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John Bull challenge

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The version of this unusual restraint in the photos was my original prototype. A second version was made later for demonstration purposes.
Both were auction on E-bay in 2008

The original jacket used to challenge HOUDINI no longer exists.
Immediately after the designer, British Escape Artist VAL WALKER challenged HOUDINI at the Kingstone Emprise in September 1926, the American showman is reported to have cut the jacket to pieces and tossed the shreds to the cheering crowd - which seems to suggest that Houdini had cut his way out and then destroyed the evidence.

By the time I talked to Kevin, son of the original challenger VAL WALKER in the nineteen seventies, the jacket he showed me was a copy in very poor condition. A photo in the magazine of the British Magic Circle 'The Magic Circular', May/June issue 1968. (For photo of Val Walker in his jacket see end of this page) was less than impressive - but the design principle was excellent.

Technical specifications as given to me at the time were quite detailed - but there remained little proof of how the original jacket looked.

The photos at the very bottom of this page show the first copy I made in the early Eighties using high quality government surplus leather straps and buckles and new heavyweight rip-proof canvas. This garment gave me opportunity to explore the physical possibilities of the original.

Efficiently applied, the jacket allows virtually no movement of the upper body. Hands are trapped inside closed sleeve-ends which are attached to the hem of the jacket. The through-crotch strap is adjustable to give maximum rigidity.

As long as the Escape Artist is anchored to one spot (and is not allowed to take a razorblade into the sleeve as the jacket is put on) the garment gives little opportunity for escape.

After that - I made the second copy - which was tested regularly since - and is, I guess, still being regularly tested by the new owner. There's another seventy-five years wear in this luxurious copy.


Jim's original
prototype jacket

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Jim's original
prototype jacket

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Easily fits up to 44 inch chest - and back straps can be extended by additional short straps. For a smaller challenger a pillow in the back of the jacket (as often used in British Prisons with the Home Office pattern) all straps can be tightened for maximum efficiency. The two front straps are there to add extra size variability.

Condition: Surprisingly clean considering that it's been used in several determined escape attempts (no-one succeeded) so, it's slightly well scuffed and the double-thickness leather-lined collar is slightly sweat stained - but all straps are in exceptionally good condition.

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'John Bull' challenge jacket
Val's own copy of the jacket destroyed by Houdini

VALENTINE (Val) WALKER 1890/1969
born Mosely Birmingham
magician and escapologist
billed as 'Wizard of the Navy'.

Articles in Abra and Magic Circular
prior to 1969

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Val Walker in his so-called British 'Regulation' strait-jacket

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