June 16: How Houdini nearly met his end in barrel of Tetley’s in Leeds

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From: Colin Waite, Former Tetley PR Manager, Cautley Drive, Killinghall, Harrogate.

YOU made reference (The Yorkshire Post, June 1) to the great “Handcuff King”, Harry Houdini, failing to escape from a barrel of beer brought to the City of Varieties by “a couple of lads from the Tetley brewery”.

However, even though the great escapologist did in fact have one of his rare failures in his introduction to Yorkshire’s most famous beer, the event took place at the former Empire Theatre, and far more planning went into staging this event than was explained because Houdini, always a master publicist, declared in an advertisement in the local press that he planned to escape on stage from a padlocked water can full of beer supplied by local brewer Joshua Tetley & Son on February 9, 1911.

The incident is recalled in Clifford Lackey’s book, Quality Pays, the history of Joshua Tetley & Son, when he explained that Houdini, who was teetotal, had not taken into account that all beer naturally contains carbon dioxide and, as he became overcome by alcohol, he lost consciousness. Thankfully, Houdini’s vigilant assistant, Franz Kukol hauled him out.

After the performance it was reported that a stage-hand joked: “Why run away from the beer Mr Houdini? It’s what most of us run after.”