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Masquerade: continued

 
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“The most awful thing for me was that somebody had cracked the puzzle and got there before us,” Barker said. “That was the key thing - not necessarily that they had got the hare. I wasn't too bothered about that. [...] I wanted precedence on solving that puzzle for my sake and John's.”
The Omnibus edition which followed the news that night showed Thomas's interview, his face blurred by the frosted glass screen between him and the camera and his voice distorted by the crew's last-minute telephone rig. For some reason - probably cock-up rather than conspiracy - that whole segment of the programme is missing from the BBC's archive tape. Everything else has been preserved, though, including Rod Argent's all-star band closing the programme with one of the songs from Masquerade's hit musical at the Young Vic.
Barker got up and called Rousseau. He and Sheila had been out all evening and, although their daughters had seen the BBC's evening bulletin, they hadn't yet plucked up the courage to tell their parents what it contained. “Bad news.” Barker began when Rousseau picked up the phone.
As the two men reeled from this development, Frank Branston was puzzling away at its implications too. “From the evidence in the Sunday Times story, you could tell that Ken Thomas was most likely local,” he told me. “For one thing, he was walking his dog in Ampthill Park. The other thing was, his spokesman was a well-known solicitor in Bedford called Ken Borneo, so it was fairly obvious be must be local. I rang the reporter on The Sunday Times and said ‘I think this guy didn't find it the way he said. There's some connection with Kit Williams.’ But he pooh-poohed it.
“I knew John Guard's mother, and I saw her in the street,” he continued. “I said, ‘John must be feeling a bit fed up about the Golden Hare,’ and she said ‘God, yeah. He came round with The Sunday Times and he was going round the house yelling and kicking the skirting boards.’ Then I saw John and he was saying ‘Ah, what a bummer,’ and all this kind of thing. And to be fair to John, he was quite convincing.”
The national newspapers followed up the Thomas story all week, faithfully repeating the version of events he'd given to Williams. They were particularly pleased with the notion that all these eggheads could have been defeated by Masquerade's puzzle, only to see the hare finally discovered by a dog who stopped to pee on a random stone. This was the single aspect of the story which every newspaper emphasised, and it's still the one thing which most casual readers know - or think they know - about Masquerade today.

Here was evidence of Thomas's real name, and proof of a link between him and John Guard

On the morning after the news broke, Barker wrote to Jonathan Cape with a letter for them to forward to Williams. This contained the painstaking answer to the puzzle which he and Rousseau had put together, tackling every aspect of the book step by step to produce Gascoigne's “perfect solution”. He mailed this letter the same day, not knowing that it would simply sit at Cape's offices until enough letters had accumulated to make it worth sending them on to Williams.
A few days later, Barker's sister managed to find Williams' home address in a library directory. This time, Barker decided a telegram was in order and sent Williams the very simple message “CLOSE BY AMPTHILL”. This, of course, was the confirming acrostic from Masquerade's master riddle and could only be known by someone who'd solved that riddle in its proper way. As soon as Williams received the telegram, he knew Barker and Rousseau had cracked it. The letter arrived a day or two later, setting out their full solution in exactly the terms Williams had envisaged but, although he felt bad for them, there was nothing he could do.
Many of the readers who'd been struggling with the book themselves resented Thomas's discovery, believing the secrecy he insisted on must surely mean there was dirty work underway. This resentment deepened when it became clear that Thomas had no interest in exhibiting his find, despite the fact that London's Victoria & Albert Museum had already invited him to do so. There were thousands of Masqueraders in Britain who would have loved a chance to see the hare for themselves, and they felt that Thomas was conspicuously failing to play the game.
Some blamed Williams, suggesting he had somehow colluded with Thomas or even that the blurred figure they'd seen on Omnibus must be Williams himself. Soon, yet another anagram was added to the dozens Masquerade had already produced. “Kit Williams” re-arranged neatly to spell “I will mask it”, and some saw this as evidence that the artist must be duping them.
Williams published one more puzzle book - 1984's The Bee on the Comb - and then returned to the quiet life of a country painter. The book's quest had not ended remotely as he or his fans would have wished but that's where matters rested for the next six years.


Masquerade returned to the headlines in November 1988, when Sotheby's announced it would soon be auctioning the hare on behalf of a bankrupt company called Haresoft. This was the computer games company Thomas had set up a few years earlier, using a bank loan secured by the hare itself. When it became clear that loan wasn't going to be repaid, the bank had called in its security, and now wanted to turn Masquerade's treasure into cash.
Memories of the whole affair were still fresh enough to get the auction a lot of press. Anxious to ensure a good turn-out of potential bidders, the bank even allowed Blue Peter's Caron Keating to wear the medallion on-air. Introducing the item with one of Masquerade's paintings, she then dramatically unzipped her jacket to reveal the hare gleaming against her jet-black jumper. “It must have taken Kit Williams ages,” she confided as she talked young viewers through its decorative details. (12)
The auction itself came early in December, when the hare fetched 31,900 from an anonymous telephone bidder - five times Sotheby's estimate. Williams bid for it himself, but had to drop out at 6,000.
Branston saw the results of the auction reported in that Sunday's Observer. Now that he knew the name of Thomas's company, he decided it would be worth giving the hare's discovery another long, hard look. “When I got into work next day, I looked into the company records, and the director of Haresoft was this chap Dugald Thompson, who lived about 15 miles from Ampthill,” he told me. “He had to list any previous directorships, and there was Clayprint!”
Clayprint, Branston knew, was a company John Guard had once set up, the idea being to make a fortune by letting companies stamp corporate slogans or logos on to the bricks of their buildings. “He used to come up with ideas that never worked in any kind of commercial way,” Branston told me. “I think they sold about two or three bricks.”
Never mind Clayprint's failure, though: here was evidence not only of Ken Thomas's real name, but also of a direct link between him and Guard. “Dugald Thompson was a director of Clayprint, of which another director was John Guard, who was living with Ronnie Roberts, who was Kit Williams' former girlfriend,” Branston said triumphantly. “So we had the chain there.”

US lagomaniac loses his mind in a London drain

Nearly two million people joined the treasure hunt which Masquerade inspired, but only Richard Dale went so far as to sacrifice his sanity in pursuit of the golden hare.
      Dale - not his real name - first saw Masquerade at a friend's house near his Philadelphia home on August 24, 1981. He was immediately captivated by the puzzle, persuaded his friend to give him the book, and set about researching its solution.
      Williams had specified that the prize medallion was buried somewhere in the UK, so Dale began with the only source of British maps he had available: a copy of the London A-Z. He rapidly concluded that the hare was buried near West Middlesex Drainage Works in Hounslow (page 97, square 4J) and booked himself a cheap flight across the Atlantic.
      When he arrived in Hounslow, he searched the area for a while, and then settled on a drain cover in Oak Lane which seemed significant. He prised it up, and fished out a five-and-half inch ceramic plug from the drain wall. Dale pocketed the plug and took it back to his hotel room. Once he'd cleaned it up, he decided he could see the initials “KW” (for “Kit Williams”) on its surface.
      Next morning, when Jonathan Cape, Williams' publisher, opened its doors for business, Dale was already waiting on the step. He explained his discovery to three different people there, all of whom told him as gently as possible that he was mistaken.
      Convinced they were lying, Dale called The Sunday Times instead, where three journalists agreed to meet with him. Unfortunately, they proved just as unable to detect the “KW” initials as the Jonathan Cape staff had been, and Dale found himself back on the street.
      He was still convinced he was right, but felt sure now that he was being asked to pass some additional test before his

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