2023 update: I am now in touch with Diane, thank you for all of the messages!

Before the COVIDs really got going, I put out a request on social media for information regarding performer Diane Matthews. I was curious to find more about the story and about Diane herself. I didn’t get much of response from the internet at that time, but I’d still like to find out more, hence this blog post.

The Magic Circle

As you’ll probably know, prior to 1991 women were not allowed to join the Magic Circle. Following a vote that year, 75% of the membership voted to admit women and in September 2021 Megan Swann was elected as the Magic Circle’s first female, and youngest ever, president.

Diane Matthews

Of course, it was a different story for performer Diane Matthews, fifty years ago this year (2022) she made headlines by burning her bra outside the entrance to the Magic Circle’s London headquarters.

I was intrigued by this story. What was really behind this stunt? I know so little of the background to the event.

For this blog post, I’ll simply share the timeline of what I have gleaned from contemporary news sources without too much comment from me.

It all started when I saw this image on Katherine Mill’s Blog ‘ 25 Years of Women in the Magic Circle

Diane Matthews burning her bra outside of the Magic Circle in London
Diane Matthews burns her bra outside the Magic Circle

This photo has a date of 21 May 1972.

There is another photograph of the event in existence. This has Diane’s left hand on her hip and her breasts are exposed to the camera’s gaze.

22 May 1972

The Story appears in the Daily Mail.

As far as I can tell, although the event was reported, the photograph was not used.

The story in the Daily Mail reads;

Diane’s strip fails to do the trick
By Daily Mail Reporter
THE one trick that magician Diane Matthews cannot do is become a member of the exclusive Magic Circle.
So yesterday she stood outside the men-only HQ, stripped off her clothes, and burnt her bra on the doorstep.
The Magic Circle was not impressed. They did not rush out to offer her membership.
But others appeared more interested, and so Diane, 23, explained her act. ‘I work in clubs and cabaret and want to join the circle so I can earn more money,’ she said.
‘A member always commands a higher fee than a non-member. People tend to think members are always better magicians.
‘I was not interested in Women’s Lib before I was refused membership.
‘I would like to do my act for the members and perhaps they would then change their minds.’ Diane, from Ash Vale, near Aldershot, has been a magician for only four months.
She added: ‘If I could join the Magic Circle I am sure I could learn a lot from watching other magicians.’
A spokesman for the circle, whose HQ is near London’s Tottenham Court Road, said: ‘We would be pleased to see Diane’s act and would let her appear in our shows, but we don’t allow ladies into the inner sanctums of the circle. ‘
And there is absolutely no chance of us changing our minds.’
Magician David Nixon said he was in favour of women joining the Magic Circle.Then he asked of Diane’s bra burning trick:
Did she manage to restore it afterwards?’

27 May 1972

The event gets a mention in Abracadabra Vol. 53 No. 1374

Monday’s papers featured the story of Diane Matthews, aged 23, whoburned her bra outside the Magic Circle HQ at the weekend as a protestbecause they refuse to accept women members. She is quoted as saying,’I work in clubs and cabaret and want to join the Circle so that I canearn more money.’ Told of the bra-burning David Nixon said, ‘ Did shemanage to restore it afterwards? She should have got somebody to sign itfirst and then reproduced it from her handbag.’

Interestingly the quote from David Nixon is longer, which makes me wonder if it made the other tabloids at the time.

01 June 1972

Diane The Seductive Sorceress appears in The Stage Newspaper.

Diane, The Seductive Sorceress

A unique act combining delicate magical effects with sophisticated modern dancing.
Presents a young, vibrant and refreshing approach to magic. Acceptable in all cabaret venues.

I wonder if that appearance is on VT anywhere?

The advertisement is also mentioned in Genii – Volume 36, Number 6 – June 1972

18 Jun 1972

By this time the story seems to have gone viral (in a 1970s style) – for example, the event, but not the photograph was reported in the Indianapolis Star.

Diane Matthew Indianapolis Star

Club Members Certainly Not Under Her Spell
London (WNS) Diane Matthews, 23, who calls herself the “Seductive Sorceress” and includes magic tricks in her dance act, was upset because she and all women are forbidden membership in the Magie Circle, the all-male magicians’ society.
So she did the Women’s Lib trick on the doorstep of Magic Circle headquarters: she tore off her bra, lit it with a cigarette lighter and made it disappear in flames.
“I want membership so that I can study in the organization’s library and museum,” said Miss Matthews.”
A male spokesman for the Magic Circle replied, “I’m sorry, but we feel that women can’t keep secrets.”

