Derren Brown

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Derren Brown

Born 27 February 1971 (1971-02-27) (age 38)
Croydon, London, England
Nationality English
Occupation Magician, Psychological Illusionist, Mentalist
Website, official blog

Derren Victor Brown (born 27 February 1971) is an English magician, mentalist, painter and sceptic. He was born in Croydon, South London, educated at Whitgift School, where his father Bob was head of swimming, and studied Law and German at the University of Bristol.[1] While there, he attended a show by the hypnotist Martin Taylor, which inspired him to turn to illusion and hypnosis as a career.[2] Whilst an undergraduate, he started working as a conjuror, practising the traditional skills of close-up magic. In 1992, he started performing stage hypnosis shows at the University of Bristol under the stage name Darren V. Brown.[3]

Brown has also given performances relating to mind-reading.[4] Shortly after, he was commissioned to do a pilot for his Channel 4 television series, Mind Control. Much of his work is written in collaboration with Andy Nyman.

See the List of Derren Brown shows, series and specials for a full chronological list of all live shows and television appearances.


[edit] Television shows

[edit] 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 states at the beginning of his Trick of the Mind programmes that he achieves his results using a combination of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship". Using his knowledge and skill he appears to be 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.

[edit] Trick Of The Mind

Trick of the Mind was the title for Brown's next series, which ran for three consecutive series. Unlike Mind Control it is all completely new material. The second series started on E4 on 11 April 2005 and was repeated on Channel 4. The third series started on 26 March 2006. Trick of the Mind series 1 and 2 are also available to buy on DVD.

[edit] Waking Dead

In June 2005, a clip from the second series was widely circulated on the internet. In this clip, Brown claims to have created a video game he calls "Waking Dead" which "is able to put roughly 1/3 of the people who play it into a catatonic trance". In this episode, he places the video game in a pub to lure a supposedly unsuspecting patron into playing the game. He then "kidnaps" the catatonic "victim" and places him in a real-life recreation of the video game, having him fire an air gun at actors, pretending to be zombies and outfitted with explosive squibs.

The episode raised considerable controversy. Mick Grierson, credited in the episode as "Zombie Game Designer", put up a website linking to various articles about the episode.

[edit] Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat started on Channel 4 in 2007. The focus of the show is on one volunteer that either receives a good experience or a bad experience. The experience the volunteer receives is decided by which card they choose. If they choose the card that says 'Trick' they receive a bad experience and if they choose the card that says 'Treat' they receive a good experience. In the first series of 'Trick or Treat', the volunteer had no choice over the matter as the cards were ambigrams; however, in the second series, they were replaced by two more clearly defined cards which were no longer ambigrams.

Episodes of Trick or Treat are not preceded by Brown's usual claim that no actors or stooges were used in the filming of the shows. Indeed, some participants (such as the ambulance crew in the last episode) are declared to be actors.

The second series of "Trick or Treat" began on 2 May 2008 at 22.00 on Channel 4. The third episode showed a slight change from the previous format, as actor David Tennant became the first celebrity to be used for the show. Derren Brown had met Tennant at a party where he expressed interest in Brown's work. While writing the second season Brown "thought it would be fun if one of the participants was well-known [Tennant was] still treated the same as any other participant." [5]

The last episode of series 2 featured all volunteers of the series who previously received a trick or treat. This episode highlights the belief of superstition, and the degree to which it will be applied.

