Magic at the British Empire

The Indian Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. The writer’s father Kadir Buksh, a splendid, handsome fellow, performed as a magician at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition before going on with his troupe to tour Britain and Europe.

The Indian Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.
The writer’s father Kadir Buksh, a splendid, handsome fellow, performed as a magician at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition before going on with his troupe to tour Britain and Europe.

Anne Britten’s story of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition (Best of British, December) brought a special pleasure to me as my father provided part of the public entertainment.

Kadir Buksh, better known by his stage name of The Royal Kadir’, came from a long line of Indian magicians. With his troupe in India he provided the entertainment when rajahs offered hospitality to visiting British officials of the Raj and other rajahs.

lie was invited to bring this Indian theatre to England for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924 to portray Indian life and culture. His dancers, jugglers, astrologers and snake charmers came with him, combining with his skills and expertise in magic and illusion to present a fascinating show. Audiences were left amused but baffled, for how did he produce 24 live birds from a very small wicker basket containing only an egg?

Visited by many thousands of people, the show was a tremendous success, and went on to perform all over Britain and Europe.

This was probably the first time such a show had come to England. Father’s home town was Kanpur (Cawnpore) in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India. At Wembley he met my mother, a Liverpool-born part-Jamaican dancer in another of the shows there. After they married, her dynamic energy helped him to plan and arrange contracts to perform in theatres and fairgrounds throughout the UK and Europe.

As a result their three sons were born wherever the show was in performance – the eldest in Plymouth, my next brother in Glasgow, where father was at the Glasgow Exhibition, and myself in Blackpool (1930) where they created the Indian Village at Blackpool Tower. Blackpool became the family base, with more shows at the former Lunar Park and the Pleasure Beach on South Shore.

When the Indian Show toured Europe we boys travelled with it, and were expected to take part on stage as well as attend schools in France and Germany (1936) despite not knowing the language.

Unfortunately the Second World War destroyed any prospect of us following the family profession, especially after the loss of home and equipment in the 1940 London Blitz.

I took part in a post-war attempt to start again on Blackpool promenade in 1946, but my National Service after the season ended brought an end to any further aspirations. Under her stage name ‘Rasheeda’, my mother worked her last theatre at Battersea Park for the Festival of Britain, finally moving to live in America in 1953.

All the experiences that started from my parents being at the Wembley Exhibition have left me with wonderfully unique memories of a most unusual and bizarre childhood. Thank you, Best of British and Anne Britten, for enabling me to re-live a piece of that amazing life,

A. H. Buksh