A tribute to one of the world’s most successful Pickpocket Entertainer couples:
Gentleman Jack & Majlis
„The Fastest Hands in the World”
“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 stage Pick-pocketing over a longer period of time until the fall of 1984.
Born into an artistic life
Tommy “Gentleman Jack” Iversen (30.04.1921 – 18.11.1984) was born in Randers, Denmark.
He grew up in an artistic family, who were part of a travelling funfair, where his father rode the wall of death and his mother was a snake charmer. Tommy’s early career in show business began right here in this funfair environment in the middle of the 1930s, when as a young man he was offered a job with “Rubini’s Variety Show” (a travelling Danish Variety Show) by the owner Mr. Rubini. Here he went through some hard schooling over the next few years, where he learned the most basic things from the world of funfair and being a performer. He became a jack of all trades, performing at the age of just 18 as a juggler, clown, ventriloquist, acrobat and manipulator. It was here during his years with “Rubini’s Variety Show” that for the first time Tommy made contact with the realm of magic and where his interest in manipulation began.
However, before Tommy got his big break and became “The Gentleman Thief Jack Atkins”, he had a number of years making a living as a manipulator and juggler. In the early years of his career in show business, juggling was Tommy’s main act. During a show as a juggler at Liseberg in Sweden in 1943, Tommy met Majlis, who he, quite literally, hit with a juggling ball, and the elegant mannequin Majlis and Tommy immediately “clicked”. Tommy stole Majlis’ heart at first sight without her noticing it …
Shortly after the meeting with Tommy, the Swedish-born Majlis Iversen (28.06.1919 – 13.10.1990, whose maiden name was Maja-lisa Karlsson born in Döderhult/Sweden), began to work as an assistant in Tommy’s juggling act. However, Tommy’s style as a juggler was too fast for Majlis and it was difficult for her to follow his pace in the act. One evening Tommy was pulled aside by an artist colleague who advised him either to get a new assistant or to stop as a juggler.
What to do now? That was the big question for Tommy, who lived by the proverb “Necessity taught women to spin – and men to steal!” In Tommy’s case, it was love that conquered and which taught him to steal.
A pickpocket by chance
It was actually due to Majlis that Tommy accidentally became a “Pickpocket Entertainer”. One day when Tommy was not at home, Majlis had an unexpected visit from their artist agent, who asked Majlis: “Is it possible that you can do something new? There are plenty of jugglers and magicians”. Majlis promptly replied: “We certainly can”, after which she and the artist agent quickly agreed that from now on, and already at their next job, Tommy would perform as the Pickpocket Jack Atkins.
When Tommy came home again, the agent had gone and straight away Majlis told him that she, along with their agent had made a decision about a career change for them, which meant that they would soon perform pickpocketing. Tommy’s response was: “And have you thought about how I’m going to do that? I’ve never seen anyone perform as a pickpocket”.
Majlis simply replied: “You’ve previously performed using manipulations and card tricks, where you stood and did various tricks all evening – including that card trick where a member of the audience shuffled the pack and then you mysteriously placed the cards in his pocket and took them out later. You must have put the cards into his pocket before you could take them out again. Why not just take their wallet in the same way?”
What’s said is done, and so this method became Tommy and Majlis’ very first basic principle in numerous pickpockets tricks. In the book “How to Pick Pockets” by Eddie Joseph, Tommy found further tips and ideas that helped him to develop the brand new act in a positive direction to 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, in 1949, they had their first real long contract as a pickpocket act as the main act at the Swedish “Circus Astoria”, where they performed under the name “Jack and May Atkins”. Then very quickly they received new contracts in the leading circuses, variety shows, amusement parks and nightclubs throughout Scandinavia and Europe.
In 1950, there was another new long contract for the young pickpocket couple. In Tommy’s case, it was a job at home with Majlis and his new act, where for the first time they would perform their new pickpocket act in Denmark. The job was with “Circus Moreno & Reinsch”, which was undergoing a formidable development and was regarded as one of the leading circuses of the time in Denmark, where Tommy and Majlis performed under the name “King of Pickpockets – The Honest Pickpocket Gentleman Jack”.