[edit] Mind Control with Derren Brown

On 26 July 2007, the US based SCI FI Channel began showing six one hour episodes of a series titled Mind Control with Derren Brown. Andrew O'Connor was executive producer, and the show was produced by Simon Mills who had produced the two previous series of Trick Or Treat as well as The Heist and The System for Objective Productions. Journalists in New York at the press announcement were shown preview clips of Brown "manipulating human behaviour" and given the promise of more surprises to come. Sci Fi's press release described the show as an "original US produced version". The show was a mix of new segments filmed in the US and older clips shown in earlier UK TV shows. The first showing release schedule was:

Episode 1 "Shopping Mall Carpark" 26 July
Episode 2 "Lying Car Salesman" 2 August
Episode 3 "Exotic Dancers" 8 August
Episode 4 "Receptive Children" 15 August - with a guest star Simon Pegg
Episode 5 "Assault Course" 22 August
Episode 6 "Disappearing Sun" 29 August

[edit] The Event

Filmed for Channel 4 in front of a live studio audience, this new series due for release in September 2009 is made up of four one hour specials - during which Derren will attempt some of the most incredible feats to date. The show will consist of a mixture of pre-recorded location pieces and theatre-based bits hanging it all together, and then each one of the four one-hour programmes leads up to a major stunt at the end.

[edit] Television specials

[edit] Russian Roulette

On 5 October 2003, Brown performed Russian roulette, live on Channel 4. The stunt was ostensibly performed at an undisclosed location outside mainland Britain, in Jersey, because of British laws banning the possession of handguns. A volunteer, James, chosen from 12,000 who applied for the task, and whittled down to five by the day of the stunt, loaded a single shot into a revolver with six numbered chambers, after Brown had said "choose one of those numbers, keep them to yourself, choose one, it doesn't matter which one it is, settle on a number, are you thinking of one now", James 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 himself. When that chamber proved to be empty, he paused for over one minute before aiming at his head again for chamber 6, then immediately firing the round in chamber 1 away from him, firing the cartridge.

The programme was initially condemned by senior British police officers, apparently fearful of copycat acts. However, when the filming location was revealed to be Jersey,[6] many accused Brown of perpetrating a hoax. Several days later, 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."[6] During the programme, it was shown that blank cartridges were used in the stunt, and Brown knew where the blank cartridge was. It was, however, proved to be just as fatal, as a blank cartridge was fired directly at a water bottle, leaving the bottle completely destroyed.

Brown himself defended the programme, saying, "It probably sounds odd. But as a magic-related performer, to have that even 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 the fact that it was a terrific piece of television."[7]

[edit] Séance

Brown's next project, Derren Brown: Séance, aired on Channel 4 on 31 May 2004. In Séance, he brought students from Roehampton University together for a live séance. He held the event at Elton Hall in East London, claiming the location had a history of paranormal activity after 12 people killed themselves in a suicide pact in 1974. Brown then proceeded to demonstrate the methods used by spiritualists.

The show attempted to involve the television audience with interactive activities, the first being to identify 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 séance itself, saw the group "contact" Jane. One of the students spoke as if she were Jane, giving details of her life. A letter and short film confirmed the accuracy of the details.

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 scene. The suicide pact had not taken place and "Jane" was introduced to the students at the end of the show. In his book, Tricks of the Mind, Brown reveals that, contrary to claims when the show was aired, Séance did not go out live. He said it was necessary to make people believe that it did at the time.[8]

Channel 4 received 700 complaints, most before the episode was aired. Viewers who felt "something unusual" were invited to call a phone number, and callers were told that the show was carefully planned, and that no paranormal activities were taking place. Brown also warned viewers about the impending Ouija board scene, advising those who objected for "religious reasons or otherwise" to stop watching the show.[8]

[edit] Messiah

Shown on 7 January 2005, Derren Brown traveled 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 a false name each time, he succeeded in convincing four of the five "experts" that he had powers, and they openly endorsed him as a true practitioner. The fifth expert, the Christian evangelist Curt Nordheilm, whilst impressed by Brown's performance, asked to meet him again before giving an endorsement. The concept of the show was to highlight the power of suggestion with regard to beliefs and people's abilities, and failure to question them. Brown made it quite clear with each experiment that if any of the subjects accused him of trickery he would immediately come clean about the whole thing, a rule similar to one of the self-imposed rules of the perpetrators of the Project Alpha hoax. His conclusion was that people tend to hear only things that support their own ideas and ignore contradictory evidence; this is known in psychology as confirmation bias.

