between the lines

One of the first lessons of performing is: if something can go wrong it will, as the actor Tony Haygarth learnt when he tried to copy Houdini

When I was 18 I got a summer job as a lifeguard in Torquay, until one day I got drunk on scrumpy, took a boat and drifted out to sea. I was rescued by the coastguard and sacked immediately. Which left me with the problem of how to make ends meet. I could juggle and fire-eat, but I wanted something more dramatic, so with my friend Ivan I decided to perfect a Houdini act.

By the sea front, there was an outcrop of rock around which the water was about 10ft deep at high tide. We got a big old sack, sewed a plastic zip into the bottom, and bought some chains and a lock that didn't close properly. The idea was simple. I'd get in the sack and Ivan would chain me up. Then he'd pull out a fake pistol, fire a couple of blanks at me and push the bundle into the sea. Underwater, I'd unzip the sack, swim round to the other side of the outcrop and get my breath back, while Ivan racked up the tension, counting off the seconds. Only when it seemed impossible that I could have escaped drowning would I miraculously bob to the surface to great gasps from the crowd. Bingo: we'd be quids in. This, however, wasn't enough for us. Ivan's pistol let out a great spark when you fired it, so we decided to dowse the sack in lighter fuel. When he pulled the trigger, the sack would go up in flames and thus my plunge would be all the more dramatic. We practised it and it worked like a dream. So we got a loudhailer, and Ivan made lots of claims about the death-defying this and that, and so we did it for real. I was in the sack, and I could hear the bangs of the gun and feel the air start thinning as the fuel caught light. And then I felt a nudge and heard a yelp, and then a whisper: "Tony, I haven't got any sandals on, and it's burning my feet." So it was left to me, to great laughter among the onlookers, to hop along as best I could and propel myself into the water below. We never did it again - too dangerous. But it did at least teach me two basic rules of the stage: over-elaborate at your peril, and if something can go wrong, it will.

n Tony Haygarth is in 'Twelve Angry Men' at the Comedy, London SW1 (0171- 369 1731)

Interview by Adrian Turpin

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea