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Masquerade: continued

 
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By then, about three months had passed, and an excited Williams decided it was time to talk to Maschler again. “One day, the telephone rang, and Williams was on it,” the publisher recalled. “He was saying ‘Oh, the treasure and the moon and the sun and the stars, and, and, and, a hare! And I need the money! I need 3,000 to buy the gold! And then there's the puzzle, but I don't know what it is yet. ’ And so on. I mean, he sounded like a mad man.”
To his credit, Maschler did not dismiss this tirade out of hand, but arranged instead for Williams to visit his London office in a couple of weeks' time. He managed a slightly calmer explanation this time, and Maschler was sold. “I was totally convinced,” he says in his memoirs. “We gave him a contract and paid the 3,000.”
Williams returned home, and set about devising a structure for the master puzzle itself. It had to be something detailed enough to identify the burial spot with great precision, but cunning enough to present a real challenge. The artist had never been a fan of crosswords or anagrams, and felt sure anything he could devise in that format would easily be cracked by expert puzzlers. And he wanted to avoid anything that could be solved by simply setting a computer to work on it. “I thought ‘I've got to devise a system that has never been used before’,” he told BBC Four. “It had to be something very simple, but absolutely unique.”

Williams packed each painting with elaborate clues, red herrings, private jokes and surprises

Once he'd solved that one, Williams decided on a hiding place for his prize and began thinking about the paintings themselves. Pondering how to encode the crucial information in each of his planned 15 pictures, Williams' eye fell on a rotating painting he called his orrery. Like its 18th Century inspiration - a mechanical model of the solar system - this painting accurately tracked the phases of the moon. But Williams' version was filled with human and animal figures, who tumbled round in a circle as he clicked the lettered frame from one position to the next. Suddenly, he had his answer.
Williams spent the next three years refining his master riddle, painting Masquerade's exquisite pictures and writing the accompanying text. He packed each painting with elaborate clues, red herrings, private jokes and a million other tiny surprises. Two of the paintings contained magic squares which, taken together, revealed how a crucial third painting must be read. Another packed its background football pitch with atomic numbers which, when translated into their matching letter symbols, produced the message “False: now think again”. Maschler had warned Williams that the book's paintings must not show even a single pubic hair, prompting the painter to add a carefully-placed hare logo to the lowest portion of his girl swimmer's costume as a kind of visual pun. He included a Queen's Silver Jubilee tea caddy in another picture for no better reason that than he happened to be painting it while the Jubilee celebrations were in progress.
For all this playfulness, Williams was careful with the key information, taking great pains to get everything right and make the puzzle's mechanism function smoothly. He surrounded the master riddle with a host of what he called “confirmers” pointing to the same solution. These were designed to reinforce the conclusions of anyone solving the main riddle, assuring them they were on the right track and following more than a string of chance co-incidences. The prose of his story was packed with secondary puzzles too, many of them mimicking the verse riddles of the 10th Century's Exeter Book, which Williams loved.
He finished the paintings in 1979, and then phoned Maschler again to announce he was ready to deliver them. “They were painted on wood,” Maschler said. “Each one was wrapped individually and sewn up in a blanket - every single picture. He was snipping the thread and he was taking them out and he was putting them round my office. And they just about filled the office. As he began to do this, I got more and more excited. When he'd finished, I'd got the room full of people. I'd got about 15 people in to see these pictures. I mean, I was immediately aware that we were in the presence of something extraordinary.”
Maschler's excitement was a little dampened by the realisation he'd forgotten to warn Williams that any lettering in the paintings should be done in simple black characters to let foreign publishers substitute their own translated text. In fact, Williams had rendered the poetic phrases surrounding each painting in grey or red letters, each one painted to look as if it had been chiselled into stone. Not only that, but the very format he'd used to construct his puzzle meant the paintings' lettered elements would be next to untranslatable anyway. Maschler swallowed hard and said nothing, resigning himself to an English language edition alone.
The good news was that the paintings themselves were astonishing, and that Williams' story to accompany them turned out to be better written than the publisher would have dared hope. Far from the extensive rewrites which he had assumed would be necessary for such an inexperienced author, all that was needed was for Cape's editors to correct the artist's somewhat eccentric spelling.
Williams left Maschler's staff to get on with preparing the book, and returned home to make his hare. “I had never made jewellery, although I had worked in brass, steel and copper,” he later wrote. “From one piece of gold, I cut the outline of the hare, five and a half inches from nose to tail, then sawed out and drilled the filigree work within the body. The other piece of gold was enough to make the hare's legs, ears and tail, which I riveted to the body. Everything else - the bells and their tongues, the chains the tiny animals, had to be made by melting down the remaining scraps of gold, beating them into coin shapes then cutting them out.” (5) He wrapped the hare in paper, placed it a terra cotta casket which he'd made to defeat metal detectors and filled the remaining space inside with melted wax. The inscription on the casket read “I am the keeper of the jewel of Masquerade, which lies waiting safe inside me for you or eternity”. All that remained was to bury it at Williams' chosen site.


A few days before the burial, it occurred to Maschler that the event would need a witness. For secrecy's sake, Williams was determined to bury the hare himself, and to do so with no journalists or cameras present. Maschler persuaded him that one unimpeachable witness should go along though, if only to prevent Masquerade sceptics arguing they had no proof the hare had ever been buried in the first place. The publisher's first choice would have been the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Governor of the Bank of England, but it seemed unlikely that either would be available at such short notice.

Argent musical: continued


But I thought 'Well, I can write a song. That's absolutely no problem.' So I wrote this song called Masquerade.”
      Williams liked the song, and asked him to write three or four more. Argent agreed, but only on the condition that, if Williams liked those too, he would be allowed to write the whole show. “Kit loved those songs, and said ‘We want you to write the musical’,” Argent said. “At that point, I discovered that Tony had already employed Frank Dunlop as the director and the idea was to workshop the musical at the Young Vic.”
      Argent started serious work on the show around March 1981, when Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats was preparing its first West End run. Argent had agreed to join Cats' orchestra as first piano for the show's opening five weeks, and used his downtime in rehearsals to study Williams' book. “I remember sitting in the auditorium in Cats, looking through Masquerade, trying to get to grips with the structure of the piece and how it was going to go musically,” he said.
      Argent produced his old hardback copy of Masquerade, and began flipping through the pencilled notes he'd added to its margins. “Jack should begin unaccompanied and the frog should join in unaccompanied,” he read. “That was our first idea, and we did end up with it unaccompanied. ‘At the very beginning, the Sun and the Moon move together. All the while, violins hold a mysterious dissonance. At the moment of eclipse, there's an earth-shattering bang to frighten the wits out of the audience.’
      “And then you had the Sun singing I'm Looking for a Friend, and then the Moon singing My Lord the Sun. The two of them sort of come

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