A tribute to one of the World's most successful Theatrical Pickpocket couples:
An Aristocrat Among Pickpockets
"Gentleman Jack" alias Tommy Iversen and his stylish, elegant and glamorous wife Majlis were two unique personalities. They both were my teachers and mentors who taught me the noble art of Theatrical Pick-Pocketing over a longer period of time until the fall of 1984.
Born into an artistic life
Tommy “Gentleman Jack” Iversen was born in Rander, Denmark, on April 30, 1921. He grew up in an artistic family that was part of a traveling fun fair. His father rode the Wall of death, and his mother was a snake charmer. Tommy's career in show business began in the mid-1930s, when he was offered a job with Rubini's Variety Show, a traveling production in Denmark. Tommy went through some hard schooling there in the next few years, and he learned many of the basic aspects of the world of fairs and of being a preformer ingeneral. By the age of eighteen, he had become a jack of all trades, performing as a juggler, clown, ventriloquist, and acrobat. It was during his years with Rubini's Variety Show that Tommy was first brought into contact with magic, and his interest in manipulation began. From these beginnings, he stepped forth on a career as a manipulator and juggler, making his living with these acts for several years. Juggling was Tommy's main act, andduring a show in 1943 in Liseberg, Sweden, Tommy met Maja-Lisa Karlsson, known as Majlis. Tommy and Majlis literally “hit it off” right away, as he accidentally hit her with one of his juggling balls during the show.
True to the pickpocket he would later become, Tommy stole Majlis' heart. Majlis was born on June 28, 1919, in Döderhult, Sweden. Shortly after meeting Tommy, she left her job as a fashion model to begin working as an assistentin his juggling act, a classically styled performance with balls and clubs. Although Majlis took to the stage eagerly, Tommy's performing style was too fast for her, and she had a hard time catching the props he threw to her on-stage. One evening, Tommy was pulled a side by a colleague who advised him to either get a new assistant or stop being a juggler. What to do? That was a big question for Tommy, who lived by the proveb “Necessity taught women to spin – and men to steal!”.
A Pickpocket by chance
One day, when Tommy was not at home, Majlis had an unexpected visit from their theatrical agent. He asked her, “Is it possible that you can do something new?” There are plenty of jugglers and magicians. “Majlis promptly replied, “We certainly can,” after witch she and the agent agreed that from that point on, starting with their very next job, Tommy would perform as a pickpocket entertainer. When Tommy arrived home, the agent had gone, but Majlis told him thet they had decided upon a career change for Tommy and Majlis, one that meant they would soon perform pickpocketing. Tommy's response was, “And have you thought about how I'm going to do that? I've never even seen anyone perform as a pickpocket!” Majlis replied, “You've previously performed using manipulations and cards tricks, where you stood and did various tricks all evening – including that card trick where a member of the audince shuffled the pack and then you secretly placed the card in his pocket and took them out later. Why not just take their wallet in the same way?”
In the early year's of Tommy's career, his act included a Cards Across type of rutine in witch a number of cards disappeared in the pockets of audience members. This method became the Iversens' first basic principle in numerous pickpocket tricks, as during the search for the missing cards in the pockets, Tommy was also able to steal various objects from his victims. He found further tips and ideas in the book How to Pick Pockets by Eddie Joseph, a primer that helped him to develop new routines and make a complete act.
Success all over the world
In 1948, Tommy and Majlis had rehearsed and were ready to perform their new act, “The Honest Pickpocket.” The following year, they had their first majorcontract as two of the stars at the Circus Astoria in Sweden, where the performed their pickpocketing act under the billing of Jack & May Atkins. The Atkins surname was chosen because it sounded British, and American and British names had become increasingly popular in post-war Europe. And while the name Jack was selected some what at random, May was a shortened version of Majlis' real name
Jack & May Atkins quickly received new contracts in the leading circusses, variety shows, amusement parks, and nightclubs througout Scandinavia and Europe. During that first year with the new act, they were walking past a cinema in sweden when Tommy spotted a poster for an up coming movie. The name Gentleman Jack was in the title, and Tommy immediately said, “This will be my new stages name – Gentleman Jack.” He used that name for over thirty years in show business, although many colleagues and agents called him Jack Atkins. To family and friends, he was still Tommy.