15 July 1972

Saturday Titbits
Saturday Titbits, offering to reveal the Secrets of the Magic Circle

Saturday Titbits Magazine number 4505, which also contains a double spread feature on the Magic circle. features the photograph and the following report.

Oh, Diane…a disappearing bra doesn’t get you anywhere
STARTLING things go on inside the Magic Circle-but nothing to compare with what came off outside it. Attractive cabaret dancer and conjuror Diane Matthews whipped off her bra and made it disappear in a puff of smoke.
Naked to the waist, she then protested against the “fuddy duddy rule”. that bans women as members.
But the girl who calls herself the Seductive Sorceress failed to cast her spell. The ban stays.
Women members would marry and leave to raise families, explained the president, Francis White. “We wouldn’t like to think they went off with the secrets of the Magic Circle.”
Tell tales
Other members doubted whether I women could keep a good thing to themselves. “They’d tell their husbands and boyfriends how to do our most baffling illusions,” said one. “Soon everybody would know. And once people are aware of how a magician produces his effects, he might as well pack up. Mystery is all.”
Diane replied: “Having taken the trouble to train as a professional magician, I am not going to put myself out of business. I’m as keen to protect my livelihood as any man.”
Bra-burning new to Diane, whose speciality is making four lighted candles vanish. “I’m not a follower of Women’s Lib,” she said. “Setting light to my bra was a completely independent gesture.”
Diane, 23, thinks that the real reason for banning women is pure old-school tie, port-and-cigars blokiness. “I bet if you questioned members one by one you’d find they were dying to let the girls in. What man doesn’t like a bit of glamour around the place?”
Ladies’ man
“Not me,” chuckled David Nixon, the TV entertainer. “I’m very much in favour of the opposite sex. They would certainly brighten up the place. “Unfortunately, less than one percent of magicians are women. I doubt if more than two or three would join if we asked them.”
“Women just aren’t interested in magic,” confirmed Mr. White. “They think of us as little boys playing games.”
Diane thinks more women would become magicians if the men weren’t so dog-in-the-manger about it. “Even if I’m the only girl who wants to join, I don’t see why they shouldn’t let me.”
But Diane might not have burned her bra in vain. David Nixon thinks Magic Circle rules could be bent to allow women in as associate members for lectures and demonstrations.

07 September 1972

Diane appears, once more, in The Stage newspaper

Diane The Seductive Sorceress in the Stage Newspaper

Introducing DIANE The Seductive Sorceress, who presents a unique combination of exotic modern dancing and delicate magical effects which has caught Clubland by surprise. She leaves next week for a tour of Switzerland.

PETER Eldin, the chap who does the magic for World of Wonder, writes to say that I am as usual, right in assuming that the Seductive Sorceress featured in The Stage is indeed the same braburningbird who hit the headlines some time ago. Peter says that 23 year old Diane is a trained dancer and uses that ability plus her unmistakable charms to enhance her performance. He understands that she features the Fantastic candles and Zombie. Peter says that she is scoring a fantastic success in Switzerland and that you’ll be able to see her at some of the top night spots on her return to this country.

I have a gap in the tale … until …

16th November 1974

Where the The Daily Express reports,

Diane in the Daily Express

And talking of mystery.
I HAVE reassuring news, for members of that exclusively male temple of illusion, The Magic Circle.
Magician Diane Matthews, who two years ago burned her bra outside the Chelsea head quarters as a protest against their not admitting women, has decided to give up her three year campaign and concentrate her powers on, marriage.
She plans to wed rich 41 year-old insurance broker, Ronald Piper.
Diane, 26, has been carrying on fruitless fight to be a allowed to take the Magic Circle examinations.
She says: “I have been given the most frivolous reasons for being cold shouldered. They claim women cannot keep secrets.” I wish her many magical years of marriage.
{photo caption reads) Diane… magic moments

23rd November, 1974

We have the final mention of Diane I can find in Abracadabra Vol. 58 No. 1504

Frustrated Defeat
Remember Diane Matthews, the magicienne who two years ago burned her bra outside The Magic Circle Headquarters in a frustrated effort to gain admission? Well, according to last Saturday’s Daily Express the battle is over, with victory going to the Circle. Diane has decided to give up the fight and to concentrate on another project … her forthcoming marriage to a wealthy insurance broker!

Can anyone out there help me with to fill in the gaps of Diane’s story? I’d love to hear more about Diane. Drop me a line!