to go into another room and draw a number of simple pictures on any topic they wished. After each picture had been completed, he would have his prediction of what the picture was written down by the other members of the training school in the room with him. He was 100% correct. At one time when Derren was telling the participant to draw the next picture, he instructed the lady to "let some ideas sail into your mind" and not to go "overboard on detail". She drew a boat in water.

Alien abduction

Derren convinced two leading figures in the field of alien abduction that after being abducted himself, he had the ability to sense people's medical history. The lady on which he demonstrated said that he was "100% correct" in the medical history he had given. The lady expressed a keen interest in spreading the word about Derren's skills in medical journals.

New-age theories

Derren instructed a leading new-age theorist to sleep with a machine attached to her pillow for 5 days. The participant was told that this machine used crystal technology to record the dreams she was having - in fact it was simply a box with a switch which turned an LED on-and-off. Derren recalled the dreams correctly, including the fact that some were in black-and-white instead of colour. The participant was so impressed that she invited Derren to appear on her radio show the next day, which he declined.

Christian evangelism

Derren performed instant conversions on a group consisting of members of the public, all of whom were atheists. After the first instant conversion many of the group chose to leave, concerned by what they had just witnessed. Derren then proceeded to convert another individual and then the remainder of the group at once. In each case, he caused the participant(s) to at least accept the possibility that there was a god, where previously they had all refused to do so. At the end, a notice on the screen noted that the participants had all been "de-converted" before they left.

Contacting the dead

Derren assembled a group of public volunteers and gave readings for several of them. His readings were very specific and all the participants were convinced that he was genuinely communicating to their dead relatives. The fact that the readings were false was explained to the participants at the end and all were happy for their readings to be broadcast.

Trick of the Mind

Trick of the Mind was Derren's second series, which is now in its second year. Unlike Mind Control it is completely all new material. The second series started on E4 on 11 April 2005 and can currently be seen Friday nights on Ch4.

The Gathering

The Gathering was a specially recorded live show with invited guests. It was filmed on 25 May 2005 and broadcast four days later on 29 May. As part of the show Derren recalled streets, page numbers and grid references from the Greater London A-Z map. Derren addressed the audience and explained that many of them would forget the show when they left. Throughout the show the word "forget" was flashed very quickly on the backdrop, and when guests were interviewed after the show several of them could only vaguely remember the performance.

UK tours

In 2003 he toured around theatres in the UK and received a degree of critical acclaim. The show's run was extended into 2004 and spent some time playing in London. Brown is currently on tour again with a new show for 2005 season, "Something Wicked This Way Comes".

Other productions and publications

He has written two books on magic, Absolute Magic and Pure Effect.

Absolute Magic is not so much a book about magical instruction and methodology but an insightful and helpful book about how to make your performances as a magician magical; it is written in a variety of styles, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always thought-provoking. He warns against an act that conveys the feeling of "Here are some tricks I've bought" and urges us to make our performances experiential and memorable by involving the audience. In some respects a lot of what he says is in Darwin Ortiz' Strong Magic but his book expresses it in the context of his experiences, performance style and theories of how performance should be.

Pure Effect is a more traditional book of trickery and technique and offers an insight into the methods that Derren employs for some of his tricks, and offers a starting point for development for your own use.

His video, The Devil's Picturebook, contains details of the card effects from earlier in his career.

See also

External links

Sources on Russian roulette


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