And he continued to be fascinated by manipulations and gambling tricks, and included them in his shows. Over the years, he performed several different magic and manipulation routines using coins, banknotes, billiardballs, cards and cigarettes, demonstrating his dexterity at the beginning of the show and then showcasing his skills as a pickpocket. Presenting the manipulations before the pickpocket act provided a sly way for Gentleman Jack to check out his audience and find three helpers to bring up for the pickpocket routines. One of Tommy's farvorite tricks was the Six Bill Repeat. His routine with the bills was followed by a series of coin manipulations and productions, including the Mister's Dream, witch was also used as misdirection forstealing a wristwatch from one of his volunteers. Always looking for tricks that could be related to pickpocketing, Tommy was drawn toward routines that used larger props that could be easily seen by audiences. A “Hold-Up” routine with bills in a Himber wallet fit the act well, as did a spot in which he used a ring, a wristwatch, and a Devil's Handkerchief. Such routines made for quick, magical introductions that would then segue into straight pickpocketing.
In 1950, there came another important contract for the young couple, one that would allow Tommy and Majlis to present their pickpocket act for the first time in Denmark. The job was with Circus Moreno & Reinsch, which was undergoing considerable development and regarded as one of the leading circusses in Denmark. Tommy and Majlis performed their act under the billing “King of Pickpockets – The Honest Pickpocket Gentlman Jack.” After the summer season with Circus Moreno & Reinsch, there was a long period of perfroming in restaurants, variety shows, public parks, and fairs throughout Europe. In 1952, the couple went on tour with the legendary Malmstentruppen (The Malmsten Troupe of acrobats, well known in Scandinavia). Tommy and Majlis were also the main attraction in a number of national and international shows in the top theatrical venues of Copenhagen, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and elswhere.
In 1955, the couple secured a contract with John Duffy & Sons Circus, where Gentleman Jack became the first pickpocketing act to perform in Ireland. More contracts followed, with all sorts of circuses and international show productions, taking Tommy and Majlis to Argentina, Australia, Iceland, Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand. In South Africa, they were employed with the famous Boswell Circus for five years. After their stay in Africa, they continued their amazing artistic career in the Far East, taking part in touring productions and presenting shows in fashionable hotels.
The entertainer couple made five different tours in Asia over a number of years. In between the Asian tours, Tommy and Majlis performed in Scandinavia and Europe, where they could be seen in TV shows, circuses, Tivoli, and the Danish summer revues. Some of the many circuses they played included Chipperfield's Circus, Hippodrome Circus, Belle Vue Circus, Circo Price de Madrid, Circus Berny, Sirkus Sariola, Circus Ray Miller, Robert Bros. Circus, De Jonghe Music-hall, and Circus van Bever in the Netherlands, where they were the main attraction for two seasons. And when not performing on land, the man billed as having ”The Fastest Hands in the World” took to the seas, appearing on the Holland America Line's SS Statendam, a cruise ship that sailed between Europe and North America.
With a career that spanned so many years and so many places, there were often opportunities – and sometimes requirements – for Tommy to perfrom more than his standard pickpocket show. Tommy was a big fan of clous-up magic and, in many of the places where he was booked, he did walk-around sets in which he performed the Cups & Balls, followes by series of coin tricks and gambling tricks with playing cards and dice.
At times, Tommy's stage act included billiard ball manipulations or the production of ping-pong balls from the mouth, and one of his farvorite routines was the Bill in Lemon. For this routine, Gentleman Jack would have a glass bowl with six to nine lemons stacked in it. After a lemon was selected and shown to have the spectator's money within it, the bowl was emptied and shown to the the audince. Jack poured some water into the bowl, until it was half full. He then showed his hand empty and placed his fist in the middle of the glass bowl. Following a moment of concentration, Jack raised his hand again, and the bowl mysteriosly rose along with it, as if magnetized. The Floating Glass Bowl was an original creation of Gentleman Jack, an effect he later made available for sale through magic dealers.
