Mentalist, Mind-Reader and Illusionist, Derren Brown's experiments appear to be paranormal - but are a stunning combination of psychology and suggestion.
Todmorden, a town on the Yorkshire and Lancashire border, is steeped in mythology from supernatural stories of witches and apparitions to rumours of people being whisked up into alien ships. For Derren Brown, the town was an ideal choice to run a TV programme testing the power of luck.
Three months prior to filming, Brown started a rumour that the statue of a dog in a local park was a "lucky statue." Dawn Porter's task was to be a front for Brown, and to mix among the townspeople, asking,
"Have you heard about the lucky statue in Central Vale Park?"
The rumour spread and soon people began visiting the statue, giving it a stroke, hoping its luck would rub off onto them. They were unaware they were being filmed by secret cameras.
Derren Brown Sets Up His Experiments
Seven residents were chosen, so any resulting "good luck" could be recorded. In due course, two or three residents reported winnings on the lottery, an antique dealer made an unexpectedly valuable purchase, an artist got herself a new commission. There was plenty of good luck to report to Porter.
Wayne the butcher considered himself to be a most unlucky person, but he was prepared to give the dog a pat in the interest of research. Brown and Porter set up a few "opportunities" for him.
- A scratch card with a television prize was put through his door.
- An interviewer stood in the street, asking people a series of questions. Those who answered correctly received a £20 prize.
- A £50 note was left on the ground, right in his path.
Wayne did not respond to any of these contrived opportunities. He ignored the scratchcard because he had never won anything before, so why should he win anything now? When Wayne was intercepted for the market research questions, he said he was busy and would return later. But he didn't bother to return to answer his questions for the £20 prize. Nor did he spot the £50 note on the ground, almost beneath his feet in the third experiment.
Sue, a publican, was also set up with potential lucky opportunities. In one situation, she was stopped by a woman with a punctured tyre. The woman had already asked for help from other people, who told her she'd have to find a garage. Not Sue. She stopped to see what was wrong, and in spite of not knowing how to fix the puncture, she went to find someone who could. She was friendly, chatty and open. Among those who had gathered around the anxious motorist was a comedian, who offered to do a free gig in Sue's pub. That night the pub was packed, wall to wall, with happy customers. Local radio people came along. Some customers had to be enlisted to help serve the pints.
Because Sue was open and wanting to embrace life, she had created her own luck.
Faith and Positive Energy
A group of townspeople, all of whom had patted the dog, went on a day trip to Blackpool and played on the arcade machines. They won a disproportionate amount of prizes. Brown insisted this was not so much to do with luck as belief. They believed they could win now that the lucky dog had given them faith, and they were playing longer and concentrating harder.
Brown brought a psychic along to Central Vale Park to see what she thought about the success of the lucky statue. She agreed the place had a lucky feeling, but thought it was less to do with the statue as with the good energy in that particular area around the statue. So many minds focused on good luck had created a vortex of positive energy.
Wayne Risks His Life Savings on the Roll of the Dice
At the end of the show, an experiment was set up. Wayne the butcher was invited to make a bet on the roll of the dice, with a one in six chance of winning. All the town gathered to watch the show, as a chute was set up for the dice to roll down.
Brown said how moved he was that Wayne had handed in his bet, a whopping £1000. The butcher was being offered an opportunity and had decided to risk his entire life savings on it. If successful, he stood to win a further £5000.
A number was chosen from the audience by a show of hands. The number four was the number picked. Wayne was asked which roll of the dice, out of six, did he believe would produce a number four. He said it would come up on the third roll. The atmosphere in the hall was intense as people waited for the dice to roll. The first die produced a two, the second a six - and the third, the magical four. Wayne was a winner - at last.
Impressive though this experiment was, Derren Brown says his skills are nothing to do with the paranormal. They are a combination of suggestion, showmanship, psychology and misdirection.
- Derren Brown, The Secret of Luck, Meridian, Channel 4, 11.11.2011, 9.00pm.