Magic-Top Secret was Jasper Maskelyne's autobiography of his wartime experiences. Largely written by a ghostwriter, the book was released in March 1949. In 77,000 words, over 191 pages, Jasper recounts tales of his, and others, time in the Western Desert of North Africa, the Mediaterranean, Adriatic and India during World War Two.
It sets out to establish him as a "Camouflage Expert in warpaint," overdramatising many of his activities and achievements. The book earned several uncritical reviews and sold sufficient copies to be reprinted in June the same year.
Then it faded into obscurity, until it was resurrected in the 1980s as the source book for David Fisher's fictionalised account of Jasper's war, The War Magician.
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligensier, 2 April 1949
“A WIZARD AT WAR, Magic-Top Secret. When war broke out 1939, Mr. Jasper Maskelyne, world-famous stage magician, was not immediately able to convince the Service authorities of the practicability converting the dark mysteries his art for use against the enemy. He was met, he tells us, with suspicion and obstruction 'The man.' said the Brass Hats, ‘Is an actor.' An encounter with Lord Gort, Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies, brought about change in this attitude. Maskelyne had by that time secured commission in the Royal Engineers, and Lord Gort came to inspect his unit. Employing the magical knowledge that had come down to him through two generations of conjurers, the R.E. officer contrived make machine-gun post vanish utterly in an open meadow. Lord Gort was impressed and before long Major Maskelyne was engaged to produce huge-scale magic for the three Services. Hitler, hearing of this, scoffed first, but later, finding that there was more in Maskelyne's magic than met the eye, had the magician's name placed the Gestapo ‘Black List’. The story of this wizardry is here told in the racy style which one would expect from a professional conjurer, and it makes fascinating reading. Knowing more about the use of mirrors than any other man in the world, Maskelyne dazzled and blinded the German bomber pilots. But did more than that. He invented dummy tanks and guns, concealed Naval harbours and fleets from the human eye launched fleets dummy submarines, built dummy battleships and devised under-water magic for our secret agents. The book contains some remarkable photographs recently released from the secret list. One cannot help thinking it a pity that no time was it possible for Jasper Maskelyne to ask the Fuehrer for the loan his watch.”
The Stage, 26 May 1949
“MAGIC-TOP SECRET: Jasper Maskelyne’s account of his camouflage work in the late war is now published under this title (Stanley Paul, Ltd.. 18s.) Reading its many engrossing pages, one fully believes that he made himself a considerable nuisance to the enemy, who laughed at him at first, but afterwards changed their ideas and put him on the Gestapo black list with a price on his head. Mr. Maskelyne served in sixteen countries with an office at Cairo, and his dummy airfields, guns, submarines, tanks, and warships confused the Germans so much that at times they were completely puzzled. He reveals plenty in this book, but not everything, for some of his tricks were never used and might be welcome on some future occasion! In other directions he has abundant information about Indian magic and the famous rope trick, and something to say about the ancient Egyptians and their temple magic. There are thirty illustrations to help the reader and a useful but brief index.”
Western Mail, 11 August 1949
“Maskelyne’s story of his war magic makes a first-rate book, a story which is told with the assurance and showmanship (and sometimes touches of flamboyance) of the practised stage magician. It is enhanced by a number of photographs, many of them only recently released from the secret list.”