Derren Brown and the public interest test


Derren Brown with his friend Rebecca Hossack, a councillor in Camden

UNSURPRISINGLY, Derren Brown, the fantastically slick showman who makes good TV programmes, is too smart for me. Well, the Freedom of Information team at the Science Museum are.

The museum over in Kensington is subject to the same Freedom of Information rules as other bodies which accept public money, so I whooshed in a FOI request to their info team to see what people at the museum were saying about Brown’s recent stunt/trick/illusion (what are the things he does officially called?) staged there. The one which involved getting a woman from the museum to draw a symbol on a painter’s easel, hiding it under some wrapping in the museum and then convincing everybody watching his show The Events to draw the same shape. It turned out to be concentric circles, just like the ones that shone out of the woman’s eyes, the ones we were repeatedly asked to stare into during the show.

I’m sure it wasn’t as simple as that. So, how did he do it? The FoI answer came back yesterday and shed no light on it. In fact I was told that the release of any details of his arrangements with the museum (clues, to you and me) would ‘in no way benefit the public interest’. That’s me told. And fair enough. If you knew how Brown did his amazing feats, it would ruin his act – and his act is far too entertaining, far too enjoyable for that. I’d rather gasp in amazement at the telly than find out that a paper trail of emails at the museum reveals a humdrum explanation for it all. Whatever stunt/trick/illusion he comes up with, he always captures the imagination.

The full text of the Science Museum’s response:

Dear Mr Osley,

Thank you for your recent Freedom of Information enquiry regarding the filming of a television programme at the Science Museum. I can confirm that this was a standard commercial agreement between the museum and the production company and that all correspondence and related documentation, both internal and external, related to the practicalities of using the Museum’s premises as a location. The Science Museum had no direct input nor exercised any editorial or other controls, other than that standard in such agreements, over the format or content of the programme. Accordingly, we have concluded that the release of this correspondence would in no way benefit the public or be to their interest.

I can also confirm that, other than your own enquiry, the museum has received no feedback from the public relating to this particular programme. I hope this information is of some use to you and I wish you all the best with your research.

Documentation Centre,
Science Museum,
London, SW7 2DD

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