Bill Stickland and Jeffrey Atkins
Bill Stickland and Jeffery Atkins are names that have a very strong affinity to the British Ring. Some of our newer members and delegates may not be aware of their background so we thought we would re-introduce these stalwarts once again. We want them to be remembered and during our convention we have the Jeffery Atkins Memorial Lecture, and the bronze bust of Bill Stickland which has adorned the stages of the venues over the years and is now part of our welcome at the Registration desk.
If you don’t know who these remarkable men were, then read on and you will find out just what they did for the British Ring.
In 1932, William G Stickland (Bill) of Dorset then aged 32, went up to London to attend the annual dinner of the British Ring of the I.B.M. It was the last dinner to be organised by Dick Nesfield (Dleisfen), British Ring secretary since its formation in 1928, before his retirement from the post for personal and business reasons. What happened next can be summed up in Bill’s own words.
‘I did not anticipate when I left for dinner that I should return with the burden of the secretaryship on my shoulders’
He intended only being interim secretary until the end of the year, but in fact was still in post for the next 52 years until his death in 1984.
Bill, ‘The Wessex Wizard’ was a magician full of ingenious ideas and was one of the earliest contributors to both the Linking Ring and the Budget. He appeared regularly at the Ring events in London and also at the first convention in Cheltenham in 1931. His magic was unusual and would not work for everybody, but his themed presentations - his Tennis act, his Dice Man act and his remarkable ‘Living Marionettes’ were long remembered by all who saw them.
Although recognised as a singular magic entertainer, it is his outstanding work for the I.B.M. that is remembered with awe. He oversaw the growth of the British Ring from just under 100 members to over 1500 at the time of his death, he was President of the Ring twice and International President for 1971/72, the first non American to be so honoured. Later he was awarded the I.B.M. Medal of Honour. In the UK he was appointed MBE, for ‘services to magic’, a rare honour for a magical entertainer.
In 1946 Bill was joined by Jeffery Atkins from the neighbouring county of Hampshire to be Assistant Secretary for the then growing society. Jeff got the magic bug early at school and was accepted as a member of the Associated Wizards of the South at the age of 14. He remained an enthusiastic member of that organisation for the rest of his life and was for a long period its President. He served in the navy during WW2 and on demobilisation began his long Ring involvement. He was then 27.
Descriptions of Jeff’s early magic shows show him to be a performer with a broad range of general magic ‘in the David Devant manner’ as it was put at the time. Later British Ring convention audiences however, tend to remember him for his illusions. For 25 years until 1985 he presented ‘Illusions of the Masters’ on the convention Gala show. The illusions were either original from his own collection or reconstructions made especially for the shows. His act allowed modern audiences to see again famous illusions from the past.
In 1955 he added the role of Treasurer of the Ring to his responsibilities as well as assisting Bill especially during the years of Bill’s declining health. After Bill’s death in 1984 he became the Ring secretary, a role he performed with notable success until his own death in 2001. Like Bill before him, he was President of the Ring and International President of the I.B.M. in 1977, the second Briton to be so honoured. As he remarked in a speech ‘The British Ring is my life, and as long as I have life, I will devote it to the Ring’
Between them Bill and Jeffery served the British Ring for 63 years, a feat unlikely to be achieved again.