A. James Freedman, an ex-magician, worked as the ‘pickpocket consultant’ for Roman Polanski’s film Oliver Twist. Listen to him being interviewed on the radio and answer the questions.

1   What is the main trick pickpockets use when they steal from someone?

2   Why are tourists particularly at risk from pickpockets?

B. Listen again for more detail. Then answer questions.

What does he say about…?

1   training boys

2   Prague

3   Roman Polanski’s watch

4   Fagin

5   ‘misdirection’

6   some keys

7   the journalist’s wallet and pen

8   a map

9   Westminster tube station and Big Ben.

10   ‘Watch out! Pickpockets about!’



 They get people to look at something else, so that they are concentrating on that and not on their money, watch, etc.

2   Because pickpockets know that they are going to look at monuments, sight, etc. and will be easy to steal from at that moment.


1   Polanski needed someone to train the boy actors so that they would look like professional pickpockets.

 Polanski asked James to come to Prague, where they were shooting the film, for an interview.

 Instead of asking James questions, Polanski asked him to steal his watch without him noticing, which James did successfully.

4   He was such a good teacher that soon the boys were successfully stealing from everybody on the film set without them noticing, and this made him feel like the character Fagin.

5   ‘Misdirection’ is what some magicians call directing people to what you want them to see, and away from what you don’t want them to see.

6   James asked what the journalist had in his jeans pocket and he said some keys.

7   James managed to steal the journalist’s wallet and pen, which were in his jacket pocket, because he had directed his attention to his keys, which were in his jeans pocket.

8   If someone comes to you with a map and asks for help, you will look at the man, and then they might steal from you.

9   When tourists come out of Westminster tube station they immediately look up at Big Ben and pickpockets often steal from them then.

10   When men see this sign they immediately put their hand on the pocket where their wallet is, which tells the pickpockets where it is.


I = interviewer, J = John Freedman

I   How did you become the pickpocket consultant for Oliver Twist?

J   Well, I’m the director for a company which supplies magicians for live events, and for TV and films. Roman Polanski, the director of the film, he was looking for someone to train the actors – the young boys – to teach them to be pickpockets. He wanted them to be able to pick pockets so fast and so skilfully that it would look like they’d been doing it for years, so that they would look like professional pickpockets. So anyway, the film company got in touch with my company, and then I flew to Prague, where they were shooting the film, to meet Polanski.

I   What happened when you met him?

J   Well, he didn’t give me a normal interview. He just asked me to steal his watch, without him noticing.

I   And did you?

J   Yes, I did. So he gave me the job!

I   How long did it take the boys to learn to pick pockets?

J   Not very long. They learned really quickly. To be a good pickpocket you need confidence and children have that confidence. In the end, they got so good that they were stealing from everybody on the film set, even from me. I started to feel a bit like Fagin myself.

I   So what’s the trick of being a pickpocket?

J   The real trick is to make people notice some things but not others. Some magicians call it ‘misdirection’, but I call it ‘direction’ – you have to direct people towards what you want them to see, and of course away from what you don’t want them to see. Let me show you. What do you have in your jeans pockets?

I   Er, just keys.

J   Can you show me them?

I   Wow! That’s amazing! You’ve stolen my wallet… and my pen. I really didn’t notice a thing…

J   That’s the trick you see. All I had to do was to direct your attention to your jeans pocket and your keys, and you forgot about your jacket pocket and your wallet.

I   That’s incredible. I mean I was prepared – I knew you were going to try to steal from me. And I still didn’t see you. So if someone wasn’t prepared, it would be even easier?

J   That’s right. If you know where people are looking, you also know where they’re not looking. So for example if someone comes up to you in the street with a map and asks you where something is, they make you look at the map, and perhaps while you’re doing that they are stealing your wallet or your phone from your back pocket.

I   Tourists are especially at risk from pickpockets, aren’t they?

J   Yes, and that’s because pickpockets know exactly what they’re going to look at, which is usually a building or a monument. For example, take tourists in London. When they come out of Westminster tube station, the first thing people do is look up at Big Ben. And when they look up, it’s easy for pickpockets to do their work. And, of course, thieves love the posters in the Tube that warn people to be careful with their belongings – you know the ones that say ‘Watch out! pickpockets about!’. As soon as men read that, they immediately put their hand on the pocket that their wallet is in, to make sure it’s still there. The pickpockets see that and so they know exactly where it is.

I   Well, I’m sure that information will be very helpful to everyone and especially to tourists. James Freedman, thank you very much for talking to us this afternoon.

J   You’re welcome.

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