Derren’s lucky break came when in 1999 when Jerry Sadowitz’s manager, Michael Vine, (now Derren’s manager) flew up from London to see one Jerry’s performances in Glasgow and Michael happened to mention that for about two years he and his business partner, Andrew O’Connor, had been looking for a mind reader that they could introduce to Channel Four. Jerry was gracious enough to mention Derren, and so on 27th December, 2000 Derren Brown: Mind Control I hit the screens and changed the face and perception of British magic forever.
Such was the success of the first programme, another two specials were commissioned and were subsequently broadcast on 25th August 2001 and 1st January 2002. Then some additional material was added to some of the original effects featured in the Specials to created a six part Mind Control Series. The repeat showing of Derren Brown: Mind Control is rated in Channel 4’s top ten most watched shows .
On 5th October, 2003 Derren decided to embark on an effect that would set the nation talking: Derren Brown Plays Russian Roulette. Derren cheated death by firing a six chambered revolver loaded with one live bullet at his head. This created the desired effect and caused much public uproar and filled practically every national newspaper. Derren says he is legally bound not to disclose any details of whether the bullets used were live or blanks due to the Jersey Police’s inquiry, although he is increasingly suggesting that they were in fact not blanks. However, logic says that there could be a number of different ways of ‘safely’ carrying out the effect – I know how I’d do it – but either way, it was gripping and heart stopping television.
After embarking on a national tour and a three week run in the West End, Derren’s new six part series Trick of the Mind started on the 23rd April, 2004 and larger and more adventurous effects were achieved which once again showed Derren’s unique talent. The series featured a range of effects including Derren manipulating an orchestra to play a tune of his choice, playing chess with nine leading British chess masters and convincing a film student he has become invisible. Stephen Fry, Martin Kemp and Michel Roux Jnr. also feature in some of Derren’s effects.
Derren again showed how people are easily manipulated by creating a Seance which was shown on 31st May 2004.
Seance received more than 700 complaints, mainly prebroadcast, which has made Seance the most complained about television show in Britain.
Derren Brown: Messiah was aired on Channel Four on the 7th January 2005 with the purpose of seeing if five authority figures in America would endorse Derren’s five pseudonyms and in turn try to encourage the public to question various aspects of their lifes and belief systems. The one off special was not produced to debunk all beliefs, instead it followed the same lines of Seance: hopefully urging the viewer to maybe see if there was a turning in their straight-lined thinking about belief and urging them to question and explore the wilderness which had been opened to them, not necessarily to take that path, but just to be aware of its existence and to question some of the pebbles which form part of the road.
Derren said that his main objective for making the programme was to encourage people to “question about the validity of certain religious and spiritual belief systems; belief systems that people are encouraged to base their lives upon – such as new-age faiths and mainstream Christianity.”
Derren’s second series of Trick of the Mind comprised of six thirty-minute episodes and began broadcast from April, 2005. Each episode featured a ‘celebrity face’ and it was evident more money had been spent on its production.
Derren’s forth special was The Gathering. It was filmed in a mystery location in front of an invited audience which included magicians, psychologists, cab drivers, celebrities, psychics, NLP practitioners and some students, and was a fusion of some of the things Derren used on his first national tour as well as some slightly adapted things for the television audience. It aired on the 29th May, 2005.
Derren – and Channel 4 – like his specials, so on 4th January 2006 The Heist was aired in the UK. Derren seemingly made respondents to an advert he placed in a newspaper hold a security van up at gun-point, although the gun of course a toy gun and the security guard was an actor. There was rumours that the security van was actually made from plasticine but these were later shown to be unfounded.
Four people were selected to carry out the robbery from an initial field of thirteen, with three of them actually carrying out the “heist”. Derren made the audience believe he achieved the effect by utilising an association of colour, music and phrases to seemingly put and build upon a highly-motivated state in which the participants in the hope take they would take part in a robbery, even those those involved were not explicitly instructed to do so.
