Derren Brown – mentalist, illusionist, magician

Posted on: 21/10/2009

By Kirstie Dyke

Whatever you may call him, Derren Brown has wowed the viewing public through his imaginative and innovative tricks that leave the mind wondering and controversy flowing.  This article examines the theories behind his latest television four part series The Events, where Brown attempted what he described as “some of the most incredible feats to date”.

He promised to reveal the inner workings of the tricks, and to describe to the public how to “get away” with the stunts themselves.  Brown started each programme with the statement that the stunts were created using a combination of “magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship,” he also claims never to use actors or stooges in the shows.

How to win the lottery

Derren Brown claims that he correctly ‘predicted’ the lottery by using a theory called “The Wisdom of Crowds,” which hypothesises that the average guess of a large group of people will be more accurate than the single guess of an individual.

However, many people do not accept this theory or felt disappointed with the lack of specific information Brown revealed. The two days between the prediction and the explanation was also cleverly planned to allow the maximum amount of conspiracy theory creation. The most prevalent conspiracy theories were:

All possible outcomes were filmed: This would involve filming nearly 14 million outcomes. Well he did say he’d spent a year working on it.

A split screen was used: Brown showed the viewers that there were two cameramen in the room with him, but we were only shown footage from one of the cameras. This could be because the other one was busy filming another set of balls, which meant that the viewers couldn’t see the real balls being changed. Some say they can see a point when the balls aren’t lined up properly but I can’t. On the other hand, camera trickery is widely condemned within the magic circle and other groups, and Brown has spoken out against the subject before.

Numbers were projected onto the balls: This theory can be split into many other theories, but for the main it involves the balls being blank to begin and then having the winning numbers projected onto them, whether this is from a LED display on the ball or from a conventional projector behind the cameraman. However, there is a point where Brown moves one of the balls and the number remains in the correct position.

How to control the nation

During this stunt Derren Brown seemed to use “Perception without Awareness” or what most people know as subliminal messaging to literally glue the public to their seats. A large proportion of a live studio audience seemed to be stuck and unable to stand up, and many of the viewing public phoned to say that they were finding it physically impossible to stand. I personally know of two people who were either stuck to their seats or found it impossible to move their hands and legs.

It would seem, however, that the subliminal messages in Brown’s speech throughout the programme were more to blame for this phenomenon, rather than the strange video he claimed would cause the viewers to become stuck. Those in the audience must have been genuinely stuck, as Brown promised as he always does, that actors and stooges were not involved.

How to be a psychic spy

Throughout the programme, Brown had the viewers convinced that they were using “Remote Viewing” a kind of psychic power to all draw the same image – concentric circles. But he revealed at the end of the programme that this was not true, he had placed advertisements in all the major papers that told the viewers to draw the circles, using subliminal messaging once again.

But he failed to mention how he knew to place the lady who had drawn the original drawing (which the viewers were supposed to be drawing as well) at Stonehenge or why the visitors to the museum or the members of the audience also had drawn high levels of concentric circles or pictures of Stonehenge. Perhaps there were subtle clues hidden around the museum? Give us your views.

How to beat the casino

For the last stunt, Derren Brown attempted to use a mathematical formula to work out the winning number of a roulette wheel, after betting £5,000 of an unsuspecting viewer’s money on it. He failed. But this, I believe, was the cleverest thing he could have done. If he had won, too many people would have called him a fake. Losing means that he became human again and showed the viewers that no one is perfect.

A quick check on the internet and it seems many people were unimpressed by the usage of hidden cameras and the secrecy that Brown created around this event, deeming it unnecessary and throwing the whole stunt into disrepute.

 Whether you take Derren Brown’s stunts at face value or take part in the collection of conspiracies behind them, aren’t we forgetting the real reason tricks have always seemed so magical? It’s because we didn’t know how Paul Daniels cut Debbie McGee in half, or how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear, that the illusion was created. It’s the unquestionable awe that surrounds them that catches our attention and knowing how to do the trick that ruins them.


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