Derren Brown



Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is an English psychological illusionist and skeptic of paranormal phenomena. He was born in Croydon, Surrey, and while studying Law and German at the University of Bristol he attended a show by the hypnotist Martin S. Taylor that inspired him to turn to illusion and hypnosis as a career. Around 1994 he worked as a conjurer, practising the traditional skills of close-up 'magic'. In 1996, he started performing stage hypnosis shows at the University of Bristol under his then stage name of Darren V. Brown. In September 1997 he attended a Neuro-Linguistic Programme course with Richard Bandler, Paul McKenna and Michael Breen.

Two years later, Brown started getting interested in mind-reading through his friend Ian Rowland[citation needed]. Shortly after, he got commissioned to do the first pilot of Mind Control. Brown's psychological illusions are skillfully performed and are enhanced by his personality and showman's flair to influence and misdirect. Some observers have commented, however, that most of Brown's act consists of standard magic tricks and that little psychology or suggestion is actually used.

Other than his main work, Derren is also an artist who paints caricatures of famous people. His work has also been exhibited. His paintings can be viewed via his website.

Since the first broadcast of his Channel 4 television show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000 he has become increasingly well known for his "mind-reading" act. Derren Brown says he possesses no psychic ability and achieves his results by making use of psychological insights. Using his knowledge and skill he claims he is able to predict and influence people's thoughts with subtle suggestion, manipulate the decision making process and read the subtle physical signs or body language that indicate what a person is thinking.

He began his television work with three sixty-minute specials over two years which led up to the six part series Mind Control, which incorporated new footage with the best of the hour long shows. Selected highlights from the first series are available on DVD and video entitled Derren Brown - Inside Your Mind.

On October 5, 2003, Brown performed Russian roulette live on Channel 4 (though with a slight delay in case of accidents). The stunt was performed at an undisclosed location outside Britain, supposedly because of British laws banning the possession of handguns. A volunteer, chosen from 12,000 who applied for the task, and whittled down to five by the day of the stunt, loaded a single shot into a revolver with six numbered chambers, then counted from one to six. Attempting to predict the location of the bullet, Brown pulled the trigger on chambers 3 and 4 with the gun aimed at his head, before appearing to decide on chamber 5 and firing the gun away from him. When that chamber proved to be empty, he paused for over one minute before aiming at his head again for chamber 6, then immediately firing the (supposedly) live round in chamber 1 away from him, striking a sandbag.

The programme was initially condemned by senior British police officers, apparently fearful of copycat acts. However, when the filming location was revealed to be Jersey, where handguns are also banned, many accused Brown of perpetrating a hoax. Several days later the Jersey police said they had been consulted about the programme in advance, and revealed: "There was no live ammunition involved and at no time was anyone at risk." As demonstrated earlier in the programme, firing a blank cartridge at point-blank range can still be extremely dangerous or even fatal.

Brown himself defended the programme, saying, "It probably sounds odd. But as a magic-related performer to have that event being asked: Was it real? Was it not real? That lifts it to a level that I'm very comfortable with. What's left is the fact that it was a terrific piece of television."

Brown's next project was shown on Channel 4 on 31 May 2004. In Derren Brown: Séance he brought students from Roehampton University together to re-create a live séance. He invited students to come along to the event at Eltham Hall, claiming that the location had a history of paranormal activity after 12 people killed themselves in a suicide pact in 1974, Brown demonstrated the methods used by spiritualists.

The show attempted to involve the television audience with interactive activities, the first of which being the directed choice of one of the members of the suicide pact by looking at photographs. The 12 pictures were shown on screen in a set pattern, with half of them in color and half black and white. The viewer was instructed to choose one of the color images that they "feel a connection with". Brown then directed the viewers in a movement pattern between the photographs (for example, move left or right to one of the adjacent black and white photographs). The positioning and movement instructions were carefully planned to ensure that no matter which photograph was initially chosen the viewer would finish on the picture of "Jane". Ten of the students also chose Jane. During the following ouija board scene, the "spirit" guided the students to spell the name Jane.

Two of the students, along with the television viewers, were asked to write the name of a city. Both students chose London.

The final scene, the séance itself, saw the group "contact" Jane. One of the students was speaking as if she was Jane and gave some details about her life. These were confirmed to be true in a letter and in a short film.

Brown went on to explain some of the manipulations he had used, including the photograph positioning/instructions and the use of the ideomotor effect during the ouija board. The suicide pact had not taken place and "Jane" was taken to meet the students at the end of the show.

Channel 4 received 700 complaints, most before it was aired. Viewers who felt "something unusual" were invited to call a phone number, and callers were told that the show was carefully planned and that no paranormal activities were taking place. Brown also warned viewers about the impending ouija board scene, advising those who objected for "religious reasons or otherwise" to stop watching the show.

