Fame and fortune wasn't ready for Piddington just yet. His skills were still in the development stages and the world was heading towards the most famous war in the history of mankind. World war II.
Sydney served in an artillery regiment in Singapore. After the fall of Singapore he was imprisoned for over 3 years in the Changi POW Camp. Changi was one of the more notorious Japanese prisoner of war camps and was used to imprison Malayan civilians and Allied soldiers. The treatment of POW’s at Changi was harsh but fitted in with the belief held by the Japanese Imperial Army that those who had surrendered to it were guilty of dishonoring their country and their families and, as such, deserved to be treated in no other way.
Entertainment in the camp came in the form of concerts put on by the prisoners themselves. Some of the prisoners were former actors, singers and musicians. It was relief from the harsh regime of forced labour and the onset of malnutrition, disease and fear of death.
There was a theatre built at one time but later closed when the Japanese guards took it away as a punishment. Piddington would perform his magic tricks for the men, but as time ventured on and 3 years had crawled by, the tricks were all but dry and so was much of the conversation as the men had told their life stories, of their plans and dreams, apart from covert chat about what Piddington had heard on the BBC news, via a secret radio they had set up, there was little to say. Moral was running as low as the rations, boredom was peeking high and Piddington was soon reduced to merely surviving.
Fellow prisoners Russell Braddon, who would later become an author and write works such as 'The Naked Island' (1952), and sketch artist Ronald Searle, who drew illustrations of life in the Changi camp, and regiment major Osmond Daltry, known as Ossie, were all close buddies in the camp and their relationship had a future they could not have imagined. One day Piddington stumbled across an article by Dr. J. B. Rhine on parapsychology. It was published in a stray copy of the Reader's Digest magazine he found in the dirt.
With a stored, and by now, dusty interest in mind magic, this article opened the doors to a flood of fresh stimulation. It was the most fulfilling read he had had in years and the dust cloths of his mind began to polish his interest to a gleam that was last seen in 1937.
J B Rhine (Joseph Banks Rhine) is widely considered to be the "Father of Modern Parapsychology." Along with his wife Dr Louisa E. Rhine, Dr J B Rhine studied the phenomena now known as parapsychology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. J B Rhine collaborated with Professor William McDougall who served as the Chairman of the Department of Psychology. Dr. J B Rhine coined the term "extrasensory perception" (ESP) to describe the apparent ability of some people to acquire information without the use of the known (five) senses). He also adopted the term "parapsychology" to distinguish his interests from mainstream psychology.
The Duke experiments on telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition used specially designed cards called Zener cards. About the size of regular playing cards, these cards were composed of decks of 25 cards, with each card having one of five symbols on one size: a cross, star, wavy lines, circle and square. Zener cards Under various experimental conditions, subjects would attempt to guess these cards. Out of each deck of 25 cards, 5 correct guesses were expected by chance. Using exact binomial probability calculations, it is possible to determine how "improbable" it would be to guess an excess number of cards correctly. In one set of experiments, 2400 total guesses were made and an excess of 489 hits (correct guesses) were noted. The statistical probability of this outcome is equivalent to odds of 1,000,000 to 1 (against chance) and thus show significant evidence that "something occurred." Skeptics will argue that factors other than ESP account for the deviations (some claim cheating by the subjects, sloppiness by the experimenters, etc.)
J B Rhine's work was summarized in a now-famous book Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years (Rhine, J.B., Pratt, J.G.; Smith, Burke M; Stuart, Charles E; and Greenwood, Joseph A. Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, Holt: New York, 1940; Humphries: Boston, 1966)
What conclusions can we draw about Rhine's overall research program? By 1940, 33 experiments had accumulated, involving almost a million trials, with protocols which rigorously excluded possible sensory clues (e.g., by introducing distance and/or barriers between sender and receiver, or by employing precognition protocols (i.e., where the target has not yet been selected at the time subjects make their responses).
Twenty seven (27) of the 33 studies produced statistically significant results -- an exceptional record, even today. Furthermore, positive results were not restricted to Rhine's lab. In the five years following Rhine's first publication of his results, 33 independent replication experiments were conducted at different laboratories. Twenty (20) of these (or 61%) were statistically significant (where 5% would be expected by chance alone).
