Magic Circle wrapped in a cloak of intrigue and mystery over expulsion of outspoken 'mind reader'

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The Independent Online

The tale of alleged betrayal and brazen double-bluff revolves around one Spyros Melaris, a "mind reader" who was last year controversially asked to collect his top hat and rabbit and close the door behind him. He refused to quit, insisting that he was a whistle-blower on dirty tricks at the highest level.

The membership is divided over his eviction and he is threatening to resolve it in court. The events have sparked a row over the future of the Circle, which some say is run by an elitist, tyrannical clique and "lodged in the 1950s".

The Circle is adamant that Mr Melaris, 46, was expelled for "bad behaviour", but he insists it was for calling time on the former president, Michael Bailey, and his friends. Mr Melaris drew attention to a potential conflict of interest - the Circle museum's curator, John Fisher, a friend of the late Tommy Cooper, is also a leading collector of magic memorabilia - and accused Mr Bailey of abusing his position to get re-elected.

Mr Melaris was voted out by a sizeable majority of the Circle council's members in May last year, for his "unfounded" claims - a decision upheld by almost three-quarters of the global membership, which includes the Prince of Wales.

But he has support from a number of senior magicians, including Ali Bongo, who was behind Paul Daniels' successful 1980s television show. Several hundred members turned up at an emergency meeting to show their support.

He now plans to sue 14 members of the council for breaching his "human right to a fair trial" and "bad-mouthing" him in a letter to the membership. His lawyers expect to serve papers later this year.

"All I've ever done is love the Magic Circle and be a generous, popular member," he said. "Everyone knows it's been a travesty of justice. I will not go down in history as doing something wrong and getting kicked out.

"They don't think I'll do it; I've been told they're calling my bluff. But we're in the process of issuing writs to each member who signed the letter." He wants a retraction and reinstatement.

One of his supporters, Jack Delvin, 73, a council member, said Mr Melaris had been thrown out for asking a lot of questions. "Two or three [council members] ... have gone too far over the top in trying to keep power. It was far from a unanimous decision to throw him out. He was badly treated," Mr Delvin said.

Bongo, then a council member, said: "I didn't agree or want to be associated with what they were about to do. I hate these splits. We all do the same hobby and profession."

Mr Bailey preferred to keep his cards close to his chest, following the club's motto, Indocilis privata loqui, (not apt to disclose secrets), to the word.

He said: "The behaviour was so bad; it was the passing of unfounded rumours which affected a number of people on council." He added that there was "absolutely no chance" of Mr Melaris being let back in: "No. He has produced the worst kind of behaviour the society has seen in its history."

Many members disagree, however, and some are questioning the Circle's future. "They try to sack members they don't like, who tell the truth or get in the way of their grand plan, [which is] to continuously look back on the glorious days of the 1950s and hang on to the power they have to massage their pathetic egos," one senior magician said.

"Look around the membership and count the number of black faces, women, working-class people ... They have a rigid dress code and wonder why young people don't turn up. There are problems with prejudice and intolerance.

"Someone needs to rattle the bars of their cage. They don't own the club."

100 years of secret tricks

* 1905: 23 magicians gather at Pinoli's restaurant, London, to form the Magic Circle, swearing a pledge that prevents them discussing the methods of conjuringoutside the circle

* 1909: David Devant, its founder and first president, is expelled for revealing secrets in a magazine

* 1975: Prince Charles joins after performing a cup and ball trick

* 1991: Women are admitted, after a campaign by Stacey Lee in the 1980s

* 1994: John Lenahan is expelled for exposing the three-card monte trick on television

* 1998: The Circle moves to new purpose-built headquarters in Euston

* 2004: One member is expelled and three resign after their involvement in The Secrets of Magic, a show explaining the mechanics of tricks. Months later Spyros Melaris is expelled

* 2005: The Magic Circle celebrates its centenary