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Masquerade: continued

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Secret London

Thomas rang Williams to give him the news, and said he'd like the artist to be present when the hare was extracted from its casket. When Williams rang back next day, however, he was told Thomas could not be reached because he had collapsed and gone into hospital.
Tom Maschler was eager to get the publicity campaign surrounding the hare's discovery up and running, not only for its own sake but also because Cape's cheap paperback edition of Masquerade was already in the works. Suitably updated with the puzzle's full solution, and timed to coincide with the news coverage the hare's discovery was certain to produce, that edition promised to be another big seller. But getting the timing of all this right depended entirely on Thomas's co-operation, and suddenly he could not be reached. He remained impossible to contact for a full week, during which time Williams and Maschler had no choice but to keep the hare's discovery a secret.

Thomas pulled a cap down over his eyes and tilted his face away from the BBC's camera

Finally, Thomas got in touch again, and agreed to meet them to discuss what came next. “Suddenly, we were into this detective story,” Williams told O'Farrell. “He had specified we had to go to this hotel to meet him and see the jewel. My wife, myself and the publisher, no-one else whatsoever. No journalists or anybody. When we arrived there, we went to reception and they said ‘Oh yes, there's a letter waiting here for you’. He had a friend waiting in this hotel, who was looking out to see us coming across the car park - that there were just the three of us. And we were then sent to another hotel, and it just went on and on like this.”
When they finally did sit down together, Maschler managed to persuade Thomas that he couldn't hope to avoid the media's interest altogether, but only to the extent that he would agree to one television interview and one newspaper interview. The Sunday Times and BBC's Omnibus arts programme were duly lined up for a couple of exclusives.
After a last-minute change of both date and venue from Thomas, The Sunday Times' two reporters finally got their interview at a Crest Motel on the M1 on Friday, March 12. Any later than that, and they would have been hard-pressed to meet the deadlines for that Sunday's March 14 paper - and that would have left them well behind the BBC news report which they knew was scheduled for the same day. Their interviewee was happy to admit “Ken Thomas” was not his real name, but insisted that was the only one they used. Even his dog had to be granted an alias to protect its real identity.
Thomas's other appointment that day was an evening one at Ampthill Park itself, where Williams, Gascoigne and an Omnibus crew were already waiting to film him. He threatened to call this appearance off several times as the day wore on, but eventually turned up just as darkness was falling. Williams dipped the casket in hot water until the wax inside melted, while Thomas watched. He seemed anxious to leave as little of his face visible as possible, hunching a hooded coat and scarf against his chin, pulling a cap down as far as it would go over his eyes and tilting his face away from the camera's glare.
“We were suspicious,” Williams said. “He was strange in the way that he wanted total anonymity if he was going to talk to the press at all. He had to be in disguise and everything. And I thought ‘This isn't what I had planned’. And then, when he showed us all his workings-out, I thought ‘I don't know. He's found this out by mistake some way.’ I couldn't work out how he'd done it.” (7)
Gascoigne calls the Ampthill costume Thomas's “full disguise”, contrasting it sharply with “his own very different persona”. Whatever the man looked like in everyday life, it seems, it certainly wasn't the scruffy farmer he presented to Omnibus. “After the initial fuss had died down, Ken Thomas agreed to meet me for lunch,” Gascoigne writes. “With memories of his down-at-heel appearance, I was astonished to meet an extremely svelte and well-dressed man in his forties, with perfectly groomed hair, a perceptible aura of aftershave, and several very large gold rings on his fingers. [...] Ken confessed that he had chosen his [Ampthill] disguise precisely because it was so unlike his usual self.” (6)
Thomas travelled down to London next day - the Saturday - to record an interview in the Omnibus studio, which he insisted on conducting in the same clothes he'd worn at Ampthill and with his face blurred by a frosted glass screen. His fiancee Elizabeth watched as the interview was recorded. The sound engineers asked Thomas if he wanted his voice distorted to disguise that too, but he said that would not be necessary.
The couple returned to the studio on Sunday to view the edited film before its transmission that evening. Just 40 minutes before it was due to go out, Elizabeth asked how Thomas's voice would be disguised on air. Told that it would not be, she promptly passed out and had to be removed from the studio by ambulance. Thomas told the Omnibus team that she had a heart condition, and claimed this was why he'd been so keen to avoid publicity. The producers frantically jerry-rigged a series of telephone links to detour Thomas's words on their way to the transmitter, each one adding a little more to the distortion produced. That would have to do.
Gascoigne describes Elizabeth's sudden fit in his book, concluding with the words: “Cynics will say she passed out because she knew Ken had something to hide.” Given his bizarre behaviour since first contacting Williams, who could blame them?

Mike Barker first heard the hare had been found when Celia called him into the living room on the evening of Sunday, March 14, to hear an item on the BBC evening news. Jan Leeming was telling the nation that Masquerade's treasure hunt was over at last.
“I went into the living room, and the television was on,” Barker said. “There's a helicopter shot of Catherine's Cross, and I could see my hole and the terrible mess it had made. Apparently, somebody had got the hare, and I couldn't for the life of me understand how that had happened.” He swallowed his shock and tried to focus on what Leeming was saying. “The bizarre quest ended in a park near the village of Ampthill in Bedfordshire,” she announced. “The finder, who prefers to remain anonymous, could find his persistence has earned him up to ten times the pendant's original value of 3,000.” (11)
The picture changed again, switching to the Omnibus film from two days before. This showed Williams at Catherine's Cross after dark, melting the wax from the casket to extract the hare as a heavily-swathed Thomas looked on. Leeming tied up the item with a reminder that evening's Omnibus would have the full story, and then handed over to weatherman Michael Fish.