Review of ‘Randini - The man who helped Houdini’, by Ann Beedham

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Ann Beedham
Published by
ISBN 9781-9052-78299 (2009)

Here is a story which has awaited an author for years and Ann Beedham has now given this fascinating character a worthy biography. Whilst the name of Houdini is still a byword for escapology, few are aware that his most terrifying performance, one which involved a straightjacket and made headlines around the world, owed its origins to his friend and fellow 'self liberator' Randini - Randolph Douglas.

An expert performer himself, Douglas established the quirky House of Wonders museum at his cottage in Castleton, alas no more.

At the age of seven, Randolph had carefully pasted a Houdini press cutting into his scrap book, already fascinated by all things mechanical but especially locks. He was soon drawing scenes starring his imagined future self, such as 'Fastened in a straight-jacket Randolph dived into the icy rivers of the River Forth ... ' He was only 16 when he presented his first public performance - by coincidence on the same day that his hero, Houdini, endured a particularly unpleasant escape in the United States.

Randolph Douglas would send locks to Houdini for his collection; he in turn sent back photographs and cuttings about his escapades and the occasional bizarre gift.

With an avid interest in natural wonders too, Douglas assembled a rare collection of geological specimens - all eventually to be displayed in his Castleton museum. He and his future wife, Hetty, were enthusiastic cavers and members of the Derbyshire Pennine Club.

Douglas also won prizes for model making, evidenced by such objects in his museum as a tiny cottage that nestled easily into the palm of a hand, an even tinier greenhouse which could perch on his thumbnail, a safe the size of a postage stamp, a thimble-sized working motor and a hand-written Lord's Prayer that could pass through the eye of a needle.

Ann Beedham illustrates this remarkable story with letters and sketches exchanged between Houdini and Randini over a number of years. She has been allowed generous permission to reproduce privately owned photographs and memorabilia, and has accessed the Douglas collection at Buxton Museum and related displays in Castleton Museum. The inventory of the House of Wonders is six pages long and quite captivating.

Review by Julie Bunting

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