While Tommy Iversen was a magician at heart, Gentleman Jack had become known as an entertaining thief. Over the years, Jack gradually dropped the magic and manipulations. After being introduced, he went straight into his pickpocket act, moving through the audience and greeting people –and, at the same time, stealing three or four items from men's pockets. After secretly placing those items into his own pockets, Jack went back to the stage, displayed his prizes, and invited therightful owners onstage to retrieve their belongings. This was followed by pickpocket routines with watches, glasses, ties, and anyother loose items Jack could get his fingers on. Jack's grand finale was always the theft of a man's suspenders.
Majlis' role consisted mainly of keeping track of the three on stage helpers before it was their turn to be “dipped” and making sure that they did not have the opportunity to reveal any of Tommy's steals. Majlis was also on hand to receive the various object that Tommy fished out from his victims' pockets, to the great amusement of the audience. When she returned a stolen wallet to a helper, she was also distracting the man from noticing that Tommy was revieving him of his necktie.
Breakthrough in Great Britain
The most prestigiousand spectacular perfromance by Tommy and Majlis was when they starred on British TV show about crime, hosted by David Frost. Frost had asked Tommy to steal as much as possible, without being noticed, from the 150 members of the studio audience. As they came in to take their seats, Tommy lifted their watches, wallets, ID cards, packs ofcigarettes, glasses, and others personal items – just like he usually did. After the program started, Frost asked the audience,“How many here have been victim of a pickpocket?” Only a few people in the audience raised their hand. Frost then asked a man sitting close to Tommy, “Can you please tell me what time it is? ” Of course, he could't; the man was surprised to see that his watch was gone. Another person who was also quite surprised on the show was Tommy himself, when he was told that the entire audience was composed of policemen and detectives from Scotland Yard, along with their wives. David Frost had invited Tommy to the studio with the intention of exposing him on television, which failed. This appearance on such a popular TV show was a huge success. Suddenly, as if buy magic. Gentleman Jack & May were famous througout Great Britain.
In all the cities where Tommy performed, he stole headlines in the local newpapers. One of Tommy's specialties throughout his long career – and one that gained plenty of valuable press coverage – was to hold seminars for the police in the different countries he visited. Tommy educated the detectives with his demonstrations of tricks and methods used by criminal pickpokets.
It is often said that a performer has ten to fifteen seconds to win over the audience after making an entrance. Tommy managed it in just a few seconds with his humorous, warm and friendly charisma. He was a true master at making his act look as if it was all just a game. He also had a unique ability to make his helpers from the audience feel comfortable and confident on stage, where they enjoyed themselves just as much as the audience out front, knowing that they were part of Gentleman Jack's success. Tommy had an incredible ear for languages. This allowed him to be able to verbally manipulate his audience helpers in more than eight languages, among them Finnish, Dutch, Japanese, and Portuguese.
A true gentleman
Tommy inspired many of his friends and colleagues with his classic English gentleman's style. His act was a model for many new artists in the business. He lived up to the Gentleman Jack with his pleasant and gracious manner, always treating the audience helpers – who were never stooges – with respect. Tommy referred to the on stage helpers as his “customers.” He was 100 percent aware that he would not have an act without help from the people in the audience and their willingness to come up on stage. Not only was Tommy among the world's first stage pickpockets, he was one of the few who gladly shared his vast knowledge and secrets with others in the world of magic. This was done through, among other things, a number of seminars in the Nordic countries and England, where he took on students. A truly generous man who was always ready to help others, Tommy was in reality the thief who would rather give than take.
