- Originally published on the Bartitsu.org site on Tuesday, 19th January 2016
Readers of a certain age may fondly recall the short-lived TV series Q.E.D. (also titled The Mastermind), which screened during the early 1980s. The show featured Sam Waterston as the eccentric former Ivy League professor Quentin E. Deverill, who becomes embroiled in a variety of adventures in Edwardian London. The character of Deverill is reminiscent of Craig Kennedy, the scientific detective who featured in a number of popular short stories written by Arthur B. Reeve during the first decades of the 20th century.
In this scene, during the course of investigating a mysterious disappearance at sea, Deverill attends and debunks a hoax seance, provoking an attack by the “medium’s” henchmen. The hero responds with a very Bartitsuesque combination of fisticuffs and jiujitsu …
Professor Deverill’s active skepticism in the face of spiritualistic chicanery is reminiscent of magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, who famously investigated and exposed numerous fake seances during the 1920s. Houdini later hired a team of undercover private investigators to infiltrate the “ghost racket” scene and report back to him – he nicknamed them “my own secret service” – after which he would publicly expose the mediums during his stage performances.
Although history doesn’t record any Bartitsuesque mayhem in connection with these exposes, members of Houdini’s “secret service” genuinely were caught up in the scuffles that did occasionally erupt between pro- and anti-spiritualists.
Bartitsu founder Edward Barton-Wright himself delved into exposing the tricks of those who claimed supernatural powers via his first article for Pearson’s Magazine in 1899. In “How to Pose as a Strong Man”, Barton-Wright detailed the subtle mechanical and leverage techniques by which vaudeville performers such as the so-called Georgia Magnet demonstrated apparently superhuman strength.