After the summer season with Circus Moreno & Reinsch, there was a long period of performing in restaurants, variety shows, public parks and funfairs throughout Scandinavia and Europe. In 1952, the couple went on tour with the legendary Malmstentruppen (The Malmsten troupe) and were also the main attraction in an infinite number of national and international shows in Lorry, Copenhagen – Valencia, Copenhagen – Aarhus Hall, Aarhus – Kitkat, Horsens – Club de L’Etoile, The Hague, the Netherlands – Jaarbeurs, Utrecht, the Netherlands – Prater Variety Show, Copenhagen – Scala Theatre, Ghent, Belgium – Casino Amsterdam, the Netherlands – Caramella Amsterdam, the Netherlands – Cabaret Parisianna, Brussels, Belgium – Ambassadeur, Aalborg, Denmark and others.
In 1955, Tommy and Majlis again had a job in the circus – this time in Ireland with John Duffy & Sons Circus. Here Tommy “Gentleman Jack” and Majlis became the first to perform pickpocketing in Ireland. In subsequent years, longstanding contracts followed with all sorts of circuses and in international show productions that brought them around the world to countries such as Argentina, Australia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa. In South Africa, they were employed for 5 years with the Boswell Circus.
After all those years on the African continent, they continued their amazing artistic career to the Far East to take part in touring show productions and to perform in fashionable hotels. The elegant entertainer couple had 5 different tours in Asia over a number of years.
In the breaks between touring in Asia, Tommy and Majlis stayed mainly in Scandinavia and Europe, where you could see them in TV shows, circuses, Tivoli and the Danish summer revues – including the Crown Prince in Malmö, Tivoli Friheden in Aarhus, Sans Souci in Kolding, in the Circus Revue in Dyrehavsbakken and in the Nykøbing Falster Revue. Volmer Sørensen headed the last two places as revue director. In addition, they had two further summer revue seasons in Holstebro Revue, where Ernst Trillingsgaard was owner and manager.
When they were not performing on the 7 seas of the world on the Netherlands-America Line’s SS “Statendam”, a cruise ship between Europe and America, Tommy and Majlis performed in different circuses. To name a few: Chipperfield’s Circus, Hippodrome Circus, Belle Vue Circus, Circo Price de Madrid, Circus Berny, Sirkus Sariola, Circus Ray Miller Robert Bros. Circus and Circus van Bever in the Netherlands, where they were the main attraction for two seasons.
Breakthrough in Great Britain
The most prestigious and spectacular performance by Tommy “Gentleman Jack” and Majlis was when they starred in a British TV show about crime with the famous TV host David Frost.
David Frost had asked Tommy to steal as much as possible without being noticed from the approx. 150 members of the audience, who were invited to attend the broadcast. Tommy stole from the
audience when they came in to take their seats in the studio – he stole watches, wallets, ID cards, packs of cigarettes, glasses and other personal items – just like he usually did.
Some time after the program started David Frost asked the audience: “How many here have been the victim of a pickpocket?” Only a few people in the audience raised their hands. David Frost asked a man sitting close to Tommy: “Can you please tell me what time it is?” Of course he couldn’t and the man was somewhat surprised to see that his watch had gone.
Another person who was also very surprised was Tommy himself when he was told that everyone in the audience were policemen and detectives from Scotland Yard with their wives. David Frost had invited Tommy to the studio with the intention of exposing him on TV, which failed. Their appearance in the popular TV show was a huge success, and like a wave from a magic wand, Tommy and Majlis were famous throughout Great Britain.
Warned against real pickpockets
One of Tommy’s specialties throughout his long career was to hold seminars for the police and detectives in the different countries they visited. Tommy demonstrated what tricks and methods a criminal pickpocket uses.
In all the cities around the world where Tommy gave his seminars, he also stole large columns in all printed newspapers. It gave him plenty of publicity and headlines like: “The cleverest Pickpocket ever seen”, “The finest Pickpocket out of jail”, “The world’s best Pickpocket”, “Tommy is the world’s most honest Pickpocket”, “A Gentleman is coming to town”, “Tommy Iversen is an aristocrat among Pickpockets”, “The Pickpocket who tricked detectives”, and so on.
A true gentleman
Tommy inspired many of his friends and colleagues with his classic English gentleman’s style, which he developed over the years and made him world famous. His act was a model for many new artists in the business.
It is often said that an artist has 10-15 seconds to win the audience over when he or she makes their entrance. Tommy managed it in just 5 seconds with his humorous, cosy, 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 in his company, where they enjoyed themselves just as much as the audience watching – knowing that they were part of Tommy’s success.