There were also references and a mock set-up of Stanley Milgram’s experiment which originally looked into obedience when under instruction of person considered to hold a position of authority. The initial Milgram Experiment yielded unexpected results and has been repeated many times in different countries, and is a widely accredited psychology experiment.
Trick or Treat was a series of six episodes which first broadcast on 13th April 2007. Derren used rotational ambigram cards to select participants – who had previously applied but did not know they had been selected – to give them either a Trick or a Treat.
Tricks included waking up in foreign country, a Ventriloquist’s dummy, a street madman and a staged death in an out of body experience, which was later criticised in the UK national press. Treats were teaching a pensioner how to ‘bluff’ in poker, and a piano recital.
Deren wanted to set America ablaze and did this by releasing Mind Control with Derren Brown which was a mixture of his old UK programmes and new material for the US audience. The series started on 26th July 2007 and was comprised of the following episodes:
- Shopping Mall Carpark
- Lying Car Salesman
- Exotic Dancers
- Receptive Children
- Assault Course
- Disappearing Sun
In The System Derren exposed his ‘100 percent guaranteed method’ of winning on the races. Except he was exposed a well-known pyramid scam in which one person was guaranteed to win, but 7,000 – if you believe Derren – were set to lose. It’s all about probabilities and picking every combination. After the selected horse in the final race lost, the participant was convinced that she had lost all her borrowed money, Brown told her to look again at the betting slip in her hand. The ticket showed the winning horse’s name, meaning she kept her stake and received winnings of £13,000. Brown did not reveal how this was achieved.
The Events consisted of four episodes filmed in front of a live audience in 2009, which featured a mixture of pre-recorded location pieces connected by theatre-based segments. The episodes were:
- How to Win the Lottery
- How to Control the Nation
- How to Be a Psychic Spy
- How to Take Down a Casino
Derren Brown Investigates sees Derren make a three-part series on fraudulent industries. This was broadcast in 2010 and the episodes were:
- The Man Who Contacts the Dead
- The Men with X-Ray Eyes
- The Ghosthunter
In Hero at 30,000 FeetDerren took a man named Matt who was stuck in a rut in his life and coached him to take control of life and achieve his aspirations. The programme was divided into chapters to introduce different stages in the transformation, many of which were undertaken without the Matt knowing of Derren’s involvement (via cooperation with his parents and girlfriend to set up cameras in his house). At one stage Derren visited Galley in the middle of the night, but left the subject believing it was a dream.
During the programme Matt was put through a series of challenges: being the victim of an armed robbery, touching a live crocodile, illicitly entering a policeman’s home, lying strapped to a rail track in a straitjacket while a train approached (the first challenge when he knew he was awake and that Derren was involved in this). The show culminated in Matt travelling on a plane where the pilot had supposedly been incapacitated. Matt, who had not been on a plane in ten years and had a fear of flying, boarded a flight travelling from Leeds to Jersey, where he had been told that a fake game-show presented by Derren was to be filmed. The flight crew, stewards and stewardesses were real, but the rest of the passengers were actors. During the flight, the cabin crew announced that the captain had been taken ill and asked for a volunteer to land the plane. At the last minute, Matt volunteered. While walking up to the front of the plane he was placed into a trance by Matt. After the plane landed, Matt was placed into a cockpit flight simulator and woken up. He was talked through landing procedures by a person identified to him as an air traffic controller. Matt completed the challenge successfully and then emerged from the simulator to meet Brown and all the actors involved in the programme, plus his family and friends.
Miracles for Sale was a feature length programme about the controversial practice of faith healing. In the show Derren attempted to turn a member of the British public into a “faith healer” and to convincingly give a faith healing show to church goers in Texas.
The Experimentswas broadcast in 2011, which Derren described in his blog as an “ambitious sociological experiment, in which the unwitting subject is a single person, a crowd, or even an entire town”.
The first episode, entitled “The Assassin”, aired on 21 October at 9 pm and consisted of Brown successfully hypnotising an unwitting member of the public to ‘assassinate’ a celebrity revealed to be Stephen Fry.