Shown on 7 January 2005, Derren Brown travelled to the United States to try to convince five leading figures that he had powers in their particular field of expertise: Christian evangelism, alien abduction, psychic powers, New Age theories and contacting the dead.

Using a false name each time, he succeeded in convincing four of the five "experts" that he had powers, and they openly endorsed him as a true practitioner. The fifth expert, the Christian evangelist, whilst impressed by Derren's performance, asked to meet him again before giving an endorsement. The concept of the show was to highlight the power of suggestion with regard to beliefs and people's abilities, and failure to question them. Brown made it quite clear with each experiment that if any of the subjects accused him of mind control or trickery, he would immediately come clean about the whole thing. His conclusion was that people tend to hear only things that support their own ideas and ignore contradictory beliefs.

Derren Brown asked a leading figure at a psychic training school to go into another room and draw a number of simple pictures on any topic she wished. After each picture had been completed, Derren would have his prediction of what the picture was written down by the other members of the training school in the room with him. He was 100% correct. On one occasion when Derren was telling the participant to draw the next picture, he instructed the lady to "let some ideas sail into your mind" and not to go "overboard on detail". She drew a boat in water.

Derren Brown instructed a leading new-age theorist to sleep with a machine attached to her pillow for five days. She was told that this machine used crystal technology to record her dreams. In fact it was simply a box with a switch which turned an LED on and off. Derren recalled the dreams correctly, including the fact that some were in black-and-white instead of colour. The participant was so impressed that she invited Derren to appear on her radio show the next day, which he declined.

Derren performed instant conversions on a group consisting of members of the public, all of whom were atheists. After the first instant conversion many of the group chose to leave, concerned by what they had just witnessed. Derren then proceeded to convert another individual and then the remainder of the group at once. In each case, he caused the participants to at least accept the possibility that there was a God, when previously they had all refused to do so. At the end of the show, a notice on screen announced that the participants had all been "de-converted" before they left.

Derren believes that all successful mediums use a technique called cold reading. To illustrate this he arranges a clairvoyant demonstration with "fairly skeptical New Yorkers". During the séance Derren tricks three women inte believing that he is in contact with deceased loved ones and many tears are shed. Afterwards it was explained to the participants that it was a trick and those appearing allowed the broadcast.


Trick of the Mind was Derren's second series, which is now in its third year. Unlike Mind Control it is all completely new material. The second series started on E4 on 11 April 2005 and was repeated on Channel 4. The third series started on March 26, 2006. A new series is being filmed and will be aired in spring 2007.

In June 2005, a clip from the second series widely circulated the internet. In this clip, Derren claims to have created a video game he calls "Waking Dead" which "is able to put roughly 1/3 of the people who play it into a catatonic trance". In this episode he places the video game in a pub, to lure a supposedly unsuspecting patron into playing the game. He then "kidnaps" the catatonic "victim" and places him in a real-life recreation of the video game, having him fire an air gun at actors, pretending to be zombies and outfitted with explosive squibs.

This phenomenon of inducing catatonic-like states via flashes of light is called Photosensitive epilepsy, and is medically very rare, affecting only a few in 10,000, not the sensational claim of 1/3.

The episode raised considerable controversy. Mick Grierson, credited in the episode as "Zombie Game Designer", put up a website linking to various articles about the episode.

The Gathering was a specially recorded as-live show with an invited audience of students from Roehampton University, celebrities, psychologists, psychics, taxi-drivers and magicians. It was filmed on 18 May 2005 and broadcast later on 29 May. As part of the show Derren recalled streets, page numbers and grid references from the Greater London A-Z map. Also pseudo-psychic "mind reading" and "remote viewing" activities were recreated. He addressed the audience and told them that many of them would forget the show when they left. Throughout the show the word "forget" was flashed very quickly on the backdrop, and when guests were interviewed after the show some of them could only vaguely remember the performance. During the show subliminal use of the word "forget" induced this. Also during the show, Derren hypnotised the audience as a group and convinced them that for approximately half an hour after leaving the room, they would have no memory of the events. A variety of people were interviewed afterwards, some of them couldn't recollect everything (but were nevertheless very impressed); brief clips of these interviews were shown. One of the most memorable stunts was getting a London taxi driver to choose a street in London and then choose and mentally drive a random route. This was achieved by drawing a line on a map of London made of stuck together A-Z pages. He started in Buckingham Palace and ended up in Shepherd's Bush Green, the street in which the secret performance took place.

The Heist was shown on 4 January 2006 at 21:00, on Channel 4. In the show, Derren Brown used his skills on selected participants who answered an ad.