A meta-analysis was done specifically for precognition experiments conducted between the years 1935 - 1987. (Honorton, C., & Ferrari, D. . Meta-analysis of forced-choice precognition experiments 1935 - 1987. Journal of Parapsychology, vol 53, 281 - 308). This included 309 studies, conducted by 62 experimenters. The cumulative probability associated with the overall results was p = 10-24 (that is equivalent to .000000000000000000000001 where .05 is considered statistically significant). The scientific evidence for precognition, the most provocative of all parapsychological phenomena, stands of firm statistical grounds.
The Rhine Research Centre in Durham still continues to be a thriving centre for Para-psychological research. (www.rhine.org). The good doctor also asked the question 'Do Dreams Come True?' in a 1955 issue of the magazine.
A stimulated Piddington and Russell Braddon decided to experiment with telepathy for themselves. At first it was a serious set of experiments to see how much they could correctly get right using thoughts alone. The results would improve the more they tested one another but in all honesty, it was clearly no proof that their efforts were based upon anything-more than chance alone. Major Osmond Dalty was the one who suggested they should devise an act based on the art of telepathy and entertain the other prisoners with it, thus helping to inject some lost stimulation into the population, and it soon became a notable feature of the prison camp entertainments regime. In fact it became the most controversial demonstration of telepathy ever witnessed, because Sydney, with all of his conjuring skills demonstrated thought transference and telepathy testing in complete silence, thus no spoken code could be blamed. He also introduced a blindfold thus no visual code could be accused. Without the need for sound nor sight, Sydney Piddington could transfer randomly acquired information from his mind to Russell Braddon's mind. It was miraculous to-say-the-least. It seemed that no one quite knew whether to call it a trick or a gift. All Piddington would say is, “you be the judge”.
The day finally came for liberation to begin. One night, around midnight, came the news that Emperor Tenno Heika of Japan had surrendered unconditionally. I can only imagine the wide-eye smile on Piddington's face as his secret radio ended this destroying chapter in his life.
When Lord Mountbatten arrived in Singapore, he was joined by RAPWI – ‘Rehabilitation of Allied Prisoners of War and Internees’. The Americans were the first to leave Changi. Those remaining christened RAPWI ‘Retain all Prisoners of War Indefinitely’. When men were repatriated they went to either Sri Lanka or Australia to convalesce. Piddington was released on-or-about the 14th of September 1945. Today there stands the Changi Museum. 1000 Upper Changi Rd North Singapore 507707.
With the 'man-changing' experiences of the second world war behind him, Piddington returned to Australia, where he recovered physically. The war had installed some characteristics not before present. One of these was the ability to keep secrets, the importance of this would become active in his next endeavors. Another was an accrued talent for manipulating his environment, making things seem one way when really they were another, this was essential when keeping the Changi prison guards unaware of many of the goings-on in the camp, especially the secret radio. Piddington had also returned home having created his own methods in show-biz telepathy. Methods that would remain undiscovered for nearly seven decades and cause many to believe that there was definitely something in the idea that a person could really possess the gift of extra sensory perception. (ESP).
At this time in Piddington's life, fate was active in causing his encounter with stage actress Lesley Pope, who would later become Mrs Piddington, and the other half of the most controversial telepathy act the world has ever known.
Prison comrade Ossie Daltry, had once managed a west End theatre called the Westminster. In management with him was Miss Kathleen Robinson. Ossie wrote to her by airmail that should she ever need a stage director, Piddington is highly recommended for his reliability and efficiency.
On Piddington's ship back to Australia was actor John Wood who was one of the Changi actors, he often played the sexy female in many of the early Changi performances. John was given a welcome-home party by the Minerva Theatre Players, of whom he was apart before the war. Many were invited, including the cast of the current production. Miss Kathleen Robinson, having just received the recommendation from Ossie Daltry, asked John if he knew Sydney Piddington. He replied with enthusiasm exclaiming he certainly did and Kathleen suggested he was also invited to the party. It was at that party that John Wood introduced the leading actress of the show to Piddington. “Sydney” he said, “I would like you to meet Lesley Pope”.
John had spoken of Lesley back in the Changi camp. He remembered a conversation with him about this attractive actress who had a good memory. Lesley was very quick at learning her lines.
The newly sparked relationship between Sydney and Lesley began with much talking. Learning about one another and exchanging stories of life before and during the war years. Lesley was all that John had said of her. She was gentle, young, softly spoken and possessed a stubborn streak that helped launch her career as a radio actress before she was 21.
Love grabbed them both and Lesley Elizabeth Pope said 'yes' when Piddington asked for her hand in marriage in 1946. They married in Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and the combination of a talented actress and master Manipulatist morphed into 'The Amazing Piddingtons,' a telepathy act second to none, baffling to all and credited to one man whose secret methods shook the conjuring world into submission, to this day.
