Riddle of the Sands

"I'll do anything to sell Southport," said local councillor A. E. Townend before he was elected Mayor but he had not envisaged that it would involve him taking his first plane Hight at the age of seventy-five. Mis wife Florrie was understandably worried.

The occasion was the 1955 convention of the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the local newspapers contained stories of a publicity stunt that would launch the event. David had devised it and it gained a lot of pre-convention publicity with newspapers fascinated at the plucky Mayor's bravery and wondering what had persuaded him to leave the security of the ground at such a late age. The answer was that he was delivering on an election promise.

The stunt was billed as Thoughts Out Of Space and began with a Press Conference at the Prince of Wales Hotel where the Mayor and a BBC journalist, Alan Dixon were thinking of geometric symbols. David had given each a board that contained about twenty designs before

The Riddle of the Sands in Southport: David signaling the plane.

sitting them on either side of a hotel writing desk. There was a partition between the desks that prevented one seeing what the other was doing.

"Please think of a design each." said David. Thev wrote down their thought-of designs and put the papers in their pockets, careful that no one should see them. A small plane stood waiting on the beach ready to take Dixon and the Mayor up above Southport. "When you are up in the air," said David, "look at your designs and draw them again on a pad of paper, putting one inside the other. You decide which design goes inside which."

The Mayor was accompanied to his limousine by the local police and Dixon followed. They drove down to the Foreshore Flying Ground where a rickety aircraft awaited, the sort used to take tourists on short sightseeing flights above Southport. Ilere there was another photo opportunity for the Mayor. By an amazing coincidence he and the elderly pilot, Norman Giroux, looked almost identical. They could have been brothers. David also had a police escort, this time to the beach where a large crowd of fellow magicians and interested bystanders had already gathered. BBC Television cameras were on hand to record the event for the evening news.

A large square had been marked off and the sand raked smooth. The crowd stood around its perimeter. David mounted a motor scooter, his own, and drove it across the sand. A ball of barbed wire trailed behind it tracing out a line.

By now the plane was flying overhead. It worked its way towards nearby Formbv and then turned around and circled the beach. Inside the cockpit the Mayor and Dixon took out

The design traced by David on the motorbike.

The design traced by David on the motorbike.

Success! The Mayor confirms the design.

their drawings and compared them. High above the ground another coincidence manifested itself; they had both chosen the same design. They drew a larger version of it on a notepad and notified the pilot when they had finished. He fired a green flare that was the signal for David to begin.

As the flare shot across the sky David revved the motor scooter. He drove inside the raked area of the beach, the ball of barbed wire tracing a large circle in the sand. The Mayor and Dixon looked on from 2,000 feet. Neither of them had drawn a circle.

David continued to drag the barbed wire after him. The circle had just been a preliminary test to make sure everything was working. Slowly he carved another symbol into Southport's sands, an enormous reversed figure three. Then he moved to the centre of the design and waved to the pilot overhead. It was the signal for the plane to descend.

It landed as near to the site as possible. The Mayor, no worse for his flight, climbed out of the plane holding the note pad with just one design on it. A reversed figure three!

It was a great start to the convention. The stunt generated a lot of publicity and newspaper editors found the combination of telepathy and the Mayor's maiden flight impossible to resist. It was a big scale event that photographed well with a human-interest story underpinning it. Naturally they asked David how it was done and he immediately told them that it had nothing to do with telepathy or paranormal powers. "It is just a psychological trick," he told journalists. Denying it was telepathy did not detract from the mystery but did enhance David's credibility in the eyes of the journalists.

In this instance the mystery lias a simple explanation. He used an impression pad to gain access to the information bur instead of employing a clipboard or any of the traditional devices he made use of items that were readily available in the hotel and would not draw-undue suspicion.

The answer lay in the writing desk. It was one of several in the hotel lounge that had a partition across it to give the writer some privacy. Each side of the desk had a large pad covered with a sheet of blotting paper. In the early hours of the morning David had secretly added an extra sheet to which he had taped some carbon paper. When the Mayor and Dixon drew their designs they unknowingly transferred a copy of it onto the extra sheet.

This may seem simple enough but David's heart was still pounding when it was happening. He had done everything possible to ensure they left clear impressions of their chosen designs. They drew with sharp pencils upon single sheets of paper that had to be rested on the pads. And they had been instructed to draw boldly in case newspapers wanted to reproduce photographs of their chosen designs. But at the time he had no way of confirming that everything was going to plan and there was the possibility that he wouldn't find out if the ruse had worked until the aircraft was already in the air. What then?

Getting access to the blotting paper was the most difficult part of the stunt. The room was full of reporters and committee members of the British Ring. David had made it a condition of the test that he was monitored by two policemen all the way through the event. It was their job to make sure that no one communicated any information to him. The stunt was worked alone so rhere was no danger of discovering any accomplices but the condition did mean that he would have to glimpse the impressions whilst in their custody. To make matters worse, although the Mayor left promptly to make his way to the plane Dixon, the reporter, hung around. Eventually he did go but it cut down on the amount of time David had to get to the impressions before he too would have to leave for the beach. The plane would be in the air by-noon whatever happened.

With Dixon and the Mayor gone David announced that he would make a prediction and went to the writing desk. The policemen didn't take much notice because they w ere there only to make sure that no one passed information to David. As no one approached him they thought they had nothing to fear. They were wrong.

At the writing desk David, unobserved, pulled out the hidden sheets, complete with carbons, folded them and quickly placed them into his pocket. The beauty of the method was that not only did David get the impressions but he also disposed of the evidence at the same time. The "prediction" was never mentioned again.

The police escorted David to the beach, they riding police motorcycles whilst he sat in a sidecar. During the journey he managed to read the impressions. It was then that he realised that both men had thought of the reversed figure three. Originally he had instructed the men to draw their designs one within the other when they were airborne. 1'he plan was to use his own intuition to deduce the arrangement in which they were drawn knowing that to guess this minor detail wrongly would not have weakened the effect. With hindsight it was a fortuitous coincidence that both men chose the same design, it supported his claim that the stunt was psychological rather than psychic in nature. By the time he explained that the feat was made possible by "acute observation, psychological insight and a highly trained memory," they could only compliment him on his candour.

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