Born in Belfast, Billy McComb trained to be a doctor but soon swapped his scrubs for the bright lights of London’s West End.He performed alongside his wife, former Miss Ireland June Cochrane, with the duo entertaining at the Royal Variety Performance in their early days. The USA eventually beckoned and McComb landed in Hollywood.
Billy appeared in hundreds of films and TV shows. He became a well known face at The Magic Castle, in fact he was kind of like a piece of the furniture there. He was known affectionately as “The World’s Largest Leprechaun” and performed is hilarious magic tricks well into his old age , taking to the stage in Las Vegas in his eighties.
While performing in his senior years , Billy would often open his show by shuffling on to the stage and saying “I know what you’re thinking - who is this old fart? “
It delighted every audience because well, it was exactly what they were thinking and Billy was all too aware of it!
He was then immediately follow up with “I’m going to make this quick as its rice pudding nice at the home!”
Another massive laugh and Billy had won over the audience.
I remember giving him a lift to the theatre where he was performing on one of his last visits to Dublin. On the way, he turned to me and said “My boy, can you tell me what area of Dublin one might find ladies of negotiable affections?”
I was a little taken aback and answered “Leeson Street??”
He grinned, thanked me and got out of the car.
That night in the show he cracked a joke referencing a prostitute on Leeson Street.The fact that he had gone to the trouble of referencing a local area earned him an even bigger laugh.
Billy’s reputation of being a gentleman was still intact!
A prolific inventor of magic and illusions, one of his most famous magic tricks is the “Double Thin Model Sawing” in which he sawed two assistants in half and swapped their halves over. A much copied routine.
Billy wasn’t just loved by muggles but I saw him bring an entire theatre of magicians to their feet in a standing ovation. He was walking in Encyclopedia of magic and it showed in every performance
I recall studying him intently when mastering some of my own tricks. It was not just the way he pulled off daring stunts but the glint in his eye as he did so. With his teased moustache and dapper bowtie, he left us with an enduring sense of what magic should be.