Tommy also had the “God’s gift” in that he had found foreign languages easy. He had an incredible ear for languages, which made him mentally able to manipulate his audience helpers in more than 8 languages, among them Finnish, Dutch, Japanese and Portuguese.
On stage, Tommy literally lived up to the name of “Gentleman Jack”, where in a pleasant and gracious manner he always made sure that the audience helpers (who were never stooges/secret helpers), who he “stole” from were treated with humility and respect and not ridiculed. Tommy always called the audience who were on stage or in the circus ring with him his customers. He was always 100% aware that he would never have had an act without help from the audience and their willingness to get up on stage.
The generous thief
Tommy, who was among the world’s first stage pickpockets, was one of the few who gladly shared his vast knowledge and secrets with others in the world of magic. This was done by, among other things, a number of seminars throughout the Nordic countries and in England, where he had students.
Tommy really was a pickpocket of standing, while at the same time a generous man, who was always ready to help others. In fact he was in reality the thief who would rather give than take.
A happy couple
After a lifetime in show business, including 36 years with Majlis as a partner both on stage as well as privately, Tommy “Gentleman Jack” & Majlis ended their professional artistic careers as pickpocket entertainers in the autumn of 1979. By that time, the elegant Danish/Swedish entertainer couple had performed in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Almost everywhere they had been “Top of Bill” through the 50s, 60s and 70s in the leading national and international variety shows, cabarets, nightclubs, circuses and Revue Shows, where they were known as the noblest pickpockets with the nicknames “The Fastest Hands in the World”, “The Aristocrat of Pickpockets” and “The Danish King of Pickpockets”.
The reason Tommy and Majlis stopped their very active and long career with amazing worldwide shows was Tommy’s bad heart. The permanent base for the couple was now their home at “Von Lingensväg” in Malmö, Sweden – a place where both Majlis and Tommy had settled down well and where they were happy to stay after a long time travelling all over the world. Wherever Tommy went he lit up with his very positive outlook on life and favourite slogan: “Haven’t we got it good!”
After 1979, there was a number of guest appearances in television shows and magic congresses up until 18 November 1984, when Tommy, at the age of just 63, succumbed to the heart disease he had struggled with for many years. Both his surroundings – and most of all himself – were aware that he had been living on borrowed time.
Just a few years after Tommy’s death, Majlis also passed away on October 13 1990, after a period of illness. In the many years where they managed to live together 24 hours a day, they were a happy couple, who experienced so much together on their many travels around the world. Without Majlis, Tommy would have been worse off both in terms of their professional interaction on stage and in his private life.
Gentleman Jack’s popularity
Tommy’s popularity reached far and wide even after his untimely death. The popular Danish singer Kim Larsen wrote the song “Gentleman Jack” as a tribute to Tommy Gentleman Jack. Kim Larsen didn’t know Gentleman Jack personally, but he was inspired to write the song “Gentleman Jack” by the obituary that was in the Danish Artist Federations magazine “Artisten” in February 1985. So Kim Larsen allowed himself to simply “conjure up” a bit of reality – in much the same way as Gentleman Jack had done throughout a whole performer’s life, which he did with respect for and fascination of the art of performing artists and its original personalities.
The song “Gentleman Jack” was a number in “Circus Himmelblå” and was sung by Kim Larsen himself throughout the summer concert tour in the circus tent in 1985. His two entertainer and street performer friends, Leif Sylvester and Erik Clausen, performed several magic tricks on stage during his performance of the song.
In 2006, it was again proved that Gentleman Jack & Majlis had been two very distinctive personalities, when author Ulf Mörling’s published his first novel “Godmother”, which is the first novel he has written in English (the book is also available in Danish)
Ulf Mörling was previously a Middle East correspondent and editor in chief with leading European newspapers and in the 1980s worked, among other places, at a Swedish daily paper. The book “Godmother” is a work of fiction, where everything is fiction, but with the slight difference that both Gentleman Jack and his wife Majlis existed in reality.
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.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Tennessee, USA, first introduced its product “Gentleman Jack” into the U.S. market on 30 September 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.
Thanks to the following for their assistance with photos, posters, newspaper clippings etc.:
Gertrud & Christer Nilsson, Sveriges Magi-Arkiv www.magiarkivet.se
Joakim Berglund, Bilder i syd AB, Sverge www.bilderisyd.se
Jörgen Börsch, Denmark
Henrik Christensen, Denmark
Björn „Henriko“ Gammals, Finland
Henk van den Berg, The Niederlande