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Difference between revisions of "Robert Harbin"

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*The Times, "Varieties, &c.", 9 Mar 1932, p.10, col. E
*The Times, "Varieties, &c.", 9 Mar 1932, p.10, col. E
*The Times, "Broadcasting", 9 Feb 1937, p.9, col. A
*The Times, "Broadcasting", 9 Feb 1937, p.9, col. A
* Eric C. Lewis, The genius of Robert Harbin: A personal biography, Mike Caveney's Magic Words (1997), ISBN 0-915-18130-8
* [[Eric C. Lewis]], [[The Genius of Robert Harbin]]: A personal biography, Mike Caveney's Magic Words (1997), ISBN 0-915-18130-8

Revision as of 05:26, 7 June 2009

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Robert Harbin (February 14, 1909 - January 12, 1978) was a British magician and writer born Ned Williams in Balfour, South Africa. He is noted as the inventor of a number of classic illusions, including the Zig Zag Girl. He also became an authority on origami.


The young Ned Williams first got interested in magic after an unknown ex-serviceman appeared at his school with a magic show later described as "rather poor". Williams came to London at the age of 20 and began by working in the magic department of Gamages toy shop. He began performing in music halls under the title "Ned Williams, the Boy Magician from South Africa". By 1932 he was appearing in the Maskelyne's Mysteries magic show in various London theaters.

He was the first British illusionist to move from stage performing to television, appearing in the BBC TV show Variety in 1937 and in his own show which began in 1940.

He developed a number of new tricks, including the Neon Light and the now ubiquitous Zig Zag Girl (1963). His lesser know inventions include the Aztec Lady.

Much of his inventive genius was put into written form and he is known as one of the most prodigious authors on the subject of magical effects. However, although Harbin was brilliantly creative in the field of magic he was not a particularly good writer and his friend and associate Eric Lewis has stated that many of Harbin's titles were ghost written for him.

In about 1952 Harbin appeared in a minor part as a magician in the film The Limping Man, produced by Cy Endfield. In 1953, Harbin and a friend of Endfield's, Gershon Legman (1917-1999), discovered a common interest in the Japanese art of paper-folding. Harbin wrote many books on the subject, beginning with Paper Magic (illustrated by the young art student, the Australian Rolf Harris who in the middle of the project, caught the origami idea and contributed several intricate models himself) in 1965, and was the first President of the British Origami Society. He was the first Westerner to use the word origami for this art-form. He also presented a series of origami programs for ITV in its "Look-In" shows for children in the 1970s.

His grave is at Golders Green Crematorium in London.

Awards and honors


On magic

  • Something New in Magic, Davenport, (1929) as Ned Williams
  • Psychic Vision, Davenport, (1930)
  • Six Card Creations, Davenport, (1930) as Ned Williams
  • Demon Magic, Davenport, (1938)
  • How to Be a Wizard, Oldbourne, (1957), ISBN B0000CJUT3
  • How to Be a Conjuror, Sphere, (1968), ISBN 0-7221-4322-2
  • The Magic of Robert Harbin, C.W. Mole and Sons, (1970) - This was published with a run of only 500 copies. After the run, Robert Harbin had the plates destroyed. This book is very rare and has gone for upwards of $2,000 on eBay [citation needed].
  • Magic (Illustrated Teach Yourself), Knight, (1976), ISBN 0-340-20502-4
  • Harbincadabra, brainwaves and brainstorms of Robert Harbin (1979) [i.e. N. Williams]: From the pages of Abracadabra, 1947-1965, R. Harbin
  • Magic (Illustrated Teach yourself), Treasure, (1983), ISBN 0-907812-39-2
  • The Harbin Book, M. Breese, (1983), ISBN 0-947533-00-1

On origami

Other subjects


  • Smith, Eric C. Introduction to Genius of Robert Harbin quoted at The Magic Depot. Aaron Smith.
  • The Times, "Obituaries", 13 Jan 1978, p.16, col.F
  • The Times, "Varieties, &c.", 9 Mar 1932, p.10, col. E
  • The Times, "Broadcasting", 9 Feb 1937, p.9, col. A
  • Eric C. Lewis, The Genius of Robert Harbin: A personal biography, Mike Caveney's Magic Words (1997), ISBN 0-915-18130-8