A Children’s Entertainer in Bournemouth.
It was 1994, and I was an entertainments manager on a holiday park in New Milton. I had an agent, based in Portsmouth and I went to him and asked what sort of work could I expect in the off season. Naturally, the holiday parks closed over the winter period so he said get yourself a magic show together, get a Punch & Judy booth if you can and become a children’s entertainer. I worked with children every day in the club that I ran and in the evenings I had a captive audience to help develop my show so I went for it. I performed as often as I could, adding things gradually until I had an act.
The next thing I needed was a name and a style. My agent suggested that I became a clown. I was dead against that for a few reasons. I figured that although some children loved clowns, many hated them. Also, I like to ‘switch off’ in between parties and if I was driving around with full make up then that would be difficult, so I decided that it was as a children’s entertainer with the emphasis on magic that I would become. I’d seen entertainers in Bournemouth and Poole and of course we had visiting acts but as a child, I never saw a kid’s entertainer. In a way that was a good thing because I came at it with totally subjective eyes and no biased memories from childhood.
The next thing I had to do was come up with a name for myself. That proved difficult. I didn’t want a silly name but I also didn’t want to use my real name. After a couple of weeks of deliberating my agent got on my case needing to know what my name was so he could sell my services to people phoning in wanting an entertainer. Back then, he ran the biggest children’s entertainer agency on the South coast and had half a dozen acts on his books. He came up with a name for me. A name I detested, but it was the name that was on my first few booking contracts. If I needed a good kick up the backside to find a name quickly, this was it. The name he gave me was ….. ‘Mickey Magic’! Awful. So one day, it clicked – Mr Merlin. Now it may seem obvious because of Merlin the magician, but for me it had a deeper meaning. I was born in a town in West Wales called Carmarthen, which in Welsh is Caerfyrddin. This is the reputed birthplace of Merlin the Wizard. In fact Caer is Welsh for fortress or stronghold and Fyrddin (Myrddin) is the Welsh for Merlin, so my birth town’s translation (of sorts) is Merlin’s Fortress. So how could I be anything but Mr Merlin?
I remember my first professional booking as a children’s entertainer and that was in November 1994 and it was in Haslemere in Surrey. I believe I was paid the princely sum of £70 for 2 hours entertainment. Bargain!
So I had an act, and a name (No Okey Dokey yet – that’s another story) and once my season finished, I had a place to live in Boscombe East. I was still travelling to gigs in Portsmouth but never considered moving there as I loved the Bournemouth and Poole area too much. I even planted roots buying my first home in Charminster, and apart for a couple of years in Bearwood, I have stayed in the Charminster, Winton and Moordown area and now consider myself a local.
So from entertaining children (and adults) on holiday parks, I became a full time professional children’s entertainer in Bournemouth and I have the best job in the world.