I wonder if the man in St Petersburg is still alive?

I wonder if he died at the weekend. You know, that bloke who was going to play Russian roulette live on TV. The conjuror who said he could point a gun at his head and tell which one was the live bullet and which were the blanks.

I didn't see the TV programme because I was out that evening. What was I doing? Oh, that's right - I was at the theatre in Bath, watching Al Murray, the Pub Landlord. (Great show.)

But I didn't see any headlines on Monday morning saying: "Conjuror Guesses Wrong and Shoots Himself".

So I guess he's still alive.

And I wonder if the man in St Petersburg is still alive?

That's the man who said he was going to commit suicide during a weekend rock concert in St Petersburg by a group called Hell On Earth. (St Petersburg, Florida, that is.) The leader of the group, David Tourtelot, said he was contacted by a fan of the group who was terminally ill and who said would like to end it all during a performance by the group. Tourtelot was very keen on the idea, as he approved of "death with dignity".

However, I have not seen any headlines saying "Terminally Ill Man Commits Suicide With Dignity During Very Loud Rock Concert in St Petersburg, Not The St Petersburg in Russia, No, The St Petersburg in Florida USA, That's The One, The Town That NEVER Changed Its Name To Petrograd OR Leningrad, No, Sir!"

So I assume he didn't die either. And I guess David Blaine is still alive.

We down in the provinces don't know too much about the latest exploit by David Blaine, the man that Al Murray referred to as 'The Yank in the Tank". (He added kindly in parenthesis, and so shall I, "You sort of hope he'll snuff it, don't you?".) All we know is that there's a man in a small box somewhere in London saying he can survive a month in a hell-hole. But we down here in Wiltshire are not impressed by that. We assume that everyone in London has an existence like that. We all think that all people in London are condemned to life in a little box (house, car or office) with little hope of coming out sane or undamaged, so it's hard to be overawed by what David Blaine is up to.

Still, you can't help being impressed by the number of people currently trying to attract our attention by flirting with death, and if this were that sort of column I would now start musing on death as the last taboo, and our fear and fascination with disease and death, and I might even ask if Death was the new Sex, but it's not that sort of column, so instead I am going to tell you that there is nothing new about all this, and take an Alastair Cooke-like dive back into history.

Back to the 1890s, when the French writer Alphonse Allais announced the imminent arrival in France of a theatre troupe from Australia who had one gimmick never before seen on stage. Every death that occurred in every play they did was genuine. The actor actually died on stage. Whether it was Desdemona dying at the hands of Othello, or merely the victim in some second-rate thriller, there was a real death on stage.

It was very hard to find real actors to do this, the theatre group admitted, but luckily they had an endless supply of amateur volunteers to take the parts - people who were terminally ill, or suicidal, or desperate to end it all after a love affair, or who just wished to die for insurance purposes - and the public loved it. Sell-out. Smash hit. Night after night, full houses to see a death on stage....

Allais said he couldn't wait to see this reolutionary theatre. The authorities disagreed. The French government were horrified at the idea that this might happen in France and announced that they would ban the group from entering the country.

Alphonse Allais then announced that he had made the whole thing up, and everyone else was too embarrassed to say anything, so it all fizzled out, but it is impressive, is it not, that more than a century ago people had already thought up the idea of getting people to pay to see a real death? And that people really believed it would happen then, too?