[edit] The Gathering

The Gathering was a specially recorded as-live show at a secret location (hidden from the audience) with an invited audience of students from Roehampton University, celebrities, psychologists, psychics, taxi-drivers and magicians. It was filmed on 18 May 2005 and broadcast on 29 May. As part of the show Brown recalled streets, page numbers and grid references from the Greater London A-Z map. Also pseudo-psychic "mind reading" and "remote viewing" activities were recreated. During the show, Brown hypnotised the audience as a group and convinced them that for approximately half an hour after leaving the room, they would have no memory of the events. Furthermore, the word "forget" was intermittently flashed very briefly on the backdrop throughout the performance. A variety of audience members were interviewed afterwards; some of them couldn't recollect anything (but were nevertheless very impressed); brief clips of these interviews were shown. One of the most memorable stunts was getting a London taxi driver to choose a street in London and then choose and mentally drive a random route. This was achieved by drawing a line on a map of London made of stuck together A-Z pages. He started in Buckingham Palace and ended up in Shepherd's Bush Green, the street in which the secret performance took place.

[edit] The Heist

The Heist was shown on 4 January 2006 at 21:00, on Channel 4. In the show, Derren Brown used his skills on selected participants who answered an ad. "Under the guise of a motivational seminar" (where they would allegedly learn Derren Brown's skills) Brown eventually got participants to rob a security van - in what was ultimately an elaborate set up. The robbery involved holding up a security van and guard (played by an actor) with a realistic-looking toy pistol that Brown had given them earlier, and taking a case filled with real money from him. Four people were selected to carry out the robbery from an initial field of thirteen, with three of them actually carrying out the "robbery". The idea was that after the conditioning they received, they would voluntarily rob the van of their own accord. There was no mention of the 'crime' to the participants, and they were not (directly) instructed to do it. The three that did it did so as a result of the conditioning and their own choice, not instructions from any third party including Brown.

Brown associated colour, music and phrases to build the participants into a highly-motivated state, converging all of those psychological empowerment tools into a single set up. The seminar subliminally anchored freedom, childhood, opportunity and romance into various criminal acts. After having previously been convinced to steal sweets from a shop based in Codicote High Street in Hertfordshire (for real), they were shown the euphoria that could be gained from criminal acts.

This programme also contained a re-enactment of the Milgram experiment carried out by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s with the aim of selecting four of the most obedient of the group. 65% of the subjects in this experiment were willing to administer lethal electric shocks to another person on the instruction of an authoritative figure (unbeknown to the subjects, the electric shocks were not actually real); these were the same results as Milgram himself found.

[edit] The System

The System, a Channel 4 special in which Brown shared his "100 per cent guaranteed" method for winning on the horses, was first shown on 1 February 2008[9].

The show was based around the idea that a system could be developed to predict the outcome of horse races with total accuracy. Cameras followed an ordinary member of the public, Khadisha, as Brown anonymously sent her correct predictions of 5 races in a row, before encouraging her to place as much money as she could on the 6th race.

To demonstrate the system to the viewer, Brown tossed a coin showing 10 heads in a row to prove it was not impossible, just highly improbable.

After Brown had placed a bet of £4,000 of Khadisha's money on a horse in the final race, he explained that The System did not really exist. He had started by contacting 7,776 people and split them into six groups, giving each group a different horse. As each race had taken place 5/6ths of the people had lost and were dropped from the system. Far from Brown knowing which horse would win, he had a different person backing each horse in each race, and it was simple logic that meant that one individual, who happened to be Khadisha, won five times in a row. This was similar to the coin flipping earlier: rather than having a predictive technique, Brown had simply tossed a coin repeatedly until 10 heads had come up in a row, taking over nine hours to produce the required film. Brown expressed the opinion that the principle behind The System (essentially confirmation bias) is what is behind belief in spiritualism or homeopathic and alternative medicine.