Almost everywhere they performed, the Iversens were “top of bill,” throughout the 1950s,'60s, and '70s, in the leading national and international variety shows, cabarets, nightclubs, circuses, and revue shows. In the rare time when they were not touring, the permanent base for the couple was their home at “Von Lingensväg” in Malmö, Sweden. During the early years of World War II, Tommy had been active in working against the Germans, and he assisted a large number of Danish people of Jewish ancestry to relocate to the neutral country of Sweden. Once the Germans began to show too much interest in Tommy's activities, he and Majlis fled Denmark and settled safely in Sweden. As that was Majlis' home country, Tommy came to feel more Swedish than Danish, an attitude that he retained throughout his life. The elegant couple performed in more than forty countries worldwide, with one not able exception. In their long career, they never performed in Germany. Never forgetting his experiences during the war, Tommy made it a rule to never play in that country.
A happy couple
In the autumn of 1979, after a lifetime in showbiness, including 36 years as onstage partners, Tommy and Majlis retired from their artistic career as pickpocket entertainers. They were happy to settle down and stay in their Swedish home after so many years of traveling around the world. The main reason the Iversens curtailed their long and active career was Tommy's bad heart. But that did not keep them completely away from the world of entertainment, and Tommy always retained his positive outlook on life, along with his favorite slogan: “Haven't we got it good!” In the late 1970s and early '80s, Tommy was aregular writer for the Swedish magic magazine Magic Master, penning a column titled “Tricks & Snak med Gentleman Jack” (“Tricks and Talk with Gentleman Jack”). Tommy also invented and marketed a number close-up tricks. And he and Majlis continued to make a number of guest appearances on television shows and at magic conventions.
The amazing career of Gentleman Jack, The Honest Pickpocket, only really came to an end on November 18, 1984, when Tommy, at the age of just 63, succumbed to heart disease. He'd struggled with the ailment for many years, well aware that he was living on borrowed time.
On October 13, 1990, Majlis passed away. In the many years that they lived, traveled, and worked together, they were a happy couple.
Not named after the whisky
Did Gentleman Jack name himself after the whisky of the same name? NO, it's more the other way around! Tommy "Gentleman Jack" Iversen toured around the world from 1949-1979. The Jack Daniel's Distillery in Tennessee, USA, first introduced its product "GentlemanJack" into the U.S. market on September 30, 1988, for 1000 specially invited guests. All the guests could all see that "Gentleman Jack Whisky" was a luxury Jack Daniel's whisky, which had a fine and gentle style - just like the world famous pickpocket Gentleman Jack had.
Gentleman Jack's popularity
Tommy Iversen's popularrity reached far and wide even after his untimely death. Popular Danish singer Kim Larsen wrote the song “Gentleman Jack” as a tribute to Tommy. Larsen didn't know the Iversens personally, but he was inspired to write the song when he read the obituary in the Danish Artist Federations magazine, Artisten. Larsen allowed himself to “conjure up” a bit of reality – in much the same way that Gentleman Jack had done throughout his performing life – and he did so with respect and fascination. “Gentleman Jack” became a number in Circus Himmelblå, sung by Kim Larsen himself throughout a 1985 summer concert tour. Two of Larsens's friends, Leif Sylvester and Erik Clausen, did magic on stages during his perfromance of the song.
In 2005, Gentlman Jack and Majlis turned up in Swedish magicians Ulf Mörling's first novel, Godmother. Mörling was previously a Middle East leading European newspapers. Gothmother, which was written in English, is a work of fiction, but we know that Gentleman Jack and his wife existed in reality. And so, in a sense, Tommy and Majlis live on!
by K.Quinn 2023
... additional Newspaper clippings
Thanks to the following for their assistance with, photos, posters, newspaper clippings ect.; Gertrud & Christer Nilsson, Sweden, Sweden's Magic Archive(Sveriges Magi-Arkiv); Joakim Berglund, Bilder i Syd AB,Sweden; Jörgen Börsch, Denmark; Henrik Christensen, Denmark; Björn“Henrico” Gammals, Finland; Henk van den Berg, The Netherlands;
The Danish Circus Museum (Cirkusmuseet).