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Masquerade

‘Masquerade’, Kit Williams ~ Jonathan Cape 1978

‘Masquerade’ was a book published in 1978 by the artist Kit Williams. However it was more than just a book. Each of the 16 paintings in the book contained a clue that solved a riddle that would lead to a prize, a real sold gold hare made by Williams and hidden in the English countryside.

The book took the country by storm as legions of armchair treasure hunters attempted to solve the clues and find the prize. The book was a sensation and in 1982 the puzzle was solved and the hare was found. Although that isn’t the end of the story.

Williams had buried the hare in a clay box on Ampthill Park in Bedfordshire near a monument to Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. The burying was done at night and witnessed by then host of ‘University Challenge’ Bamber Gascoigne. To hide the small dig site Williams took with him a fresh cow pat in a tupperwear container, and he and Gascoigne attempted to work out the correct height to drop it from so that it looked natural, and hide the digging.

During the four years the hare was hidden English Heritage did some work on the monument, but the hare was not disturbed. Williams received thousands of letters from questers but none were correct until he received a sketch from a man calling himself ‘Ken Thomas’. Williams recognised this a map of the location where the hare was buried and informed ‘Thomas’ that he had solved the puzzle.

Hare

The Golden Hare.

The story doesn’t end there. A follow up book ‘Quest for the Golden Hare’ published in 1983 and written by Gascoigne with Williams documented the hunt, as well as the fact that not everyone accepted the hare had been found. With many looking for a better solution.

Of course people did soon start to forget about the Hare, Williams’ second puzzle book ‘The Book without a name’ AKA ‘The Bee Book’ was a moderate success although this one had a time limit of a year before Williams revealed the solution on BBC TV in 1985.

By 1988 the whole thing was almost falling from memory. When a ‘Sunday Times’ piece revealed that in fact ‘Ken Thomas’ was a fraud and hadn’t actually solved the puzzle but had got inside information.

‘Ken Thomas’ was actually Dugald Thompson whose business partner John Guard was romantically involved with Williams former girlfriend Veronica Robertson and by questioning Robertson they were able to guess at the location and reverse engineer the solution.

In fact two physics teachers, Mike Barker and John Rousseau, working together in their spare time had solved the puzzle. However they missed the clay box the hare was hidden in when digging and by the time they contacted Williams Thompson had found the prize. Williams now considers Barker and Rousseau the true winners of the contest.

Thompson tried to cash in by creating a videogame ‘Hareraiser’ in 1984 with the Hare as the prize for whoever could solve the puzzle of the game. Although most say the game was just gibberish and it failed to sell. The Hare was auctioned in 1988 and for 20 years resided in a private collection. Williams was briefly reunited with with the hare in 2009 when it was displayed as part of a retrospective of his work. The granddaughter of the current owner had contacted him the previous year.

Williams himself is something of an artist’s artist. Many of today’s well known British artists admire him and collect his work. Since ‘Masquerade’ he has continued to create work that showcases his diverse talents. For the most part, A 2009 BBC4 documentary aside, he has kept out of the limelight. Although his website kitwilliams.co.uk is well worth checking out.

As for the armchair and more active treasure hunters the genre is booming. Although none have come close to the complexity of ‘Masquerade’. I was going to mention one that started a few days before I’m writing. However it’s all been solved.

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