After the selected horse in the final race lost, and Khadisha was convinced that she had lost all her borrowed money, Brown told Khadisha to look again at the betting slip in her hand. The ticket showed the winning horse's name, meaning Khadisha kept her stake and received winnings of £13,000. Brown explained that he had decided to bet for a different horse when he got to the booth.

[edit] Other television appearances

[edit] The Enemies of Reason

An interview with Brown[10] was featured in Richard Dawkins' two part documentary series The Enemies of Reason. Brown explained various psychological techniques used by alleged psychics and spiritual mediums to manipulate their audience. The most notable is cold reading, a technique to which Brown devoted a whole chapter of his book Tricks of the Mind. Some video footage was also used from Brown's TV special Messiah.

[edit] Stage shows

[edit] Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brown's second live stage show, Something Wicked This Way Comes, toured around the UK following its success in the West End. The tour started in March at the Cambridge Theatre and finished in May at the Hammersmith Apollo. The show won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Show 2006. The show was co-written and directed by his long time collaborator Andy Nyman. The title is a direct quote from William Shakespeare's Macbeth; Act 4, scene 1, line 45.

The show was performed and filmed for a final time at the Old Vic Theatre at the end of the tour in mid-June 2006. A 90-minute edit of this show was broadcast on 29 December 2006 and 10 June 2007, on Channel 4, on 10 May 2008 and 17 Jan 2009 on E4 and once more on 17 June 2008 on Channel 4; a longer, unedited version was released on DVD in May 2008.

[edit] Mind Reader – An Evening of Wonders

Brown's third live stage show toured around the United Kingdom and was titled, "Derren Brown, Mind Reader - An Evening of Wonders". It started its run in 2007 on 29 April in Blackpool and ended 17 June in Bristol.

The show toured again from February until April 2008 throughout the UK, and concluded with a West End run at the Garrick Theatre during May and early June. The West End run was a strictly limited season of 32 performances only. A performance from the last week of the tour at the Garrick theatre was filmed for Channel 4 and aired on 13 January 2009.

[edit] Derren Brown - Enigma

In January 2009 a brand new tour was announced on Derren's website. Beginning in Chatham on Friday 17 April 2009, the tour will visit various UK towns before ending in London with a month at the Adelphi Theatre starting Monday 15 June 2009.

[edit] Other productions and publications

He has written three books on magic: Absolute Magic, Pure Effect, and Tricks of the Mind; another is planned.[9] The first two books he penned are intended solely for practitioners of magic and mentalism, whilst his book Tricks of the Mind is aimed at the general public. The two magic books are out of print; they and the two magic video products are only of use to those who already possess a solid and knowledgeable foundation in the theory and practice of magic.

Absolute Magic, subtitled A Model for Powerful Close-Up Performance, is not so much about magical methodology as about how magicians can make their performances magical; it is written in a variety of styles: sometimes humorous, sometimes serious. He warns against an act that conveys the feeling of "Here are some tricks I've bought" and urges magicians to make their performances experiential and memorable by involving the audience. In some respects a lot of what he says is in Darwin Ortiz's Strong Magic but his book expresses it in the context of his experiences, performance style and theories of how performance should be. (Out of print)

Pure Effect is a more traditional book of trickery and technique and offers an insight into some of the methods that Brown employs, and offers a starting point for development for the reader's own use. (Out of print)

Tricks of the Mind is Derren's first book intended for the general public. It is a wide-ranging book in which Brown reveals some of the techniques he uses in his performances, delves into the structure and psychology of magic and discusses hypnosis. He also applies his insight to the paranormal industry, looking at the structure of beliefs and how psychology can explain why people become 'true believers'. He also offers autobiographical stories about his own experiences as a former Christian, and discusses his scepticism about religion, allegedly 'psychic' mediums and sundry other belief systems. Derren has recorded some audio extracts from Tricks of the Mind, which will be available as downloads from March 2009. In them he expounds on the three subjects essential to his performance- Magic, Memory and Hypnosis. The extracts last around 40 minutes each, disclosing tips and techniques Derren uses in his acts (as well as day-to-day) and narrating the highlights of his book.

