Meanwhile, 4,500 miles to the west of those Cheltenham pylons, a Wyoming maths teacher called Karen Stephens was getting to grips with her own copy of the book.
The American edition carried a note on its back cover inviting readers to send their solutions to Cape by post and promising them a free plane ticket to the UK if they got it right. Williams was sent on a publicity tour of the US chat shows, where his performance as a British eccentric stirred up a lot of interest. The enterprising airline boss Freddie Laker followed this up by offering special Masquerade flights to the UK, with a free spade awaiting every traveller when they arrived at Heathrow.
Stephens had no interest in Laker's flights, but that didn't stop her being intrigued by Masquerade when she saw it in her Book of the Month Club's offerings. “I only had one television station, and my husband was working out of town a lot,” she said. “I thought ‘Oh that would be fun, ’ so I ordered it.” (7)
Already a puzzle fan, she started by simply listing the initial letters of each word from Masquerade's opening chapter in the hope that they would spell out something useful, then tried a few variations on this approach with equally little success. “It was all well and good, but it didn't get you anywhere,” she said. “I didn't have a clue what I was doing. After about six months of getting nowhere, my husband, who's a professional surveyor, came up with the idea that the only way you could pin-point something on the planet that exactly was by surveying it and having longitude and latitude.”
Armed with this idea, Stephens found herself thinking of the Greenwich Meridian. This is the Earth's line of 0 degrees longitude, which is used as a global standard for navigation and time-keeping. About 235 miles of this meridian passes directly through England, and what could be more natural than for Williams to bury his hare at some point along such a significant line? Stephens studied the numbers mentioned in Masquerade's story and paintings, and used these to select precise points of latitude along England's stretch of the meridian line.
That produced a lot of different possibilities, and Stephens had no idea which was correct, so she simply flooded Williams with letters, each one containing a slightly different answer. Sooner or later, she hoped, the sheer volume of her correspondence would let her hit on the right location. That was an approach which had served her well in an earlier Games Magazine competition, where she had netted $1,000 by sending the organisers many copies of the single correct answer. When the magazine made its random draw from all the correct answers received, Stephens had many more chances than her rivals of being the one selected, and so won the prize.
Unfortunately, the same approach did not work with Masquerade. Using degrees, minutes and seconds for her latitude readings - as Stephens did - she would have needed just over 13,000 guesses to cover every possible point along England's stretch of the meridian line, and sending that many letters was never going to be possible.
Even so, she does qualify for one distinction. Gascoigne credits her with the most letters sent to Williams by any single individual, saying she holds this record “by a margin of several hundred”. When O'Farrell put this point to Stephens for our own programme, she first said “I don't think I sent more than three or four at a time, but I may have” and then - when he suggested the total was in the hundreds - laughed and confessed “I'm afraid so”. As things turned out, though, she hadn't been so very far off in choosing the Greenwich Meridian: William's chosen hiding place was just half a degree off that mark. “I learned many valuable lessons after Masquerade,” she said. “And I've successfully solved two major armchair treasure hunts since.” (8)
Many other equally colourful Masqueraders are profiled in Gascoigne's book. There's Tony Gibson and Peter Marskell, who called the Portal Gallery posing as rich US art collectors; Edward Jenkins, recruited at seven as a frontman for his parents' theories; Michael Savill who decided the windows in one painting represented punch-card instructions for a weaving machine. Perhaps the strangest of all was the American Gascoigne christens “Richard Dale”, whose story we'll come to later.
Williams became accustomed to hearing from oddballs like these, and used their exploits as fodder for his regular TV appearances. Interviewed by Desmond Morris for a BBC arts show in February 1980, he recalled an incident from the previous November.
“It was a night like this,” he said. “Rain was pouring down. I live way out in the country, and there was a knock on the door. I opened the door and looked out, and there's two huge fellows standing there, covered in mud and absolutely wet right through. And I thought ‘No, no, no’. And they went ‘It's OK, it's OK, we're not here to bash you up. All we want to know is how deep is it? We're down 15 feet. How far have we got to go? ’” (9)
Williams was getting as many as 200 letters a day at the height of Masquerade fever, the longest of which would cover seven pages of this site. With personal callers to deal with as well as the 30,000 letters the book eventually produced, Williams relied on his village neighbours to keep the worst intruders at bay.
“The Masquerade thing really brought the loonies out of the woodwork,” he said in one 1985 interview. “There were people turning up, and most unsavoury tales. And, in the end, it was a super thing. The people in the village , if they saw anybody, would say ‘Williams? Williams? No, never ‘eard of ‘ee’. And they would say ‘You know, the one who buried that hare. ’ ‘Oh ‘ee. ‘Ee don't live ‘ere, ‘ee lives in Nailsea - it's about 18 miles that way. ’ They'd send people off, and it was terrific.” (4)
It wasn't all fun, though, as Williams told O'Farrell when asked to recall those days. “I found it difficult,” he said. “I got sort of nasty things through the post, like severed rubber hands with blood. And there was some strange American occasionally would send me his breakfast - the cornflakes, the milk and everything - in a sealed box. And you'd think ‘I don't really like this. This is getting a bit nasty’.” (7)