BBC aiming to put the magic back into Saturday night TV

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The Independent Culture

They brought back Nationwide in the guise of The One Show, revived Come Dancing, and reinvented Tomorrow's World as Bang Goes the Theory. Now, BBC executives have pulled one more old rabbit out of the hat: a 21st- century version of The Paul Daniels Magic Show.

The BBC promised yesterday to "put magic back on Saturday nights for the first time in nearly two decades" with a show called The Magicians, featuring the wizard wheezes of "three of the magic world's most currently successful practitioners".

Whether the diminutive Daniels will make the cut was last night a mystery as unfathomable as the Fakir of Ava's Japanese Butterfly Trick.

In an opaque posting on his blog site – "The Life and Times of Paul Daniels, Magician, Body Builder and International Sex Symbol" – Britain's favourite septuagenarian trickster was claiming to be in the dark. "Like everyone else I wait with bated breath to see who the three musicians are going to be and who is going to be the presenter," he wrote. "Whoever does it, it ain't going to be easy and I wish them the best of luck."

He said he had "no idea" what the show was about, save for some details in a BBC press release. And that document gave him cause for concern, he warned, because of its promise, in spite of the Magic Circle code of never letting the audience in on your conjuring, that viewers "will be able to learn interactively via a series of exclusive tricks and step-by-step guides".

Daniels said he was "bothered" by this. "I fear that the emphasis will be on the 'secret' of the tricks and not on the real secrets of magic, which are personality, presentation and keeping secrets!" he wrote.

None of this, surely, could have been a criticism of Lenny Henry, who was rumoured to have been lined up as the host of The Magicians, despite being better known as a comedian. In any case, Daniels, whose BBC1 magic show finished in 1994, already has plenty of plates spinning in the air as he masters his steps for an upcoming appearance on another BBC1 revival show, Strictly Come Dancing.

The Magicians, which will be shown early in 2011, will be filmed at Pinewood Studios. One element of the programme that should come as absolutely no surprise to viewers is that each of the magicians will be appearing alongside a "celebrity partner".

According to the BBC, the magicians "will be pushed to excel beyond their own favoured speciality, be it escapology, illusion or sleight of hand card tricks, as the tournament will throw weekly challenges and themes designed to test the competitors' originality, ingenuity and ambition".

The programme is being made by Shine, which also makes BBC1's celebration of the greatest of all proponents of wizardry, Merlin. The BBC's controller of entertainment commissioning Mark Linsey said: "The Magicians is a bold, big scale entertainment show that will bring the best of the latest crop of amazing illusionists to a wide audience for the first time, in a head-to-head contest."

It is not clear whether the Magic Circle shares Daniels's concerns about exposing the world of sorcery to a new and unwelcome transparency. A spokesman for the group could only display a disappointing inability as a clairvoyant. "We could not comment on a show that we knew nothing about," he said.

A Shine spokesman denied that the show would reveal trade secrets and said it would be "contemporary but true to the spirit of magic".