The Devil's Picturebook is a near 3 hour home-made video. The first half explains in detail some classic card routines from his earlier career as a conjurer, all of which rely on sleight of hand, misdirection and audience management. The second looks at psychological card routines and shows a distinct move towards Mentalism, for which he is now known. It is an instructional video for aspiring magicians and not an entertainment piece. For this reason it is only available to practitioners through a password-protected magicians'-only area of his website.

International Magic Presents: The Derren Brown Lecture is an 80-minute lecture DVD of close-up mentalism and subsequent discussion of various aspects of Brown's performance. Again, this product is not intended for general consumption, but is directed at magicians and mentalists only.

There is also a book scheduled for release containing a selection of Derren's paintings and bizarre caricatures of celebrities.

In 2007, Brown performed in the short film Medium Rare.[11]

In 2008, Brown made a guest acting appearance in BBC Four's Crooked House as Sir Roger Widdowson.[12]

[edit] DVD releases

Title Release Date Information
Trick of the Mind: Series 1 25 April 2005 The first series of the Channel 4 show Trick of the Mind.
Trick of the Mind: Series 2 27 March 2006 The second series of the Channel 4 show Trick of the Mind
Derren Brown: Inside Your Mind 16 April 2007 A DVD release which contains footage from Brown's Mind Control series.
Something Wicked This Way Comes 5 May 2008 A DVD release of the stage show with the same name, including segments not shown on Channel 4.
Derren Brown: The Specials 3 November 2008 A collection of four of Derren Brown's one-off television specials: The Heist, The System, Séance and Russian Roulette.

[edit] Criticism

In a Daily Telegraph article published in 2003 Simon Singh criticised Brown's early TV appearances, arguing that he presented standard magic and mentalism effects - such as the classic Ten Card Poker Deal trick - as genuine psychological manipulation.[13] On Brown's television and live shows he often appears to show the audience how a particular effect was created—claiming to use subliminal imagery, body language reading and so on. Singh's suggestion is that these explanations are dishonest. Furthermore, Singh took exception to the programme's website being categorised under Channel 4's "Science" section. The minisite was moved to Entertainment for later series.

In his book Tricks of the Mind, Brown writes, "I am often dishonest in my techniques, but always honest about my dishonesty. As I say in each show, 'I mix magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship'. I happily admit cheating, as it's all part of the game. I hope some of the fun for the viewer comes from not knowing what's real and what isn't. I am an entertainer first and foremost, and I am careful not to cross any moral line that would take me into manipulating people's real-life decisions or belief systems."

Brown claims he never uses actors or "stooges" in his work. In Tricks of the Mind he offers the defence that such a ploy is "artistically repugnant and simply unnecessary"; furthermore, he "would not want any participant to watch the [TV] show when it airs and see a different or radically re-edited version of what he understood to have happened".[8]

During stage performances, Brown chooses participants at random by throwing an object (a Frisbee or a stuffed animal) to the audience and has them pass it around; whoever ends up with the object joins him on stage.[14]

[edit] Methods

[edit] Psychological illusions

In an interview published in New Scientist, Derren Brown says that he first developed many of his "psychological illusion" skills through his training in hypnotherapy before he was involved in learning close up magic. When asked how he was able to produce various psychological illusions such as apparent mind-reading, lie detection and hypnotic induction, Brown claimed to be able to read on subtle cues such as a micro-muscle movements that indicate to him if someone is lying or holding something back. He also states that his participants are carefully selected based on their hypnotizability and responsiveness which is common in stage hypnosis. He believes that the presence of a television camera also increases responsiveness.[15]

