“The score never interested me, only the game”*…
In 1913, when he was 20, Clayton Hudson wrote Harry Houdini, daring him to escape from a special crate that Hudson had designed. Houdini warmed to Hudson, choosing his challenge from the myriad he received, and with £100 at stake, found a way out. 26 years later, Hudson put his expensive lesson to work– using Monopoly sets to help World War II prisoners of war escape…
At around the time that Monopoly was starting to make a name for itself – and to achieve the kind of fame that would make it such a central part of prison life in Stalag XXB – Clayton Hutton was beginning to worry about the fate of Europe. As the 1930s drew to a close, a war was clearly looming, and he wanted to get involved.
Despite service as a pilot during the First World War, Clayton Hutton was not a career military man. Instead, he had left the service to work in journalism here and there and as a publicity director for the movie business. He had also become increasingly eccentric – a fact that, along with his age, may explain why he was swiftly turned down when in 1939 he applied to join the Royal Air Force.
Luckily, British military intelligence was currently looking for “a showman with an interest in escapology” – the kind of man, perhaps, who had once been publicly humiliated by the greatest magician that ever lived.
These were busy times for the intelligence services. MI9 had been newly formed under Brigadier Norman Crockatt; its objective was to facilitate the escape of any allied soldiers captured by the enemy during the coming war, and return them safely to the UK. This sort of thing required some pretty unusual thinking – and some pretty unusual thinkers. Following a short interview with Crockatt – in which the story of the Houdini challenge played a crucial role – Clayton Hutton was employed by MI9 as a technical officer…
Read the whole extraordinary story– and see photos of Hudson’s handiwork– at “Inside Monopoly’s secret war against the Third Reich.”
* Mae West
As we bake a hacksaw into a cake, we might recall that it was on this date in 1944 that Helen Duncan became the last person to be charged under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735. In the event, her real offense was a form of espionage, a violation of the Official Secrets Act: she’d held public seances purportedly with victims of the torpedoed of HMS Barham, the loss of which was classified. (It was demonstrated at her trial that she’d had the opportunity to learn of the ship’s loss from crew members’ families.) Rather than amplify the leak, the authorities prosecuted her under the Witchcraft statute, which made falsely claiming to procure spirits a crime. She served nine months in prison, and was barred from further “practice”… though she was caught in the act and arrested again in 1956 (this time under the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which replaced the Witchcraft Act).