In the second episode, aired on 28 October at 9 pm and called “Gameshow”, Brown hosted a game show purportedly called “Remote Control,” asking a masked audience to vote for the escalating outcome of the fate of one contestant in an attempt to demonstrate the effect of deindividuation. The audience were given two choices, positive and negative, that would affect the life of a man named Kris. As the show went on, the choices grew darker but the audience did not seem to notice. Towards the end of the show, the audience reach the point where they are happy to see Kris’ television destroyed and Kris kidnapped by masked thugs. The theory is that taking away people’s individuality and encouraging them to regard themselves as just part of a crowd makes them act in a way that will sometimes conflict with their personal morality.
In the third episode, “The Guilt Trip” aired on 5 November, Brown attempted to find out if he could convince someone through association to admit to a crime he or she had not committed. He worked through tricking a participant into distrusting his own memory and having excessive feelings of guilt, to the extent that he confessed to the murder of an actor with whom he had interacted and was later reported murdered.
In the fourth episode, “The Secret of Luck” which aired on 11 November, Brown spread a rumour of a lucky-dog statue throughout the entire population of a town and documented the consequences.
Apocalypse was a two-part special that aired on Friday 26 October 2012 and concluded on Friday 2 November 2012. It centred around one man named Steven, who had been described as suffering from a “lazy sense of entitlement”.
The show was an opportunity to give Steven a second chance at life, making him realise how important his life really is. The setup was that a meteor shower hitting Earth had caused the end of the world. Steven supposedly woke up two weeks after the disaster in an abandoned military hospital to find that he is one of a group of survivors now living in a zombie wasteland. He made his way through a carefully planned storyline.
Fear and Faith focused on the placebo effect. In the first programme, Derren set up a fake pharmaceutical company, ‘Cicero Pharmaceutical Solutions’, which claimed to have developed a drug named ‘Rumyodin’, which inhibited fear. In actual fact the pill was a placebo made of sugar. The placebo effect, amplified by the convincing façade of Cicero, helped most of the subjects of the fake clinical trial of Rumyodin overcome their fears. It is shown that Derren repeated the experiment with separate groups, to each of whom it was claimed Rumyodin had different beneficial effects, such as smoking cessation and allergy relief, again with positive results. By the end of the programme Derren revealed that ‘Rumyodin’ was an anagram of ‘your mind’.
In the second programme, Derren examined the psychology of religious belief. Reproducing a number of well-known psychology experiments, he showed how non-believers can be susceptible to suggestions of a supernatural or religious nature. Subjects left alone in completely dark crypt report feeling a presence and seeing ghostly images. Subjects scoring their own performance in a test behaved more honestly when it was suggested there could be a supernatural presence in the room with them. Over the course of the programme he conducted a “Conversion Experience”, whereby using purely psychological techniques he induced an apparent religious experience in Natalie, one of the subjects from the earlier experiments, a self-identified atheist.
In The Great Art Robbery Derren taught a group of old age pensioners how to get away with a robbery using various techniques such as how to stay unnoticed as well as controlling fear and nerves. The OAPs then embark on a large-scale robbery, which involves stealing an expensive painting from art collector Ivan Massow. The catch, however, is that Derren openly tells Massow the exact time the robbery will take place and who to look for.
Derren Brown investigates the power of social compliance by persuading an unwitting member of the public into believing that they have pushed someone to their death in Pushed To The Edge.
Derren Brown: Pushed To The Edge was first aired on 12th January 2016 on Channel 4. The premise of the program was to persuade an unwitting member of the public into believing that they have pushed someone to their death.
Derren’s first tour Derren Brown Live started in the Tobacco Factory and toured through 2003 and 2004.
Derren’s second show, Something Wicked This Way Comes toured in 2005-2006 and was performed at the Old Vic Theatre for a final time with the aim of releasing it as a special TV programme. It was shown on 29th December 2006.
An Evening of Wonders toured 2007 – 2008
Enigma toured 2009-2010.
Svengali toured 2011-2012.
Infamous toured 2013-2014.
And Derren’s last show Miracle for a while, perhaps ever, toured 2015-2016.
All his shows also did London runs.