[edit] Neuro-linguistic programming

Several authors have claimed that Derren Brown uses Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) in his act which "consists of a range of magical 'tricks', misdirection and, most intriguing, setting up audiences to provide the response that he wishes them to provide by using subtle subliminal cues in his conversation with them."[16] In response to the accusation that he unfairly claims to be using NLP whenever he performs, Brown writes "The truth is I have never mentioned it". Brown does have an off-stage curiosity about the system, and discusses it in the larger context of hypnotism and suggestion.[8][17] In his book "Tricks of the Mind" he mentions that he attended an NLP course with Richard Bandler, co-creator of NLP and mentor of Paul McKenna, but suggests that the rigid systems of body language interpretation employed by NLP are not as reliable as its practitioners imply. He also mentions the NLP concept of eye accessing cues as a technique of "limited use" in his book "Pure Effect"[18]. The language patterns which he uses to suggest behaviours are very similar in style to those used by Richard Bandler and by the hypnotist from whom Bandler learned his skill, Milton H. Erickson.

[edit] Personal life

Brown came out as gay in an interview in a Sunday newspaper supplement in September 2007[19] though he had previously made several references to using his skills as "speed-seduction techniques to impress women."[20] In April 2008 he clarified that he had been in a relationship for a year, but that his partner would prefer to stay out of the public eye.[21]

Brown is the Patron of the National Parrot Sanctuary, situated near Skegness.

Brown is a former evangelical Christian; he states that he became an atheist in his 20s.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Bristol Uni Alumni, 2007-01-05,, retrieved on 2008-03-11 
  2. ^ Fleckney, Paul (18 February 2008). "Be careful what you think - it's Derren Brown". Your Local Guardian. Retrieved on 2008-03-11. 
  3. ^ "Derren Brown". Retrieved on 2008-09-09. 
  4. ^ "Derren Brown's First TV Appearance". Ian Rowland Website. Retrieved on 2008-03-12. 
  5. ^ It's Sure To Be A Treat, 2008-04-26,, retrieved on 2008-11-25 
  6. ^ a b "Roulette gun stunt 'a hoax'". BBC News. 7 October 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-03. 
  7. ^ "Magician defends gun stunt fake". 8 October 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-03. 
  8. ^ a b c d Brown, Derren (2006), Tricks of the Mind, London: Channel 4, ISBN 9781905026265 
  9. ^ a b "Derron Brown: The System", The Telegraph, 26 January 2008,, retrieved on 2008-03-12 
  10. ^ UTUBE Video
  11. ^ Medium Rare the Short Film,, retrieved on 2008-03-12 
  12. ^ Interview with Mark Gatiss about Crooked House,, retrieved on 2008-12-20 
  13. ^ Singh, Simon (10 June 2003), "I'll bet £1,000 that Derren can't read my mind", The Daily Telegraph,, retrieved on 2008-03-12 
  14. ^ Don't Try This One at Home (review), 15 April 2005,, retrieved on 2008-03-12 
  15. ^ Clare Wilson. "The great pretender." New Scientist. London: 30 Jul-Aug 5, 2005. Vol. 187, Iss. 2510; pg. 36, 2 pgs
  16. ^ John Ozimek. Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management. London: Apr 2007. Vol. 14, Iss. 3; pg. 161, 3 pgs
  17. ^ "Does NLP work? Is it the basis of Derren Brown's "mind control" act?", The Straight Dope, 20 November 2007,, retrieved on 2008-03-12 
  18. ^ Brown, Derren (2000), Pure Effect, p. 108 
  19. ^ Brown, Derren (30 September 2007), The Independent on Sunday,, retrieved on 2008-03-12 
  20. ^ Brown, Derren (2000), Pure Effect, p. 28 
  21. ^ Derren: I'm a mind bender, 2008-05-21,, retrieved on 2008-12-09 

[edit] External links

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