The couple created a telepathy act based on Sydney's experience in Changi prison, and the Piddingtons became a successful show on Australia's 2UE in Sydney and 3K2 in Melbourne, followed by live stage shows.
By 1949 the couple had saved enough money to take their act to England, where, after a struggle to be noticed by the BBC, they signed an eight weeks contract with BBC national radio, followed by a further 3 additional shows. The broadcasts were separated into 3 series and were a sensational success, so much so, that experts have been trying to uncover their secret methods ever since. In one remarkable program, twenty million listeners waited with bated breath while Lesley Piddington, sequestered in the Tower of London, correctly stated the difficult test sentence "Be abandoned as the electricians said that they would have no current" relayed by Sydney telepathically from a BBC studio in
Piccadilly, several miles away. The text had been chosen independently of the Piddingtons, and it was only revealed to Sydney when he was asked to concentrate upon it in the studio. Throughout the BBC radio shows, the tests were rigorously controlled, and if there was a code (as so many theorists suggested) it would have to have been independent of oral and visual signals and able to operate at an obstacle infested distance.
The possibility of concealed electronic devices (in a period long before micro transistor techniques) was also ruled out by searching the Piddingtons. One by one each ingenious "explanation" of trickery was eliminated under conditions that precluded codes and confederates.
Everyone had a theory about how they might have achieved their effects, and part of the controversy, and the success of the shows, was the call to the public, by the Piddingtons, asking them to make their own minds up about whether or not the act was a real demonstration of telepathy or just trickery. At the end of every show they would just say “you are the judge”.
Some para-normal investigators of the subject (including Dr. S. G. Soal) objected to the shows on the grounds that the Piddingtons were getting the attention his research deserved more-so, and that telepathy should be restricted to laboratory investigation. Furthermore, the use of the word 'test' to describe the tricks was misleading.
Dr. Soal was partly moved to make his first para psychological studies following the death of one of his brothers in the First World War. Like many of the bereaved at the time, he made inquiries of mediums concerning communication with the departed; but conducted his observations with a scientific approach. His observations surprised conventional understanding even within psychical research. Most especially, he reported a case of apparently precognitive telepathy of a situation yet to occur for a long-forgotten, but still living, friend of his, Gordon Davis. This suggested, in line with earlier speculations, that the statements of mediums had nothing to do with "spirits of the departed," but only knowledge gained - by telepathy, if need be - from the sitters themselves. What was particularly surprising was that this information was yet to be learned by Soal himself.
However, the Piddingtons made telepathy a topic of conversation throughout Britain, and years later there has been no discovery that any part of their act was conceived by trickery. Skeptics from all walks of life have never offered a viable explanation, other than it was all a hoax by the BBC that could account for the Piddington's performance.
So, the journey to stardom was long but fascinating for the Piddingtons. The act however had a short career. They decided to move back to Australia and start a family. Sydney was offered a job at the Digest magazine heading up the advertising department.
Between 1953 and 1959 they had three children; Mark Sydney John Piddington, Kaye Jennifer Piddington and Anthony James Piddington.
The marriage eventually ended and the Piddingtons went their separate ways.
In 1972 Sydney met Robyn Delca Anne Greig and resurrected his famous act in Australia, teaching his methods to Robyn who he later married. They toured the show with the same success and still there was no sign of how it was done. The new Piddingtons had a child, Edwin Sydney Piddington.
The act soon came to an end, the secrets of its success remaining undiscovered, and on 29 January 1991, in Leura, Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, at the age of 72, Sydney Piddington died after losing his battle with Throat Cancer. It was believed that his secrets died with him. Lesley Pope later suffered dementia and lost all memory of the Piddington years, it was believed she had also taken the secrets with her.
The good news is, the secrets of how Sydney and Lesley Piddington achieved their telepathy tests is not lost. Martin T Hart sought permission to write his book "Piddington's Secrets" and finally reveal their actual methods. This will help the mind-magic industry to keep their systems and strategies on-going to entertain our new generations, those fresh audiences and perhaps fuel a second round of interest from the institutes who are still studying the phenomenon we call ESP.
Lesley & Sydney Hyde Park London
(c) Martin T Hart 2014
Book Title: Piddington's Secrets: Reveals the actual methods devised by Sydney Piddington & Russell Braddon that achieved realistic telepathy effects.