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Jasper Maskelyne and the stripper

In the late 1940s, Jasper put together a new touring show. Called Maskelyne and Femynye, it combined the appeal of Jasper’s magic with the allure of female glamour.

Image: Promotional flyer for the Maskelyne and Femynye show

The idea for the show (which probably came from booking agents Lew and Leslie Grade), was that Jasper would couple with ‘Jane from the Daily Mirror.’ Jane was a comic strip character in The Daily Mirror from 1932 to 1959. A salacious strip, the heroine had a habit of frequently (and most often inadvertently) losing her clothes. The strip became hugely popular during Wolrd War Two, with Prime Minister Winston Churchill jokingly dubbing Jane as “Britain’s secret weapon” for her impact on troop morale.

Image: Cartoon strip of Janes from The Daily Mirror

The model which the cartoonist (Norman Pett) based his drawings on was Chrystabel Leighton-Porter (after initially using his wife for the early cartoons). Such was the character’s popularity, that Leighton-Porter was signed up with E.N.S.A. (Entertainments National Service Association) to perform a burlesque act as Jane to entertain troops during the war.

Image: Cartoonist Norman Pett, model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter and Fritz the dog

In 1949, Leighton-Porter took the titular role in The Adventures of Jane, a British comedy film. Edward G. Whiting, who’d directed Jasper in The Dizzy Limit / Kidnapped (1930), directed it. The plot incorporates Fritz, Jane’s faithful dachshund, who also featured in the comic strip. The Maskelyne and Femynye show was designed to leverage the wave of publicity created by the film. Jasper’s assured magic anchored the show, while Jane’s appearance drew in the crowds.

Video: The Adventures of Jane (1949)

Jasper and Jane appeared on the same bill several times from 1946 onwards before they formally paired together in Maskelyne and Femynye. The first engagement under this billing was at the Palace Theatre, Leicester just after Easter 1949:


“Maskelyne and Devant have pleasure in presenting the New Comedy & Magical Presentation ‘MASKELYNE AND FEMYNYE’ JASPER MASKELYNE The Master Magician and Full West End Company. Plus, variety supporting acts - no nudes! 'The illusions are new and slick, and put over in the inimitable Maskelyne style. This is a show that both young and old will thoroughly enjoy.”

Combining Jasper’s family friendly magic with a burlesque act seems an odd approach from today’s perspective. However, thirty-six-year-old Leighton-Porter’s act was not a full-nudity striptease (at least when she performed in the same show as Jasper). Instead, her appearances emphasised the comedic nature of Jane's character rather than encouraging sexual fantasy. She did strip to her lingerie, but more near the knuckle actions maintained a level of decency, with her hands or other objects covering her breasts, or performances in silhouette, shadow-fashion behind a scrim. She was accompanied on stage by a chorus line of glamorous women.


Nonetheless, some observers were unimpressed. Alistair Maskelyne (Jasper's son) later described the combination of magic show and striptease as “tawdry.” [1] A Genii reporter said, "to see a brilliant artist like Jasper Maskelyne sharing billing with a stripteaser makes one think!” [2]


Image: Chrystabel Leighton-Porter

By 1950, the Maskelyne and Femynye billing was dropped. And in Easter 1950, Jasper Maskelyne left the British variety stage altogether, emigrating to Kenya.


[1] Alistair Maskelyne, interview by Richard Stokes, www.maskelynesmagic.com

[2] Genii - The Conjurors’ Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 11, January 1949.


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