"Under the guise of a motivational seminar" (where they would allegedly learn Derren Brown's skills) Brown eventually got participants to rob a security van - in what was ultimately an elaborate set up. The robbery involved holding up a security guard (who was an actor) with a toy gun Derren had earlier given them, and taking a case filled with real money from him. Four people were selected to carry out the robbery from an initial field of thirteen, with three of them actually taking the cases. The idea was that after the conditioning they received, they would voluntarily rob the van of their own accord (Which three out of four of them did). There was no mention of the 'crime' to the participants, and they were not (directly) instructed to do it. The three that did it did so as a result of the conditioning and their own choice, not instructions from any third party including Derren.

Brown associated colour, music and phrases to build the participants into a highly-motivated state, converging all of those psychological empowerment tools into a single set up. The seminar subliminally anchored freedom, childhood, opportunity and romance into various criminal acts. After having previously been convinced to steal sweets from a shop (for real), they were shown the euphoria that could be gained from criminal acts.

This programme also contained a reenactment of the Milgram experiment carried out by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s in the aim of selecting four of the most motivated of the group. The majority of subjects in this experiment were willing to administer lethal electric shocks to another person on the instruction of an authoritative figure (unbeknown to the subjects, the electric shocks were not actually real); these were the same results as Milgram himself found.

Brown's live stage show, Something Wicked This Way Comes, toured around the UK following its success in the West End. The tour started in March at the Cambridge Theatre and finished in May at the Hammersmith Apollo. The show won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment Show 2006.

The show was performed for a final time at The Old Vic Theatre at the end of the Tour, and filmed with the intention of broadcasting on Channel 4, which says it plans to broadcast it at "the end of this year (2006), but nothing concrete yet."

Simon Singh has suggested that many of Brown's routines are simply standard magic tricks, and that no suggestion, hypnosis or other 'mind control' techniques are ever actually used. By his own admission, Brown uses 'magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship'. On Brown's television and live shows he often appears to show the audience how a particular effect was used - often by placing words or pictures into a subject's mind with subliminal gestures or language. Singh's suggestion is that it is these explanations which are at the very heart of Brown's misdirection, that, by making the audience feel it knows how the trick is being achieved, he is able to hide the true methods by which the magical effects are created.

Some of Brown's allegedly mentalistic tricks are only mere variations on old classic tricks. In an episode of the Trick of the Mind television series Brown performed one of his personal innovations; a spectator piled pictures of people into two piles, after which Brown showed that the two piles had been separated into pictures of dead and alive people, respectively. The technique is merely a Brownian variation of a classic card trick invented by Paul Curry called Out of This World, where the spectator unknowingly separates a deck of cards into red and black piles, respectively. In fact, Derren subtly alluded to this at the end of the routine by thanking his spectator with the ambiguous phrase: "That was out of this world"[citation needed]. Brown explains his innovation of the technique in his Devil's Picturebook video, again with a deck of cards instead of a pile of pictures.

Brown claims that no actors or stooges are used in filming.

Derren Brown's live show used a random method of selecting audience members to participate in the various effects: a cuddly toy monkey was thrown into the audience, with instructions for it to be thrown twice more with abandon; whoever caught it the third time joined Brown on stage. Over a dozen members of the audience were used for the performance.

Whilst Brown must be deemed a great success as a mentalist or 'psychological magician' by the yardstick of media exposure and television appearances, he is not alone in pioneering or originating this form of entertainment. From the 1990s onwards American psychologist turned entertainer Marc Salem has appeared with his project 'Mind Games' to critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, in both theatre and television[citation needed]. British-Dutch magician David Berglas was a household name in the 1960s and early 1970s with his intense, interactive television shows which drew heavily on his training as a psychotherapist at London's Tavistock Institute.

He has written three books on magic, Absolute Magic, Pure Effect, and Tricks of the Mind.

Absolute Magic is not so much about magical methodology as about how magicians can make their performances magical; it is written in a variety of styles, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always thought provoking. He warns against an act that conveys the feeling of "Here are some tricks I've bought" and urges magicians to make their performances experiential and memorable by involving the audience. In some respects a lot of what he says is in Darwin Ortiz' Strong Magic but his book expresses it in the context of his experiences, performance style and theories of how performance should be.

Pure Effect is a more traditional book of trickery and technique and offers an insight into some of the methods that Derren employs, and offers a starting point for development for the reader's own use.


Tricks of the Mind is set for release on November 6, 2006. It is being promoted as a book in which Brown reveals many of his techniques, delves into the structure and psychology of magic, and discusses hypnosis. He also investigates the paranormal industry and tells autobiographical stories about his own experiences.

His 160 minute video, The Devil's Picturebook, contains details of the card effects some regarded as "mind reading" from earlier in his career.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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