Update: December 13, 2017
Alan Beech was a photographer and photo finisher for Spencer’s and (after Spencer’s sold up) for T. Eaton’s Co. department stores in Vancouver. He was also an amateur magician.Alan was in Eaton’s Advertising and Sales Promotion/Display department which was located in the former Molson Bank Building at the NE corner of Hastings at Seymour (the site, today, of Harbour Centre) across Seymour from the Empire Building. Beech’s job was to take photographs of store merchandise for newspaper ads and other promotional organs. He was also responsible for finishing the photos he took in the dark room. But his longtime hobby was magic.
Alan Eccles Beech was born in Maidenhead, England in 1918 to Dr. Stuart Beech and his wife, Muriel Scamander Clark.¹ Both of Alan’s parents were born in India and his dad was a physician with the rank of captain in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the Great War. According to Stuart’s wartime personnel records, he was slight of build (119 pounds!) and “went sick” a month after the Battle of Vimy Ridge in May 1917. There are indications in his records that he was at Vimy for the battle and was “exposed” to something (mustard gas?) which caused a shadow to appear on X-ray images of his lungs. He was sent to London for three months of “home service” in the summer of 1917, which, presumably, is when Alan was conceived. Stuart was demobilized in 1919 and returned with his small family to British Columbia (where he had practiced medicine before the war), settling in Ashcroft for awhile before moving to Salmon Arm in 1924, where he practiced until his death in 1939. Later that year, Alan married Helen Mills and the two of them later settled in Vancouver in the early 1940s.
Alan first became interested in magic when he was a kid, growing up in Salmon Arm. Said Coastal Currents (an Eaton’s corporate magazine with a focus on BC Eaton’s employees), in a December, 1955 profile about Alan:
While still a youngster in Salmon Arm, B.C. Alan staged shows for the neighbourhood children. He moved to Vancouver and here his interest in this pastime was enhanced after seeing a magician perform. He bought all the books he could on the subject and began a diligent practise of the art. He observed ever prestidigitator’s act he could take in, fraternized and compared notes with many amateur magicians.
Alan gave his first magic show in front of an audience on November 18, 1944. Between then and 1976 (the last date for which information appears to be available regarding Alan) he must have performed on several hundred occasions.
He was a member of the local magic club, Vancouver’s Magic Circle, which was (and is) composed exclusively of amateur magicians who hold full-time jobs doing other things and perform only as magic hobbyists. Alan won at least three of the trophies offered by the Magic Circle to its members: in 1952, he won the William Shelley Trophy “for the best stage presentation”; in 1966 he won the Cecil Ackery Comedy Trophy; and in 1976, he was awarded the Wilf Rutherford Trophy for the “best children appeal show”.
I have searched high and low for some indication in the public record of Alan Beech’s death year. But I have turned up nothing. I’m almost prepared to conclude that Alan’s final illusion was that of dodging death. After all, in our world of documentation, if a vital statistic isn’t confirmed in written form, did it really happen?
Extra! Extra! I heard from Robert at WestEndVancouver that he’s been successful in tracking down the date of Alan Beech’s passing: Alan died on September 2, 1998 at age 80. Many thanks, Robert!
¹Our Alan Beech had an uncle who, like Alan’s father, Dr Stuart Beech, was also a physician, and who, confusingly, was also named Alan.
Thanks to Gordon Poppy for sharing this post idea and for filling in some of the blanks pertaining to the life of Alan E. Beech.